Well, that was terrible. An incredibly drab 0-0 draw with Bournemouth was probably both your average Wolves fan’s worst fear and tragic pre-match prediction. I’d try to summarise the highlights but beyond Nunes’ first half attempt striking the bar and Podence’s header (yes header) being blocked on the line, this really was one of the low points of Bruno Lage’s tenure in charge of the Old Gold.
Here’s five things we learnt:
Something is very, very wrong
Perhaps the heading is a slight understatement. On paper, Wolves have a squad that’s easily capable of challenging for a top half position, maybe Europe if we’re feeling generous. None of our midfield three would look out of place in Europe, Jose Sa was one of the top keepers in Europe’s top five leagues last season and there’s enough exciting young talent dotted throughout the team to make even the most passionate Football Manager player jealous. So why are we in the relegation zone having only taken three points from a kind set of opening fixtures?
The long and short of it is something just isn’t clicking. We can have all these players but if the team as a whole isn’t creating any chances, then we’re going to struggle in a league as competitive as the Premier League. We’ve always struggled to break down the more defensive teams but to have only four shots on target against a team that is widely tipped to go down…isn’t ideal. Until the last 15 minutes, you could probably count on one hand the number of times we got the ball into Bournemouth’s box and, against a team which conceded nine last time out, this is simply not good enough.
Chief amongst the culprits last night were Jimenez (more on him later) and Jonny; but in truth I could easily have listed any one of our starting eleven. To put it simply, when a squad of this quality is struggling to beat (or even score against) the likes of Bournemouth, Fulham and Preston then eyes have to turn towards the person in the dugout.
We need to talk about Bruno
Bruno Lage has now been in charge of Wolves for 48 matches in all competitions. The last time Wolves scored more than once in the Premier League was Match #38 against Chelsea. The last time Wolves scored more than once in the Premier League and won was Match #31 against Aston Villa (so there’s a silver lining). There have been problems outside the manager’s control of course; Neto’s return from injury springs to mind as does last season’s mess of a transfer window. But questions have to now be at the very least entertained about how Bruno has this team set up and, more importantly, his mid-match tactics.
Let’s be fair: last season is not this season and, in truth, the formation itself isn’t really the problem. Wolves were on their way to three points last week until Hwang hee-Chan decided out of the kindness of his heart to gift Newcastle a draw. Individual errors have played their part this season. Wolves have continued to look mostly solid at the back but something isn’t quite clicking with the three up top. It’s no coincidence our best chances against Bournemouth came when Podence and Traore entered the field of play.
Whilst they were undoubtedly the right subs, introducing them with only 15 minutes left of the clock has to be queried; sticking with a clearly sub-par Jimenez for the entire match was also strange. Bruno isn’t a lost cause yet, but it’s not hard to see, especially with the upcoming run of games (Southampton, Liverpool, Man City), real questions being asked of his managerial ability in the coming weeks. The #BrunoOut group of Wolves fans will have plenty of ammunition from this game and with five points picked up from our last 36 available, it’ll be hard to argue against them.
I thought long and hard about a positive takeaway from yesterday’s game before finally settling on the performance of Kilman and Collins. Transitioning to four at the back was never going to be easy but – whisper it – it appears to be going off without a hitch. Collins looks to be an astute bit of business and Kilman doesn’t look too out of place in a back four.
It’s not perfect by any means; there were a couple of times against Bournemouth things looked a bit dicey. It’s obvious as mentioned last week that Kilman is going to have to get used to there being no Coady-like figure lurking just behind him, and the space between the centre backs and the midfield is something to keep a cautious eye on, but the early signs are this particular experiment hasn’t failed.
Trouble up top
It’s fair to say that Raul Jimenez’s injury threw our last season under Nuno into complete disarray. It forced Fabio Silva into a starring role far too early for anyone’s liking, caused an absolute madness of a January transfer window (Cutrone recalled! Gibbs-White recalled! Cutrone gone again! Willian Jose in!) and robbed Wolves of one of our best players. What’s more worrying is that it still seems to be affecting our season nearly two years on.
We can all agree that he hasn’t been the same player since his return from injury, and we should perhaps be thankful he’s even able to run around a pitch but he looks a player out of confidence and, crucially, out of position. The number of times the ball was fired into the penalty area only to find absolutely no-one was frankly a joke. Bournemouth were clearly playing for a point from the start and packing their box with players but too often there was either no one challenging or a winger who’d sprinted their way to the back post.
Raul’s strength used to be his link up play but we now have a spare midfielder who can do this job as a result of going to four at the back. Wolves’ exciting new signing Saša Kalajdžić will provide his first real competition since he joined the club (Sorry Patrick). It might just what he needs to get firing for Wolves again.
A successful transfer window?
This is the last match Wolves will play under the looming shadow of the summer transfer window. Results have obviously not been fantastic, and neither have performances, but many a Wolves fan (this one included) will be happy with the work done in the market over the last two months.
We all knew big signings were needed and for a long time it looked like this wouldn’t be the case. But something changed only a few weeks back, suddenly Wolves’ ‘we need to sell to buy’ was thrown out of the window and the club has splashed the cash on a new CB, CM, winger and forward. Nunes looks to be a fantastic piece of business and Collins too has proved £20m was a worthwhile fee to acquire his services. Guedes looks bright (albeit a little dimmer against Bournemouth) and Kalajdžić looks set to terrorise defenders with his frankly absurd height and equally absurd ability holding up the ball in the box.
We’ve sold well too; forcing Nottingham Forest to pay over £40m for Gibbs White is fantastic bargaining at a time when our other outgoings may have been questioned. Loaning out Coady to a divisional rival seems a little too friendly for my liking and tonight showed we left it a little too late to boost our forward options. Overall though, we’ve strengthened where we needed to strengthen, just perhaps a little too late…
Still, at least we still have Hwang.