A frustrating afternoon in South London saw Wolves fall 2-0 to Crystal Palace, and a display that demonstrated tactical similarities to the second half of the game on Monday evening. Goals from Wilfried Zaha and Chelsea loanee, Conor Gallagher, sunk Lage’s men in Croydon. Wolves lacked drive, determination and cutting edge, ultimately coming second best to the better side on the day, with no argument over who deserved the victory.
There’s something about Selhurst Park that causes an uneasiness within me. Over the years, the mixture of the Palace atmosphere and what seems like a smaller pitch never fills me with confidence. An unchanged side was named following the confident first half against Everton, leaving Wolves fans with little room for qualms regarding player selection. From the moment Wolves gained possession though, the floods of blue and red began the swarm, and this was the moment I realised Vieira’s men were not going to roll over, these Eagles came to hunt.
One key problem many are noticing week in week out (despite the positive results recently), is Wolves’ panic when teams initiate a press. Somehow, even with the abundance of technical ability that our players possess, firing the ball into the channels becomes the adopted tactic. I can accept this if you have payers with the physicality to combat Premier League centre halves, but Francisco Trincao vs Joachim Andersen is a prime example of why weight classes exist in combat sports; it’s simply not a fair matchup. Raul was placed on the graveyard shift, feeding off scraps and praying for an error from Palace’s defensive unit.
Furthermore, an inspired performance from Kouyate prevented many an attempt to progress through the middle of the pitch, highlighting that we need urgent reinforcement in January, particularly someone with energy and dynamism to partner Neves. It’s a must.
Bar Jose Sa with some decent distribution and Kilman shutting out Zaha for much of the game, no one gave a standout performance. Conor Coady and Romain Saiss had a torrid time dealing with Christian Benteke, a pattern that has been reoccurring for four years now. Opposition teams know that pinning a physical striker on Conor will lead to results, and for all his leadership qualities, he will continue to lose important defensive duels in key moments.
A cagey first half affair saw Joao Moutinho booked after only nine minutes; after Odsonne Edouard dived ahead of him. Similarly, to the Leeds contest, this detracted from our midfield tenacity for the remainder of the afternoon, as Joao would be in no position to make ‘clever’ fouls, or your typical ‘cynical’ challenge in order to break up opposition threat. After half time, it was evident that the home team were keen to stamp their authority upon the contest, and Wilfried Zaha achieved this, slotting home to put the hosts ahead (after a VAR overturn). Wolves had the possibility of a penalty through a rash Joel Ward decision just beyond the penalty box, but again, VAR overturned the decision. One was not enough for the Eagles, as Conor Gallagher’s deflected effort wrongfoots Sa to double Wolves’ troubles.
Man of the Match – Max Kilman
Kilman’s impressive performances in recent weeks were rewarded midweek with an improved contract for the 24-year-old. Once again though, Wolves’ player of the season (now undeniably) proved exactly why this was his just reward. For the majority of the game, Kilman suppressed Zaha’s threat, and even if Wolves had lost the war at Selhurst Park, Max won his battles (which cannot be said for the rest of the squad). Confidence in tackling the tricky winger, combined with impressive bursts of recovery pace earned Kilman my Man of the Match.
It’s beyond clear that Bruno will not be satisfied with the performance, with a real lack of intensity throughout, Wolves got exactly what they deserved. The international break will provide time for the management team to find ‘solutions’ to resist pressing teams. We need to be much more confident in our ability to keep the ball under pressure, instead of resorting to route one football. It was a bad day at the office to say the least, but there’s a pattern to the poorer performances, that being against teams with aggressive pressing tactics.
Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here