An afternoon of initial excitement crumbles into a sorry situation for Bruno Lage’s men, conceding to a penalty in the final moments of the game. Wolves looked to create history at Elland Road, by achieving a fourth consecutive win in the Premier League. The possibility was then enhanced with key figures of the Whites squad were missing (Bamford, Phillips and Ayling). Combined with Leeds’ poor beginning to the season, an opportunity was there for the taking.
A couple of changes were made by Lage after the last gasp win against Villa, seeing Marcal replaced by Rayan Ait-Nouri. A welcome change for many fans, as we have often seemed imbalanced when progressing forward with the makeshift left wing-back. In addition, Neves lost his spot in the starting eleven to Leander Dendoncker, seeing the Belgian begin the match in a midfield two, partnered by Joao, the seasoned vet. And the return of RJ9 provided a much-needed focal point which was missing during last week’s affair. Despite Leeds missing players in key areas, their main threat, Raphinha started on the right-hand side. A cause for some concern against Rayan who has barely touched a ball competitively since his stint at left-midfield during pre-season.
As expected, the Wolves left-hand side was targeted by Bielsa, seeing many of the Leeds attacks finishing with their beloved Brazilian. Following a couple of half-chances for the Yorkshiremen, Wolves managed to break forward into the final third after a missed sliding challenge from Harrison allowed Semedo to deliver a cutback into Raul, with a mishit shot falling fortuitously into Hwang, and the Korean king pounced to push the ball past Meslier. Wolves struggled to gain much momentum following the goal, winning the ball effectively but unforced errors became a common theme surrounding the first half, conceding possession with many a wayward pass and aimless headers.
Seasons prior demonstrated Wolves’ superiority in the second half of games, today was different. Succeeding a cagey beginning to the second half, Romain Saiss caught Raphinha, capping the Brazilians frustrating afternoon off with injury. What seemed like Wolves’ main concern turned out not to be the problem, instead, it was 19-year-old Joe Gelhardt who replaced Mateusz Klich for the hosts. The youngster was progressive and confident with his runs, forcing the Wolves back five into sustained amounts of pressure. A barrage of attacking pressure was invited by Wolves’ negative setup, with Nelson Semedo bringing Gelhardt down in the penalty area in the dying minutes, and Rodrigo confidently sent Sa the wrong direction.
Shop Wolves FC Christmas Cards
Two points dropped, considering the hosts were missing key players and had a single win in eight. Wolves gave themselves a hard afternoon up north, Joao Moutinho saw yellow in the fourth minute, joined early in the second half by Saiss and Kilman. All three had decent games considering their cautions, yet Moutinho looked tired from half time. Neves almost certainly would have controlled the tempo in what became a very nervous final 30 minutes but wasn’t introduced until the 90th. Many fans hold firm with their belief that if Adama isn’t on it, Wolves aren’t on it, today provided some truth to that belief. We missed his ability to move 100 yards up the pitch in a flash, although credit must be placed to Dallas and Cooper who had the Spaniard pocketed all afternoon.
Considering the threat that opposed him in his first Premier League start this season, a man of the match performance from Rayan Ait-Nouri saw him look extremely confident at Elland Road. He struggled defensively at times in the first half against Raphinha, but even the best the Prem has to offer have been sent into retirement homes by the Brazilian. It’s what he provides offensively that was more than exciting to see. Marcal delivers defensive solidity, but he can’t cross his T’s, let alone a football. RAN gave Shackleton nightmares at times in the second half, offering a balance that Lage’s men had needed in attacking areas this season.
One key aspect is missing for Wolves, an assertiveness in possession and attacking position, that was apparent against sides arguably better on paper. Perhaps there’s an element of complacency creeping in against sides we ‘expect’ to beat, but that same assertiveness must be reinstated, as today’s performance looked alarmingly like one of Nuno’s disaster classes. I believe that if Neves is fit, he must be the first name on the team sheet, his ability to control a game on his own cannot be ignored. Yet, no player today was particularly poor, more so a case of negative tactics that a desperate Leeds side managed to capitalise on, disappointing, but by no means alarming.
Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here