Wolves began their 2020/21 campaign with a professional 2-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. Nuno’s side created a two-goal lead inside six minutes with goals from Raul Jimenez and Romain Saiss with the remaining 84 minutes being fairly comfortable for Wolves.
Sheffield United 0-2 Wolves Reaction
Sheffield United (3-5-2): Ramsdale, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, Sharp, McBurnie (Subs Used: McGoldrick, Berge)
Wolves (3-4-3): Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Traore, Moutinho, Dendoncker, Marçal, Neto, Jimenez, Podence (Subs Used: Burr, Neves, Vitinha)
For Wolves’ first league game of the new season, Nuno gave Marçal his full league debut, preferring the Brazilian to Ruben Vinagre. Both Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto were chosen ahead of Diogo Jota who started on the bench, alongside his new compatriots Fabio Silva and Vitinha. Surprisingly Ruben Neves was also left out of the starting 11 with Leander Dendoncker chosen to partner Joao Moutinho. Some expected Nuno to opt for an extra man in midfield and to go 3-5-2 but Nuno instead started the game with an exciting front three.
The Blades, on the other hand, lined up pretty much as standard, with Billy Sharp and Oli McBurnie leading their front line. Sander Berge and David McGoldrick had been out injured but both made the matchday squad. The home side were also boosted with the return of Jack O’Connell who hadn’t featured in any of their pre-season friendlies.
Last season, Wolves were not known for scoring goals in the first half. Nuno has previously stated Wolves need to up their intensity in the first halves of games. In fact they had only scored 14 first half goals all season. So it was a pleasant surprise to see Wolves take the lead after just three minutes. Podence was released down the left hand side, he was able to take his time and pick out Jimenez who had evaded the attention of O’Connell, the finish from Raul was absolutely superb, rifling the ball on the half volley past a stranded Aaron Ramsdale. Wolves lightning fast start continued and Jimenez went close just minutes later. Scoring once so early was a shock but Wolves scored a second inside six minutes. Pedro Neto delivered a wonderful corner and Saiss rose highest to head past Ramsdale.
For a team that hadn’t played a pre-season friendly, Wolves looked sharp and moved the ball around nicely. Podence was direct and energetic and his forward running was scaring Sheffield United’s back three.
Sheffield United rarely threatened in the first half but did improve after the restart. John Fleck saw a shot cannon off the post which was a warning sign for Wolves and John Lundstrum should have got one back but he couldn’t convert Sharp’s ball across goal.
Saiss may well have had a hat trick on another night, racing into the opposition’s penalty area, he saw an effort pushed onto the bar with the rebound sent wide by Jimenez. It was a classic Wolves performance that we have seen many times before. Get yourselves in front and then defend in numbers and stick to a compact shape. It would have been a bonus to score more but Nuno’s priority is to win the game and Wolves never really looked troubled.
The second half wasn’t as exciting from a Wolves standpoint, Sheffield United created the odd half chance but Wolves stood firm to record a very good opening day victory.
Wolves Fast Start
Raul’s opener and Saiss’ header got Wolves off to a good start. Last season Wolves scored just 14 first half goals last season so to get an early goal was a huge advantage for Wolves. They don’t often drop points (Burnley aside last season) when they go ahead with Nuno priding himself on his team’s strong defensive steel. Finding themselves two goals up after six minutes, Wolves were able to control the game at their own pace and were not required to overly exert themselves as they had a healthy lead. They were able to keep their defensive shape and restrict Sheffield United to a few half chances.
Fleck’s shot off the post
We’ve mentioned how Wolves don’t often drop points when scoring first but if Fleck’s effort had been inches to the left; Wolves would have been under pressure for large parts of the second half and we may have seen shades of the 1-1 draw vs Burnley and 1-0 defeat vs Sheffield United last season where Wolves conceded late goals in both games after heavy pressure. Luck was on Wolves side though and apart from a 10-minute spell, Wolves were in control.
Man of the Match – Romain Saiss
With the arrival of Marçal, Romain’s place at LCB could have been under threat but with Marçal starting at LWB, he was in his normal position in Wolves’ back three. In attack, Saiss could have had a hat trick; he was a threat from set pieces, scoring a wonderfully placed header and was unlucky with his shot being pushed onto the bar by Ramsdale. Saiss was comfortable on the ball as he normally is but his decision making was good and he was able to clear his lines when necessary. He combined well with Marçal and you have to feel that if they can continue working together, Wolves’ left side looks to be pretty well covered whilst Jonny is injured.
Things to improve
Finding a natural RWB
Adama Traore filled in at Right-Wing Back as other than Oskar Burr, Wolves are lacking in RWB options after Matt Doherty’s departure. Going forward, Traore was a threat and made a few good dribbles but defensively he looked shaky and vulnerable. Although not a bad performance from Traore, the need for a natural RWB who is comfortable with defensive responsibilities was surely heightened and is an area Wolves have to pay attention to in the coming weeks. This would allow Traore to obviously play in his favoured position further forward and increase his threat to opposition defences.