After 3 long months, Wolves got off to a flying re-start with a comfortable and convincing 2-0 win over West Ham at the London Stadium. It was an unusual feeling for all, as the players took to the pitch in front of no spectators and supporters sat at home watching on, but it was very much business as usual for Nuno and his men with Raul Jimenez heading Wolves ahead on 73 minutes before Pedro Neto volleyed home a stunning strike to round off the victory.
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Fabianski, Ngakia, Diop, Rice, Cresswell, Soucek, Noble, Fornals, Bowen, Antonio, Anderson (Subs Used: Lanzini, Yarmelenko, Fredericks)
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Jonny, Jota, Jimenez (Subs Used: Neto, Traore, Vinagre, Gibbs-White)
There were many questions in the build-up to the game surrounding the formation in which Nuno would go with for the game at the London Stadium, ultimately his decision to stick with the 3-5-2 formation and change to 3-4-3 later in the game was crucial. Wolves made just one change from the 0-0 draw at home to Brighton all those months ago, with Jonny coming back in to replace Vinagre.
As for West Ham, they were without defensive stalwart Ogbonna and striker Haller as they continued their quest for Premier League survival. Wolves dominated the ball in the opening exchanges without creating any real clear-cut chances. In fact, the best chance of the first half fell to West Ham as Pablo Fornals broke clear of the Wolves backline but blazed over.
After that minor scare, however, Wolves remained in the ascendancy and in the control that Nuno craves. Heading into the break, the resounding opinion amongst those watching was to change the formation to the put 3 upfront to push on and win the game having laid the solid foundations in the first half. And Nuno did just that replacing Leander Dendoncker and Diogo Jota with Adam Traore and Pedro Neto around the hour mark.
From then on there was only one winner, with West Ham manager David Moyes conceding after the game that Traore was the difference in the game, he told Sky Sports ‘We felt we were doing OK keeping at it and hoping something would come for us. What we got was a strong and powerful winger coming on and making the difference’. The power and pace provided by both Traore and Neto ultimately created the 2 goals and 3 points, meaning Wolves remain unbeaten in London since their return to the Premier League last season.
The performance of Willy Boly was, as ever, solid and impressive ensuring any glimmer of hope West Ham had throughout the game was nullified immediately. The midfield 3 combined well in the first half to provide a solid base, limiting West Ham to just the one opportunity, with Ruben Neves’ ability to win the ball back and aim to get Wolves on the front foot impressive throughout.
The introduction of Lanzini for West Ham was dealt with very well buy the back 3 and Wolves were full value for their 3 points, which after results in recent days, could be a crucial win in the race for the European places this season.
Substitutions (64th Minute)
With just under half an hour remaining and with a strong foothold in the game, Nuno shuffled the pack and went with 3 up front which ultimately proved decisive, Traore had a hand in both goals and was brilliant in getting Wolves up the pitch and creating those more clear cut chances that were lacking in the first half. Neto will be remembered in this game for his spectacular volley which sealed the win.
Jimenez Goal (73rd Minute)
Raul Jimenez did exactly what Raul Jimenez does best. Matt Doherty won the ball in the air after a cross field pass from Coady. Traore then beat 2 West Ham defenders before executing an excellent delivery which took Fabianski and his defenders out of the game straight onto Raul’s head for the opener.
Neto Goal (84th Minute)
More brilliant work from Traore to bring the ball forward and have the awareness to play it out wide to Doherty who puts in a great ball in over the head of Ryan Fredericks for Neto to volley in behind him. A contender for Wolves’ goal of the season in the first game after the re-start.
Man of the Match – Adama Traore
🡪 He may have only been on the pitch for half an hour but he cannot be overlooked for the impact he had on the game, with David Moyes admitting he was the game-changer. His assist for the first goal was nothing short of sublime as he continues to put to bed the ‘no end product tag’ which has been with him throughout his career. In addition to his contributions to the goals, he was also excellent in bringing Wolves up the field, increasing the tempo and urgency which was lacking in the first half. You could see from the moment he stepped onto the pitch he had the beating of the West Ham defenders. Simply unplayable.
Things to Improve on
n the first half, in particular, it felt like every Wolves half-chance resulted in a corner, none of which produced a clear-cut chance. Wolves also had several free kicks in good attacking areas but even the delivery of Joao Moutinho failed to fashion a chance. In tight games where Wolves have drawn this season, set pieces could have proved the difference, and could ultimately lead to goals that win games.
The Final Ball
Regardless of whether Wolves line up with a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3 one thing that remains consistent is Wolves excellent ball retention and control. Despite this, a common factor this season as was the case for the first hour at the London stadium is that final ball, whether that be the cross from out wide, the set-piece delivery or the defence-splitting pace. We know that Neves and Moutinho have it in their locker, as do our vast array of wide talent, however, this is something we’re going to need to see more of is we’re to put teams to bed and compete in the top 4 on a regular basis.
Creating Chances Early On
Wolves’ record in the first half of goals could not be a greater contrast to that in the second. According to Soccer Stats Wolves would be bottom of the Premier League table with just 25 points based on first-half results. Contrast that to the second half and Wolves are third, only behind Liverpool and Manchester City respectively. Wolves most comfortable performances this season have been when they have taken the lead early on, in fact, a common strength under Nuno is the ability to hold onto a lead. Wolves asserted great control at the London Stadium but could have been made to pay for their lack of creativity in the first half as they have been on many occasions this season. This could be even more vital against Bournemouth at home on Wednesday.
Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.