Wolves’ new era begins on Saturday with an away trip to Leicester City. Travelling fans are back and many are looking forward to the new season with new Head Coach Bruno Lage and his backroom team settled in. Wolves had by all accounts a successful pre-season on the training pitch, with an extended stay in Marbella proving invaluable for the new Head Coach. Results in official friendlies were mixed, but the signs were certainly there in terms of the players learning how Bruno and his staff want this Wolves side to play. Talking Wolves look at some of the positives and negatives of the pre-season ahead of the season opener at the weekend.
Pre-Season Results (Official 90 Minute Friendly Games):
Crewe 1-0 Wolves
Real Betis 0-1 Wolves
Las Palmas 3-2 Wolves
Stoke 1-1 Wolves
Coventry 1-2 Wolves
Wolves 0-1 Celta Vigo
Perhaps the most noticeable difference in Bruno’s Wolves is the higher defensive line with which he has chosen to adopt. Under Nuno Espirito Santo, Wolves tended to sit deep and soak up pressure, with the primary aim to keep a clean sheet. However, under Lage Wolves will look to be on the front foot with a higher defensive line. This is a major shift in tactics in terms of defensive structure and is by no means risk averse. However, Wolves were labelled as boring in the final year of Nuno’s reign and part of Bruno’s remit was to install a more entertaining and attacking style of play which a higher defensive line will allow.
In addition to this, a notable difference has been the higher intensity which Wolves have played with in their pre-season games. Friendlies are never the most exhilarating of games and this pre-season has been no different. However, with the increased intensity compared to last season already obvious, Wolves are only going to improve in terms of their higher press and intention to win the ball back higher up the pitch. This is a style of football that will bring the best out of the Molineux crowd who love nothing more than a Wolves side that play with high intensity and pressure.
Another major criticism of Nuno’s Wolves was the inability to change the style or formation when things were not going to plan. There was never really a ‘Plan B’. Throughout Pre-season Wolves used a total of three different formations (4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3). Towards the end of pre-season Bruno Lage seemed to settle on 3-4-3 as his primary tactic going into the season, but clearly wants to keep his options open with a back four a possibility. During his successful spell in charge at Benfica, Lage created a very impressive 4-4-1-1 which included the birth of a certain Joao Felix in professional football. Earlier on in pre-season Fabio Silva took up this role and this could be something to look out for as the season progresses.
While some things have changed for the better, one of Wolves’ major problems from last season seems to still be prevalent, that being conceding avoidable goals. The addition of Yerson Mosquera was welcomed by all Wolves fans and he impressed early on in pre-season prior to picking up a hamstring injury. The same injury that Willy Boly has fallen victim to, with the pair now set to miss Wolves opening day clash at the Kind Power Stadium. Romain Saiss has looked erratic to say the least, and The Athletic have reported that he could be on his way out of Wolves should the club sign another centre-back this summer. The return of Conor Coady and Fernando Marcal has certainly helped, but Wolves still need a high-quality addition in this area of the pitch if they are to improve on last seasons 13th place finish.
The 2020/21 season was plagued with serious injuries to key players after a near perfect three years on the treatment table for Wolves. So far in pre-season, three players have been subject to hamstring injuries, while Daniel Podence, Pedro Neto and Jonny Otto all remain out with problems that date back to last season. The return of Raul Jimenez has been a welcome sight for all, but the strength in depth remains light with so many key players still out and new signings few and far between.
Slow First Halves
It was a feature that confused and frustrated Wolves fans despite the success in recent seasons. Wolves just didn’t do first halves and in truth nothing seems to have changed on that front just yet. The most recent friendly, a 1-0 defeat to Celta Vigo at Molineux, was a prime example of this. The home side were poor and lacklustre in the first half but came out like a train in the second, creating an abundance of chances which were not converted. It is by no means an exaggeration to state that Wolves could easily have scored four goals in front of the Southbank during that second half. This was probably the most encouraging half of pre-season, but Bruno will have to drill the slow first half mentality out of the players as the season draws nearer.