Wolves bounced back from the bitterly disappointing end to the game at Turf Moor last Wednesday to overcome a struggling Crystal Palace side at Molineux, ensuring a Europa League spot remains firmly in their hands on the last day. It was a comfortable evening’s work for Nuno’s men who went ahead just before the break courtesy of Daniel Podence’s first goal in gold and black before Jonny Otto rounded off the win in the second half.
Wolves 2-0 Crystal Palace Reaction
Wolves (3-4-3): Patricio, Dendoncker, Coady, Boly, Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny, Traore, Jimenez, Podence (Subs Used: Jota, Neto)
Crystal Palace (4-4-2):Guaita, Ward, Dann, Sakho, Mitchell, Townsend, McArthur, McCarthy, Schlupp, Zaha, Ayew (Subs Used: Kouyate, Riedewald)
Nuno made three changes from the draw at Burnley with Leander Dendoncker, Matt Doherty and Jonny Otto coming into the side. This meant that Wolves stuck with the 3-4-3 formation with the normal wing back pairing of Jonny and Doherty. Surprisingly, Romain Saiss dropped to the bench with Dendoncker coming in at centre back, meaning Wily Boly switched to the left-hand side of the back three. The impressive Daniel Podence was given the nod to start in attack with both Diogo Jota and Pedro Neto on the bench. Crystal Palace were faced with severe injury problems and lost centre back Sakho just 20 minutes into the game, compounding to their problems in this position with Gary Cahill and James Tomkins already out injured. 20-year-old Tyrick Mitchell made his first Premier League start, his task? Stop Adama Traore. Roy Hodgson reverted to a 4-4-2 formation having favoured three attackers in recent games but looked to add extra cover down the flanks with Jeffry Schlupp, who had experience of playing left-back, positioned just in front of Mitchell, enabling them to double up when defending against Adama Traore.
It was a cagey start to the game with clear cut chances few and far between for both sides, Palace were the first to go close as Boly lost possession to Zaha who played in Schlupp, firing inches past the post. This seemed to be the wakeup call Wolves needed as Daniel Podence had Wolves first meaningful attempt as his overhead kick went over following good work from Adama Traore. Nuno once again highlighted post-match the need to up the intensity in the first half of games, a habit which has cost Wolves many points this season and has not been addressed. This is a serious area of concern for Wolves and must be improved upon ahead of the Europa League games in August. Luckily, this did not come to haunt them in this game as a moment of magic from Moutinho saw Matt Doherty square for Daniel Podence minutes before the half time whistle to give Wolves the lead. After a few below-par performances from Moutinho, he showed his class once more with the perfectly weighted ball for Doherty, ultimately leading to the goal.
Wolves started the second half with much greater intensity. A trademark Crossfield ball from Conor Coady found Adama Traore out wide who played a superb give and go with Podence but his effort was saved by Guaita and Jimenez could not reach the rebound. The second goal came shortly after with Traore once again involved, beating two Palace defenders before playing the ball across the box and Jonny fired in on the turn. Such was the lack of intensity from Palace, it certainly felt like Wolves had won the game with the second goal, with Zaha’s speculative long-range effort the only notable chance in the final 20 minutes of the game, which was easily saved by Patricio.
The way in which Leander Dendoncker slotted into the back three was interesting to say the least. It is not an unfamiliar position to the Belgium international, far from it, playing there for his national side and also for Wolves earlier in the season covering for the injured Willy Boly. But this was clearly a tactical decision from Nuno. It may have been due to the extremely poor showing from Romain Saiss in the return fixture earlier in the season where the Moroccan quite simply could not cope with Wilfred Zaha. However, much more likely would be the use of Dendoncker when Wolves are in possession of the ball against a side who did not press with any great intensity. When Wolves attacked down the right-hand side, predominantly through Traore, Doherty would support the attack in order to give Wolves another option to Traore just hitting the byline, but even so Wolves have become predictable in such attacks. Dendoncker slotted into the righthand side of the midfield during such moves, proving to be an extra body in the midfield when Wolves looked to recycle the ball and switch the play, looking for the opening. He also stepped forward with the ball when in possession looking to increase the intensity of the play and get Wolves moving on the attack. This is certainly a strength of having Dendoncker on the ball in a back three, a trait which Saiss does not possess, meaning there is another option for Nuno going forward in such games.
Wolves 2-0 Crystal Palace Key Moments
After a shaky start to the game, Palace almost went ahead. The dangerous Wilfred Zaha dispossessed Wily Boly in possession and beat Ruben Neves in the middle of the park to play a perfectly weighted pass to Jeffrey Schlupp. The Palace wide man looked like he would go onto score but fired inches wide of Rui Patricio’s far post, with credit going to Conor Coady who slid in at the final moment and may have put Schlupp off just as he took his shot. A huge moment in the game which could have seen a very different outcome had Schlupp converted.
Matt Doherty won the ball back after Palace failed to clear the initial ball into the box and gave it Moutinho on the edge of the area who plays an unbelievable ball over the top, perfect for Matt Doherty who still had work to do to put the ball back across goal for the smallest player on the pitch, Daniel Podence to head in unmarked. It was a vital moment for Wolves who had created little prior to the goal, and it meant they went into the break in the ascendency.
Matt Doherty was once again involved as he played the ball out wide to Traore who used his trademark pace to get to the edge of the Palace penalty area before taking on two defenders, sliding the ball in between them before bursting through into the box. He then played the ball across the box and Raul Jimenez helped it on for Jonny Otto who turned well and finished right into the corner to ensure all three points were staying at Molineux. It was fantastic work by Adama Traore down the right-hand side, but credit to Jonny who managed to recover after a poor first touch having looked like the chance had gone, to turn the defender and finish with his right foot.
Man of the Match – Adama Traore
Coming up against 20-year-old Tyrick Mitchell on his Premier League debut must have been music to the ears of Adama Traore before the game, and the Wolves winger turned in yet another impressive performance, proving to be the main threat of attack for the home side. In all fairness to the Palace full back, he dealt with Traore better than many have done this season, but could do nothing to stop his mesmerising power and pace, seen multiple times in the first half but to no great effect with Wolves’ other forwards not quite on the same song sheet. However, in the second half Wolves upped the intensity and Traore was involved in almost everything Wolves did going forward. His wonderful give and go with Podence almost brought about a deserved goal but Guaita saved well. He was also heavily involved in the second goal where, although the assist may officially go to Raul Jimenez as he helped the ball on to Jonny, Traore’s trickery down the right was what led to the goal. Another outstanding performance, more of these on a consistent basis and goodness knows what numbers of goals and assist Traore will be hitting next season.
Things to Improve
Having highlighted a lack of concentration in defeats against Arsenal and Sheffield United and also in the draw at Burnley, Wolves once again showed a sense of carelessness in the win at Molineux. Far from the concerning habit of conceding last minute goals, an obvious problem in recent games, but Wolves were sloppy in possession and lost the ball unnecessarily multiple times. It is impossible to pinpoint this to one or two players, as there was a general feeling of complacency in possession. Balls out wide went out of play several times, while Wolves were fortunate that balls picked up by Wilfred Zaha were not used to greater effect. Ultimately, this did not cost Wolves who in truth, were up against an extremely poor Crystal Palace side. However, play with the same sloppiness in possession at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and Wolves may not get the result they need to confirm European football again next season.
So, Wolves head into the final game of the season with 6th position in their hands, match Tottenham’s result and European football will once again be taking place at Molineux next season. Fail to win and Wolves may be reliant on Chelsea beating Arsenal in the FA Cup final, as was the case with Man City last season. However, offer any Wolves fan this at the start of the season with the added pressure of the Europa League and a pandemic mid-way through and everyone would snap your hand off. It has been a remarkable season, with this win meaning Wolves have surpassed last year’s points tally combined with an exceptional run in the Europa League, but Wolves will be disappointed if they don’t get the result they need on Sunday at Chelsea. Given their record against the big sides, you wouldn’t bet against them…
Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.