Wolves 2-1 Everton
After 45 minutes of front-footed intensity, it looked like Wolves were ready to roll through Everton like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Optimistic fans, shivering under the lights on a cold Monday evening at the start of November, could be forgiven for thinking this would be an easy one or that four or five goals were ready to flow.
By the final whistle, nerves were starting to shred and Wolves just about held on to claim three points. On the balance of play across two very different halves, both sides could make an argument for deserving something out of the match. At half time it looked like a massacre could be on the cards, until the wise old hand of Rafa Benitez shored up his side, changed tactics and sent his men out in the second half with renewed vigour.
Even with the initial two goal cushion it would be great to see Wolves really shake loose, put these teams to the sword and add that vital cutting edge to the dominant possession. Max Kilman’s header was a long overdue reward for a fantastic start to the season. Raul’s chip was a delightful finish after a bad mistake from Ben Godfrey. Credit to the lads for not letting their heads dip after a marginal offside call ruled out Hwang’s false opener.
Hwang’s endeavour was beautifully merged with a masterful midfield mix of Moutinho and Neves pulling the strings, spraying passes across the field.
Strangely, as both sets of legs tired, there was once again no sign of the explosive Adama Traore emerging from the bench to terrorise the opposition. Bruno Lage still needs squad additions to bolster his options and add fresh impetus in the New Year.
As Traore’s contract talks rumble on it is becoming increasingly more likely that he soon may ply his trade elsewhere. He remains a viable threat from the bench but at this stage of his career, with lofty ambitions, Traore will want to be a key player moving forward. On this occasion the Spaniard’s services were not required and his current teammates did a sterling job in his absence.
Crystal Palace 2-0 Wolves
While Brentford at home was bad, at least the game ended with six forwards on the pitch in a Championship Manager-style formation change to salvage a point. This was just a bit depressing. Little fight, little urgency, tactically exposed. Worse than effort, there was a distinct lack of quality and creativity. Palace ran us ragged and getting in at half-time without conceding was a minor miracle.
So here ends the unbeaten run. Shame really because things were just starting to get exciting. But that’s what mid-table teams do. They fluctuate between highs and lows. They turn in a meek and feeble display just at the point when incentives are high and a win would earn a place in the top six. That’s why Trincao and Semedo are at Wolves not Barcelona. “It is what it is” as the hackneyed modern day phrase reminds us.
Palace bullied, attacked in numbers and showed general positivity. Grasping the initiative early on, they never let it slip. In the first half at last Wolves restricted the home side to only a few chances. The referee and VAR provided controversial talking points, with the man in the middle awarding a penalty before changing his mind. Any help from the officials would’ve been welcome. However, Wolves were the architects of their collective downfall and were extremely poor in the second half.
For the first goal, the enigmatic Zaha bottled up his growing frustration, slipped in behind Semedo and finished off a through ball. The defensive reaction was slow. The overall reaction was non-existent as Wolves toiled to stay in the game, while creating little in return.
The Eagles were hungrier, fresher, and wanted it more. Traore came on too late and his wing back positioning didn’t work out. Trincao put in as poor of a performance as any Wolves player in recent games as Palace outnumbered Neves and Moutinho in midfield.
Their higher pressing and energy made the difference. When playing so defensively Traore’s pace on the counter attack is a favourable outlet, rather than seeing him shackled in a more defensive role. Trincao isn’t physical enough for these types of battles, which leads to the question: is the overall squad too thin on quality and quantity?
Wolves 1-0 West Ham
Saturday afternoon and West Ham roll into town. Not gonna lie, it was a scary thought. They were on form while Wolves’ last outing was a soulless loss to Crystal Palace.
Reenergised and reinvigorated after yet another tedious international break, Wolves weathered the early storm and scored a tremendous win over a team in form. Of all the duels taking place across the park, the home side certainly won the midfield battle. The outstanding Neves, situated alongside the cool head of Moutinho, overran Rice and Soucek. Neves is a master of the engine room who makes the team tick when he’s “on it”. The Portuguese international was combative, displayed great passing ability and comprehensively dictated the tempo.
Not alone in delivering a stellar performance, he was joined by the sprightly Podence, a diminutive magician who played the killer pass through to Raul who in turn produced a sublime finish on the 58th minute. At the back, Kilman, Saiss and Coady converged to create a rock solid unit that the Hammers could not breach.
Jarrod Bowen should’ve scored. Mikhail Antonio was flown home early at huge expense only to spend the entire duration in Max Kilman’s back pocket. Dropping back deep to defend a lead resulted in a nervy final few minutes, but Wolves held firm and there was no Leeds-style sting in the tail.
Now to the difficult stuff. While grabbing a win over Norwich and bogey team Burnley would appear an easier task, these are the teams Wolves have faltered against in the past. Nuno notoriously struggled to prize stubborn teams apart. Can Bruno produce the winning formula and send his team flying into a haunting December schedule?
Nestled neatly in sixth position, if the club can keep building and insert some quality squad additions in January then suddenly the garden is looking rosy.
Norwich 0-0 Wolves
Imagine travelling all the way over to a team Norwich, revitalised under Dean Smith, in those horrific weather conditions? Massive salute to the resilient souls who braved the trip. Given the lack of options on the bench it seems half the squad didn’t fancy it either. Joking aside, the cheque book needs to come out in January. Let’s bolster the squad and have only one goalkeeper back on the sidelines.
Anyone watching from the stands will have witnessed an away side sloppy in possession, with little to no link-up play or fluidity. The gaffer clearly likes Trincao but there have been games this season where he’s offered next to nothing. A freezing afternoon’s work up against a hard press was never likely to be the Portuguese winger’s situation of choice.
Norwich got their tactics nailed on. Targeting Ait-Nouri early down the flanks, they seemed happy to allow the young Frenchman to press forward in the knowledge that his final ball was likely to lack efficacy.
While the attack was feeble, the defensive remained resolute. Between the sticks Jose Sa is solid and dependable when called upon, while home striker Timo Pukki was guilty of fluffing his lines on more than one occasion. A more clinical striker would have repeatedly punished Wolves for their slackness.
Coady marshalled the back line admirably. Saiss got stuck in when required and Kilman….well, it’s King Kilman now. Strong and reliable, yet too unfashionable to gain international recognition, he’s been one of the finds of the season.
When pacey powerhouse Adama Traore finally entered the fray he was once again deployed as a wingback, in what is surely a political move rather than tactical. Looking more and more likely to move in January, Traore’s entire career has been fits and starts. From amazing to frustrating and somewhere in between. Just when he looks set to become a world beater his form tails off.
Yet again South Korean international Hwang was unable to impose himself on the game, despite his usual willingness to chase and run. At least Wolves did not get beaten or concede a late heartbreaker, so there are at some slim positives to be taken home.
Steve Wellings is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team