Wolves made it back-to-back wins in the Premier League for the first time since February thanks to a first goal in old gold for Willian Jose. It was a dull encounter which ultimately confirmed Sheffield United’s relegation to the SkyBet Championship. The Blades were spirited and more than a match for Wolves, but the away side failed to find the net meaning Nuno’s men cement themselves in 12th place on 41 points.
Wolves (3-4-3): Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Semedo, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Ait-Nouri, Podence, Jose, Traore (Subs Used: Vitinha, Silva)
Sheff Utd (3-5-2): Ramsdale, Baldock, Ampadu, Egan, Bryan, Stevens, Osborn, Norwood, Fleck, Brewster, McGoldrick. (Subs Used: Mousset, Burke, Bogle)
Just as Nuno seemed to have set out his stall for a four at the back formation for the remainder of the season, he changed it once again and opted for the more familiar back three. It was surprising to see after a relatively comfortable defensive display against Fulham last weekend, and the return of Wolves’ strongest defender Willy Boly. The absence of Pedro Neto may have forced his hand, but the likes of Fabio Silva, Vitinha and Morgan Gibbs-White have all earned more playing time than they have received in recent months. Daniel Podence adopted a more central position, playing in the ‘Number 10’ role behind Willian Jose and Adama Traore, the latter of which embraced his role in a front two. Sheffield United interim manager Paul Heckingbottom has continued to with the 3-5-2 formation which was prominent throughout Chris Wilder’s time in charge, meaning the sides were relatively similar in terms of shape.
And it was not just in shape where Wolves and Sheffield United were indifferent, as a cagey first half ended goalless. Willy Boly came closest to opening the scoring after an unorthodox back heel was cleared onto the bar before falling into the arms of Ramsdale. United had little in the way of opportunities but controlled possession well, with Wolves happy for the away side to keep the ball in their own half. Wolves improved in the second half, with the game panning out almost exactly as many will have predicted. Willian Jose’s goal owed a lot to Nelson Semedo who blocked Edna Stevens effort just seconds before at the other end, before Traore’s great work to set up the Brazilian. Sheffield United then opened up and forced a fingertip save from Rui Patricio as Edna Stevens turned away from Leander Dendoncker on the edge of the area. However, Wolves saw the game through without any major scares, and perhaps should have doubled their head as Romain Saiss missed from close range after controlling a Joao Moutinho free kick in a good position.
Jose Goal – A deadly Wolves counterattack ended in a very welcome goal for Willian Jose. It could have been so different had Nelson Semedo not blocked Enda Stevens goal bound strike at the other end, before picking out Daniel Podence on the right. He found Dendoncker who was closed down by Bryan, leaving space for Adama Traore to run at John Egan. He passed the Ireland international with ease and found the unmarked Willian Jose who fired home beyond Ramsdale from six yards.
Man of the Match – Adama Traore
It was a game that needed Adama Traore, without whom Wolves would probably not have left with all three points. While he did at times appear wasteful in the final third, he was keen to get on the ball and direct in attack. He embraced the more central role and looked to support Willian Jose higher up the pitch, something that led to an improved performance from the Brazilian striker too. After coming under criticism this season, one goal and two assists in his last three games have shown that Adama is still one of Wolves’ most valuable players.
Wolves must keep hold of Traore
If there was even the slightest bit of doubt in any Wolves fans mind that Adama Traore wasn’t a key player in the side, they have surely been eradicated in these past few weeks. He is very much back to his best, having a big influence on games and finally getting his first Premier League goal of the season, as well as two assists. But these stats have not done Traore justice this season, with his stunning goal in the FA Cup win over Crystal Palace, his wonder strike which cannoned off the crossbar onto the goalkeeper and into the net against Leeds and the penalty he won which Neves converted against Brighton all seemingly forgotten about by the stat enthusiasts. He poses a threat at any given time and can produce a spontaneous moment of brilliance to win a football match when others would not, as shown with his goal in stoppage time against Fulham last weekend.
The ever-improving Semedo
Club record signing Nelson Semedo came in for a lot of criticism early in the season, much of which was vindicated after a number of lacklustre performances which included mistakes directly leading to goals. Since the turn of the year the Portuguese international has improved tenfold and is beginning to show why Wolves paid such a high fee for him. He is comfortable in possession and has adapted his game having realised Premier League players will not give you the time on the ball he may have had in LaLiga. He looks to get forward at every opportunity and began to work up a promising partnership with Pedro Neto prior to his injury. And perhaps most important of all Semedo has cut out the mistakes and become a reliable and solid defender as both a wing back and a full back. He handled Fulham’s Antonee Robinson extremely well at Craven Cottage, and also produced a vital block in Saturdays win which ultimately led to the winning goal. He could well be a crucial part of the side next season as Wolves look to get back to into the European hunt.
This just isn’t entertainment
Successive wins mean Wolves are all but safe and could even push for a top half finish if they finish the season strongly. However, almost every game is met with numerous complaints about just how boring Wolves have been for large parts of this season, and this is hard to argue against. There are a number of factors that explain Wolves’ demise into the bottom half of the table, and many fans accept that. But it is hard to accept the drab football that has been on offer, especially when playing three at the back. The narrow win against a stranded Sheffield United side brought back fairly recent memories of the 2015/16 season, when Wolves went 4 successive home games drawing 0-0 and averaged just one shot on target per game. Then Head Coach Kenny Jackett came under intense pressure with such poor football on offer and was relieved of his duties by new owners Fosun at the end of the season. Now Wolves are nowhere near that stage, but the entertainment value must improve. Wolves have very little to play for with just six games remaining, so some form of experimentation with some more attacking football on offer would improve the mood among the fanbase who are still watching on from home.