Wolves Must Figure Out Their Identity If They Are to Succeed This Season



Wolves aren’t playing like Wolves this year | Pool/Getty Images

Wolverhampton Wanderers have attracted plenty of praise since arriving in the Premier League in 2018, and rightly so.

Nuno Espírito Santo’s men came to the top flight and terrorised pretty much every team, playing an enthralling brand of counter-attacking football which fired them immediately into the conversation for European qualification.

This season, however, has been a different story so far.

Pedro NetoWolves have looked uncomfortable in their four games | Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

Nuno appears to have grown tired of being the underdog. Instead, he is encouraging his side to become a more possession-based team who take the game to their opponents and dominate en route to victory.

Unfortunately, it isn’t working.

The 4-0 loss to West Ham United was a clear sign that this side no longer know what they’re doing, and similar signals were on show in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Fulham. Sure, they picked up three points, but they’d have been on the receiving end of another tonking if Fulham had any top-flight quality about them.

It’s all just looking a little too awkward this year. Against Fulham, Rúben Neves was dropping deep to play the quarterback-esque role we see from a lot of possession-heavy side, but when he got the ball, he never seemed to know what to do.

FT | #WOL 1-0 #FUL

Pedro Neto’s second half strike is enough for Wolves to take all three points! #WOLFUL

⏱? pic.twitter.com/Xc6xCNU7U5

— Wolves (@Wolves) October 4, 2020

Neves and Leander Dendoncker struggled to find many forward passes, which meant the job was left to centre-back Conor Coady, whose passing range is a real asset.

Wolves are currently a possession team who, because they have to rely on long balls from their centre-back, are playing like a counter-attacking side. How’s that ever going to work?

It’s fair to suggest that Wolves’ strength is on the counter. Adama Traoré could well be the finest in the world when it comes to counters, while Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto both have the kind of agility to make that work.

Raul Jimenez, Adama TraoreWolves had perfected their previous system | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Raúl Jiménez, who was a passenger for the majority of the Fulham game, does his best work when Wolves are flying forward, rather than standing and trying to find a way to get on to a pass. That’s why Wolves were so impressive before this season.

Nuno has built his side to perfect the counter-attack, but is now trying to disregard that, and it’s creating some real teething problems.

It’s an admirable transition, but you have to wonder whether it’s a smart move. Wolves’ old system had turned them into genuine European threats and meant they could plausibly pick up three points against any team.

Nuno Espirito SantoNuno needs to figure out which system to commit to | Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

Now, they’re getting mauled by West Ham and scraping past an abysmal Fulham side.

Nuno needs to ask himself whether it’s smart to stick with this change. If it goes on for too long, he could find himself well out of the European picture before the race has even really started.

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