How did Wolves reach the last eight of the FA Cup?
Wolves’ great season continued on Sunday as they ended Bristol City’s unbeaten streak which had stretched back to November of last year and made the last eight of the FA Cup for the first time since the 2002/03 season. It was very much a game of two halves at Ashton Gate as Wolves dominated the opening half before Lee Johnson’s half time substitutions shook the game up.
Rather surprisingly, the game began with Wolves pegging back Bristol City as the midfield trio of Romain Saiss, Joao Moutinho and Leander Dendoncker were very much on top of the midfield battle. Before we get into the action, let’s start with how both sides lined up.
Nuno Espirito Santo went for the strongest side available to him, with the exception of John Ruddy and Saiss who started ahead of Rui Patricio and Ruben Neves respectively. Diogo Jota was ruled out with a dead leg, so Ivan Cavaleiro deputised up front alongside the imperious Raul Jimenez.
The hosts made a number of changes following their midweek win over QPR. Both of the full-backs were swapped over as Jay Dasilva and Bailey Wright replaced Eros Pisano and Lloyd Kelly. Andreas Weimann, Jamie Paterson and Marlon Pack dropped out of the Bristol City midfield and they were replaced by Joe Morrell, Niclas Eliasson and Kasey Palmer.
Dendoncker & Moutinho roam free
Nuno’s decision to rest Neves and start Saiss raised a number of eyebrows. All the same, what this decision permitted Wolves to do was play Dendoncker and Moutinho further forward. Furthermore, Cavaleiro offered something different to Jota, and considering he got the only goal of the game he will be banging on Nuno’s door prior to the game against Bournemouth at the weekend.
To emphasise the difference, let’s take a look at the average positions of the starting XI for Wolves against Newcastle, in their most recent league game and against Bristol City.
Note Neves’ (#8) position inside the centre circle and close to his fellow countryman, Moutinho (#28). Dendoncker (#32) plays in close quarters with Matt Doherty (#2). Further up the field, the difference between Jimenez (#9) and Jota (#18) is vast when compared to Jimenez and Cavaleiro. Take a look, below.
Saiss’ (#27) positioning meant that Wolves’ formation was almost 1-3-4-2 at times with the Moroccan acting as the third centre-back and Coady (#16) acting as an old-fashioned sweeper.
There’s seldom any daylight between Jimenez and Cavaleiro. Cavaleiro was popping up on the left, on the right and anywhere else you can think of. Jimenez was much the same. However, on the whole, they did play much closer together than Jimenez and Jota.
For example, there will be times when Jota and Jimenez are on opposite sides of the pitch, with no midfield runners that have kept up, so it doesn’t always work. Cavaleiro and Jimenez’ connection played a big part in the winning goal. Let’s take a look.
Coady to Doherty to Cavaleiro to goal
Coady’s lofted pass to Doherty is taken in stride and once he gets going, there’s not many better at the moment than the Irish wing-back. It’s the movement which is key now. Once Doherty has got the ball in the penalty area, Cavaleiro and Jimenez do the opposite and it works a treat as the Bristol City defence all follow the Mexican.
Jimenez’ movement into the six-yard area seemingly confuses the life out of the Bristol City defence as they opt to follow him. Doherty pulls the back to Cavaleiro who mishits his shot. Importantly, despite the lack of conviction on the shot, it remained low and on target. There have been a couple of instances in recent weeks when Jimenez has blazed over in similar scenarios.
Bristol City don’t defend it well and Frank Fielding doesn’t see it until very late, meaning it goes beyond him. From that point onwards, Wolves were not going to be losing in normal time. Nuno’s side have only lost once when taking the lead this season and that came against Cardiff.
Wolves relax and see it through
Prior to Martin Atkinson sounding his whistle for halftime, Wolves could have and perhaps should have been out of sight. Doherty hit the post after some wonderful interchanges with Dendoncker and then Jimenez. Speaking of Dendoncker, he also went close after he forced a smart save out of Fielding.
Once the second half began, the Ashton Gate side turned it on and for the opening 15 minutes, Wolves had their backs against the wall. Rather bizarrely, as soon as the game surpassed the 60-minute mark, Wolves just chilled out and got back to playing football. Look over the momentum graph from the game to understand it better.
Bearing in mind how much momentum Bristol City had in the second period, they didn’t have many chances that you would call big. SofaScore indicates that they had and missed two big chances, but Wolves had three. Unfortunately, we don’t have an overall idea of what the xG from the game was, at least not conclusively anyway.
Wyscout, the only site which has got the xG scoreline up, has it as 2.53-0.99 in favour of the home side. Our usual xG providers of InfoGol and Understat don’t cover the FA Cup, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how accurate that is.
Wolves’ deservedly proceed to the quarter-finals after a thoroughly professional performance and their reward is a home tie against Manchester United. At the point of writing, no date and time has been set, but if it’s a late kick-off under the lights, it will be a night to remember in the Black Country as Wolves aim to reach the semi-finals for the first time since the late 90s.
On the menu next for Wolves is a trip to Dean Court to face Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth. For Bristol City, they have a rather daunting task of heading to Carrow Road to face Norwich.
Until the next time.
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