How Nuno’s rotation unsettled Cardiff & won the game for Wolves
Another home game at Molineux, another positively dominant performance from Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolverhampton Wanderers. Two goals, both in the first half, from Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez gave Wolves all three points against a despondent Cardiff City side who have now conceded 10 goals in three games.
If you recall Wolves’ previous home game against Newcastle, they produced one of their best totals, xG wise, of the season. This game was even better. Only second to the xGD (expected goal difference) from Burnley at home earlier in the season, the 2-0 scoreline doesn’t really do Wolves justice. To say it could’ve been five or six is an understatement.
Cardiff, who only really threatened from set pieces, can perhaps feel slightly aggrieved that Wolves weren’t reduced to 10 men late in the first half. Nevertheless, they didn’t do nearly enough to trouble the Wolves back line.
In this tactical analysis, we are going to look at how Wolves cemented their grip on seventh place in the Premier League. In particular we’re going to place the microscope on Jota’s goal, as simply put, it was a work of art.
In a rather surprising turn of events Nuno decided to shuffle his pack. Normally so predictable with his line-up, he made five changes to the side that lost against Huddersfield during the week. John Ruddy was handed his first start, in place of Rui Patricio, between the sticks. The official reason was that Ruddy needs practice before the FA Cup game against Manchester United. The real reason? Who knows? Patricio wasn’t even on the bench, so take from that what you will.
While the back three was as normal, the wing-backs were not. Matt Doherty and Jonny Castro Otto were dropped to the bench as Ruben Vinagre and Adama Traore replaced them. Lastly, Morgan Gibbs-White and Romain Saiss took the places of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho. While people may have been left scratching their heads with the team selection, come the end of the game, they were very quick to heap praise on Nuno.
Neil Warnock also mixed things up. Oumar Niasse, Lee Peltier, Joe Ralls and Victor Camarasa came in for Bruno Ecuele Manga, Junior Hoilett, Leandro Bacuna and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. Sadly, for the Bluebirds, they were not really at the races and struggled to cope with the pace of Wolves’ wing-backs.
Traore’s new home?
Traore divides opinion quite a bit amongst Wolves fans. Some believe Wolves should cut their losses already and get rid of him in the summer, others believe he deserves longer. After his performance on Saturday at right wing-back, more Wolves fans will shift across to the latter camp.
With Nuno switching to 3-5-2 a few months ago, the only place Traore can play out wide now is at wing-back. Considering he’s predominantly stronger on his right, it makes sense for him to play on that side. Of course, the biggest problem with him playing there is that he’s not a defender.
Be that as it may, despite being left wanting a couple of times positionally, his overall defensive play was actually ok. Nothing special, nothing disastrous. He won every tackle he attempted and even though he was dribbled past on more than one occasion, his insane speed more than made up for it.
Given the fact that he’s got much more room to run into from wing-back than he does as a centre-forward, he could yet prove to be the perfect foil for Doherty in the long run. Time will give us the answer to that.
Vinagre does his chances no harm
On the opposite flank, Vinagre enhanced his growing reputation with another sublime performance. He could well be faster than Traore, which is a perilous thought for defences up and down the country and hopefully Europe in the long run.
In the above image, you can see Vinagre up against Aron Gunnarsson. The Icelandic midfielder has been around the block a few times and has 81 international caps, yet even he can’t thwart Vinagre as he skips beyond him.
This is so important as Wolves utilise the wing-backs probably more than any other side in the Premier League. So, if Vinagre and Traore can continue to produce the goods, it firstly saves Wolves spending extra money in the summer, and secondly means there are two players for both the left and right wing-back positions (three if you count Jonny for right wing-back as well).
If Wolves’ first goal had been scored by Manchester City, Liverpool or anyone of that calibre, you would hear about it for an eternity. As the story goes, it was scored by Wolves and it didn’t even get a sniff when it came to Sky Sports’ goal of the weekend. Here we are going to look at it, in all its glory and then some.
There were 17 passes before Jota slid the ball past Neil Etheridge. Ryan Bennett to Jimenez to Traore to Willy Boly to Jota to Vinagre to Boly to Conor Coady to Bennett to Coady to Saiss to Boly to Jota to Jimenez to Jota to Gibbs-White to Jimenez and finally to Jota who, as mentioned, finished with aplomb.
Rather than pinging it out wide as he normally does, Coady has to play the ball to Bennett as Saiss is being closely marked by Bobby Reid. Bennett then almost concedes possession after dallying too much, but the return ball back to Coady is then played into Saiss who brings Boly into play. Boly drives on and that’s how the goal is made. Take a look, below.
While it’s hard to envisage Neves and Moutinho not returning against Chelsea, Gibbs-White’s faint touch here to Jimenez should open Nuno’s eyes. Moutinho and Neves seldom find themselves as the furthest player forward and while Leander Dendoncker does at times, it is rarely in the magical zone 14. More often than not, it’s out on the right-hand side, as demonstated by his positioning in the image.
Catch them while they’re cold
The saying goes, ‘you’re most vulnerable when you’ve scored a goal’; that could not be further from the truth from Wolves. Moments after taking the lead, the Molineux side doubled it after some wonderful composure from Jota and Jimenez. Jota could’ve taken the shot himself, but he instead opted to square to Jimenez who remained cool enough to fire it home. Magic.
Dendoncker had two big opportunities in quick succession around the half hour mark but the woodwork and Etheridge stopped him. Etheridge, to be fair to him, played an absolute blinder.
So, the wing-backs tormented Cardiff all game, but it was actually the two centre-forwards who got Wolves the all-important goals. Jota and Jimenez’ partnership continues to grow, who knows how far they can take Wolves? Seventh and an FA Cup win? Time will tell my friends, time will tell.
Until the next time.
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