Premier League 2018/19: Wolves vs Huddersfield
Out of darkness cometh light. One of the sayings that epitomises Wolverhampton Wanderers and has been a tagline for the club for as long as one can remember. At this particular moment in time, after a fourth defeat in five, it’s difficult to see the light for Nuno’s Wolves. Now, it is a far cry from the disastrous double drop that Wolves suffered when they ended up in the third tier of English football and a million miles from when the Molineux club fell to the fourth division, however, at this particular moment in time, it’s a blip. Very much like eternal darkness. Since beating Crystal Palace in early October, Wolves have failed to find the form which got them off to such a good start this season.
Huddersfield, on the other hand, were great value for the win and while Wolves’ defensive problems will be analysed in this piece, we will evaluate the Terriers performance as well. Arguably the best way to sum up the first half at Molineux is that it was Huddersfield’s best 45 minutes of the season and Wolves’ worst (maybe with the exception of Watford). Wagner’s side pressed the home side in all the right places and didn’t let the once acclaimed ‘Champions of the World’ have any time on the ball at all. Before we get into the game itself, let’s see how the two teams lined up.
No surprises from Nuno with the Wolves starting XI. Jonny, the only absentee from the point at Arsenal, replaced by Ruben Vinagre as expected. Wagner sprung somewhat of a shock by selecting Tommy Smith in a back three rather than Stankovic who was thought to be replacing Zanka. Durm came in for Lowe, in Huddersfield’s only other change.
Much like Watford before them, Huddersfield recognised that Wolves tend to struggle if the midfield is packed and that’s exactly what happened. That accompanied with Nuno’s reluctance to sacrifice his system and beliefs ensured that once Huddersfield went into the lead, it was going to take something special for Wolves to get back into the game.
Same Old Issues Arising
Going back to Nuno’s reluctance to change the system, you could maybe attribute that to Mooy’s first goal. If we played with three central midfielders in either a 3-5-2 or 4-3-3, it would have been someone else rather than Cavaleiro ‘tracking’ Mooy. Before that, Doherty is at fault as he fails to track his man which might sound familiar and that’s because it is. Without even having to think, that’s goals against Spurs, Watford, Brighton and now Huddersfield that he’s been at fault for. As opposed to singling out Doherty, let’s take a look at the phases of play that led up to Mooy’s opener, which came inside the first ten minutes.
As we looked at in the preview, Huddersfield have a tendency to play the ball around at the back before panicking and then lumping it long. In this instance, it was no different as Lossl is pressed by Raul Jimenez. Due to the positioning of Costa and Cavaleiro, there is no pass on for the keeper as Jimenez cuts off the possible pass to Kongolo on the far side.
Nothing To See
Coady remains composed enough to play a lofted ball to Ruben Vinagre. There’s not much going wrong at this point, although this normally seems to be the case. It only takes something very small to go wrong and then the domino effect begins.
Mooy and Hadergjonaj shut down the young Portuguese wing-back, bearly giving him space to breathe, let alone do anything constructive with the ball. It will come as little surprise that Vinagre was dispossessed as play turned over.
A slightly wayward pass from Pritchard put Mounie on the back foot meaning that Moutinho could easily play the ball backwards to the Wolves back three and another attack could be born. Boly’s positioning is perhaps a question mark as he too far from Coady and Bennett (who hasn’t got a name tame tag), nevertheless, it’s not too problematic as of this moment.
The Turning Point
Rather than playing back to Rui, Coady opts for the straightforward pass to Bennett which is fine in itself, but its there where the errors start being counted. Admittedly, Pritchard (Huddersfield player closest to Coady) was hot on his heels, but if the Wolves captain plays it back to the keeper and gives him an angle, the goal might not have happened. There are a lot of what ifs involved, mind. Let’s see how it unfolds.
Ok, there are three options here for Bennett. Number one, play the ball out wide to Doherty. Number two, play the ball centrally to an out of shot Helder Costa. And number three, drive beyond the oncoming Mounie and then reassess. Bennett opts for number two. On the surface, none of the options are particularly right or wrong, however, Bennett was never going to do number three as Coady and Boly would have done. That’s one of the reasons why there have been mentions of Dendoncker, he would’ve beaten Mounie and then played the ball. Bennett knows his limitations and that’s a great trait to have, all the same, how much longer can Dendoncker be kept waiting? Keep an eye on the circled Mooy.
Costa received the ball where the black circle is or thereabouts. He was tightly marked meaning he couldn’t spin which in turn meant he had to bring Doherty into play. Doherty’s aim is to put the ball back to where it came from, Jimenez the target. The Irishman plays it first time and unsurprisingly doesn’t get enough on it and Billing says thank you very much, I’ll have a bit of that. Hindsight suggests that a pass to Moutinho would’ve been the better option. Quite how Doc was expecting to get enough on his pass from there with the amount of backlift he had will remain a mystery. Mooy is still on the blindside…
Right, so after Billing intercepts Doherty’s pass, he plays it to Durm on the left-hand side before receiving the ball back from the German. Durm then bypasses Doherty and Billing before having the ball back off his teammate. Moutinho should be taking charge here and telling Bennett to drop off. That’s probably up for debate, one thing that isn’t is Doherty’s tracking back or lack of it as the story goes. Bear in mind where Durm and Doherty are on the above image. Also, Mooy has still got far too much room and nobody has noticed him for ten seconds.
Mooy Makes Wolves Pay
Durm is now five or six yards ahead of Doherty. That is potentially because Bennett gave him a shout and told him that he had the situation under control. Either way, one of them was in the wrong. It’s unclear whether or not Durm meant to pull the ball back to the edge of the area, we shall give him the benefit of the doubt on this occasion. The ball goes between Neves and Moutinho and before you know it, Mooy is passing the ball into Rui’s bottom right-hand corner. If Nuno matched Wagner from the start and played with a third midfielder, there is a possibility that someone would be a damn sight closer to the Australian than Cavaleiro is. I guess we’ll never know.
Mooy Makes Wolves Pay Again
Mooy’s second of the game which effectively killed the game as a contest was a well-executed free-kick. Quite what the wall were doing is worth a moment of everyone’s time as it is most bizarre. Costa stood away from the rest of the wall which left a gaping hole. In many respects, it was Rui’s way of saying to Mooy, go on then, try me. Mooy did try him.
Costa responded to someone on Twitter asking what he was doing there and his response was “because that’s where I was supposed to be” – one can only assume that Rui has put him there to prevent Mooy from getting any real bend on his free-kick. That worked well.
Wolves only had a couple of decent chances of note, Jimenez’ had a header fantastically cleared off the line. Goal line technology ruled there was 0.18mm in it. Wolves’ other chance also fell to the Mexican, he should’ve taken the shot on himself after being played onside by an injured Huddersfield player. He chose to square the ball to absolutely nobody and Wolves’ best chance of the afternoon was gone.
Huddersfield had more of the ball, more shots, more shots on target and were ultimately the better side. That’s the second time on the bounce that Wolves have lost 2-0 at home after an international break. It’s also the second time that it’s been an awful first half performance that we’ve struggled to recover from. Food for thought indeed for Nuno. Huddersfield face Brighton at home next as they look to put some real daylight between them and the relegation zone. Wolves travel to South Wales to face Neil Warnock’s Cardiff. Will there be light at the end of the tunnel there for Wolves? We shall see.
Until the next time.
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