When Wolves and Leicester last met at Molineux in the Premier League, it ended in an epic seven-goal thriller. Sixteen years later, surely the same thing couldn’t happen again, could it? Lo & behold, lightning did strike twice as Wolves and Leicester played out another barnstorming game.

Wolves leapfrogged their East Midlands opponents after a stoppage-time winner from Diogo Jota gave them a deserved win. In this tactical analysis of the Premier League game, we are going to look at each of the seven goals and also a couple of the more questionable decisions from the referee

Team news

Romain Saiss deputised for the suspended Willy Boly as the left-sided central defender with Leander Dendoncker, Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves continuing as the midfield triangle. In a somewhat surprising decision, Ruben Vinagre was brought in for Matt Doherty with Vinagre playing on the left and Jonny on the right. Nuno, forever the man of few words, explained that Doherty was only on the bench “because Jonny is playing” when asked by Sky Sports.

Considering Saiss is left-footed, it makes sense to play with the left-footed Vinagre on that side of the pitch. Whether or not that was Nuno’s thinking as well remains to be seen, although it will become clearer as there are two more games without Boly. 

Claude Puel sprung somewhat of a surprise as he opted for the recently recalled Harvey Barnes over the illustrious James Maddison. Barnes didn’t disgrace himself, not by a long shot, especially as he was integral to Leicester’s first equaliser. On the other hand, Maddison’s wicked delivery drew the Foxes level on the second occasion.

The early bird…

Going into the game at Molineux, Wolves had scored 23 goals, of which only two came in the first 15 minutes of games. After the first 15 minutes of this game though, that tally was doubled.

The imperious Joao Moutinho became the first Wolves player to produce two assists in a top-flight game since Kevin Doyle in 2012. How did the ex-Monaco man manage that, though?

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Strong work from Dendoncker.

Since Dendoncker made his full Premier League debut against Spurs, he has grown into his role. Here, you can see him pressing Demarai Gray and turning over possession. Jimenez then has the ball in a promising position. Due to the pace that Wolves play with, these quick turnovers are so important.

Moutinho is just out the shot. However, he’s soon involved as you can see from the following image.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Moutinho doesn’t have an awful lot of space, but as it turned out it was more than enough.

Jimenez slides in Joao Moutinho and despite Jota’s position, he ends up on the end of his countryman’s delivery. Big question marks have to be slapped on Danny Simpson as from the above image, how on earth does Jota end up goal-side of the Premier League winner?

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Jota doesn’t need asking twice.

If we look at Simpson (circled) and his body shape, he doesn’t seem up for it. It’s not fair to say that he doesn’t know that Diogo Jota is behind him because he undoubtedly will, but he’s almost flat footed whereas the Portuguese is bouncing. Jota gets the right side of Simpson and stabs it home beyond Kasper Schmeichel, who didn’t have too long before produced an outstanding save to thwart Neves.  

At the double

Just after the 10-minute mark, it was 2-0 to Nuno’s side. Another telling delivery from Moutinho, more weak defending from Leicester and better desire from Wolves were all the ingredients that were required as Bennett powered a header beyond the Leicester keeper.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Zonal marking doesn’t work on this occasion.

It can be fiercely debated whether or not zonal marking works. Regardless of your opinion, it is clear that it doesn’t this time. Saiss, Bennett and Dendoncker are only being picked up by Ricardo meaning they’ve all got runs on the Leicester backline. In essence, once Bennett judges the flight of the ball, there’s only ever one outcome on the cards.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Maguire was targeted and he doesn’t cope well.

Dendoncker slips to the near post, Saiss runs down the middle and Bennett arcs his run to the back of the trio. Morgan and Ndidi are left standing there helpless as the delivery from Moutinho passes them by. If they were man marking, it wouldn’t have happened. If they had someone on the post, it would’ve been kept out: fine margins.

Diogo Jota had a glorious opportunity to make it 3-0 but his header was straight at the Dane between the sticks and ultimately, that changed what happened at the start of the second half.

The early bird (part two)…

While Wolves started the first half at a blistering pace, the complete opposite could be said about the second. A catalogue of errors allowed Leicester a way back into the game. Strangely, it all started with a misplaced cross from Ruben Vinagre.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Vinagre brings it back onto his weaker right foot.

Instead of whipping the ball in with his left (white line), he cuts the ball back and tries to curl it in with his right (red line). From a Wolves perspective, it’s positive to see four Wolves players in the box as there have been times earlier in the campaign when balls have been played in the box to absolutely nobody. Anyhow, Barnes heads the ball clear and then it’s Bennett’s turn to make a mistake.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Bennett completely misreads the ball

Somehow, Bennett manages to totally misjudge the flight of the ball. From that moment, Leicester are in the driver’s seat. As is evidenced, Gray is slightly behind Neves, but as soon as the ball bounces over Bennett and Vardy collects it, Gray is off and away. Bennett has little chance of recovery due to Vardy’s pace and once the ball is played into Demarai Gray, Wolves are at sixes and sevens.

Nobody gets near Gray

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Pin-point pass from Vardy.

Once the ball is played to ex-Bluenose Gray, Saiss has two tasks and two tasks only: keep him wide, and don’t let him shoot. The Moroccan midfielder-cum-defender does one without the other. Gray is kept relatively wide but because Saiss jumps in, Gray is left relatively alone. Take nothing away from Gray, though, he still has an awful lot to do.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Into the bottom corner.

Despite the best efforts of Wolves skipper Conor Coady, Gray’s shot finds its way beyond Rui Patricio. So, with less than two minutes played in the second half, Wolves’ lead had been halved.

Four minutes later, it was gone altogether as a surging run from Ben Chilwell caused all manner of problems. There is a question as to whether or not Jonny is unfairly impeded. Either way though, it’s not the best defensive phase of play from the Black Country side.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Chilwell is tracked by Dendoncker.

Looking at it from the reverse, all you see here is Chilwell run and run with Dendoncker covering him relatively soundly. Chilwell then comes to a dead end by the name of Jonny Castro.

Is it a foul?

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Two issues in the above image.

Essentially, what you need to know is Jonny was knocked to the floor by a stray Chilwell arm hitting him in the chest. That’s why Dendoncker’s arms in the air as he is appealing the misdemeanour.

Unfortunately for Wolves and Dendoncker, Harvey Barnes plays to the whistle and finds the back of the net via Conor Coady. Coady now has two goals in two games, both at the wrong end of the pitch.

The protege takes centre stage

While Moutinho may have assisted two goals in the first half, it was his young accomplice Ruben Neves who stole the show for Wolves’ third and fourth with two exquisite passes. In between those goals, Wes Morgan levelled and looked set to give Leicester a point. Ironically, you could say Morgan was at fault for Wolves’ third as Jota leaves him for dust.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Neves pings a sublime long ball to Jota.

It’s crazy to think that this pass wasn’t even his best of the game. Still images don’t do it justice: it is well worth watching back a full replay. As soon as Jota takes the ball even further away from Morgan with his first touch, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Jota puts Wolves back in front.

With his second touch, Jota rifles it through Schmeichel’s legs. Could the Dane in goal have done better? Maybe. Did Jota deserve another goal? Absolutely. For nigh on 25 minutes, it looked certain that Jota’s second was going to be enough for Wolves to win the game.

Nuno brought on Doherty and Gibbs-White for Vinagre and Moutinho. Whether or not either of the subs were the right thing to do is up for debate. Vinagre adds more natural width on the left and Moutinho is well, Moutinho.

Bringing on Traore for Moutinho would’ve made more sense as Traore’s pace would’ve stretched the game tenfold. As it happens, it was Puel’s decision to bring on Maddison that almost made the biggest difference.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Maddison puts in into the danger zone.

If the Wolves defence are where the white line is rather than where they are positioned, they would arguably have been in a better position to defend Maddison’s delivery. While there would have been Leicester players running onto them, it would surely have been better than what happened.

Neves & Jota to the rescue

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
The one beats the three.

Morgan beats Saiss, Dendoncker and Doherty in the air. He was Dendoncker’s man to mark and while there was a question mark over whether or not Morgan fouled the Belgian, let’s not run the risk of sounding like a broken record. Rui Patricio could arguably have done more.

Admittedly, Maddison’s delivery was an outswinger, but the Portuguese goalkeeper could possibly have come out to collect the ball. In the end, it didn’t make a difference, but it’s certainly a worry. A high volume of Wolves’ goals that they concede come from set pieces.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Neves pings his second sensational long ball forward.

Neves produced another mesmerising pass to set Jimenez on his way. It could be argued that he’s borderline offside. Considering the decision that went against Wolves and Doherty against Spurs at Molineux though, you could say Wolves deserve a bit of luck. Jota would clearly have been considered offside in past. That’s not how the rule works anymore, much to the confusion of certain Sky Sports commentators. Regardless, Jimenez squares to Jota as we see below.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Jota seals his hattrick.

Jota has an awful lot of time to think about this. By the same token so does Schmeichel, but Jota gets the better of the Dane for the third time. Cue pandemonium around Molineux: an epic finish to a wonderful encounter.

Final thoughts

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Credit: Sofascore.

Both sides had sustained spells of pressure, in what was a sensational game for the neutral. Diogo Jota ended up with the match ball. It is debatable whether he was even the best player on the pitch though, as Neves looked more like the Championship self we all grew to love last year.

Wolves make the short trip to Shrewsbury this weekend in the FA Cup fourth round, while Leicester have got the week off after succumbing to Newport County in the previous round.

Until the next time.


If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the January issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.