In this article series I will provide match analysis/reports for all of the pre-season games I attend live. Some of the detail documented will be directly beneficial for Fantasy Premier League and some will be more tactical based information or anecdotes.
Match 3 – Wolves 2-0 Crusaders (25/07/19)
78% possession and 22 shots for Wolves tells you all you need to know about who dominated this match. It was one of the most one-sided games of football I have ever seen, with Crusaders content to sit back in a 5-4-1 shape and attempt to counter-attack. Every time they did however, they were immediately snuffed out by the Wolves midfield or defence, with Boly, Coady and Dendoncker being particular standouts at calm ball reclamation.
Wolves lined up using a 3-5-2, a system that has become archetypal for them since midway through the 2018/19 season. Nuno Espirito Santo did not treat his Northern Irish opposition any differently to how he would a Premier League side and set up using the strongest team available. Patricio in goal, Boly, Coady and Bennett at CB, Jonny at left wing-back, Traore at right wing-back, Neves, Moutinho and Dendoncker in central midfield with Jota and Gibbs-White up front. This starting XI contained nine out of eleven first choice starters, with Traore in for the injured Doherty and Gibbs-White in for Jimenez, who had only just returned from Gold Cup victory with Mexico.
It’s fairly obvious to work out where the majority of the team is positioned on the pitch given their labelled positions, however, something of significant note was the positioning of the midfield three. This started as Neves, Moutinho and Dendoncker, but a number of substitutions throughout the game saw tweaks to the positioning of the remaining players. With the initial three, whilst Wolves were playing the ball out from the back, Neves would drop deep (often in between the centre-backs) to collect the ball and operate as a ‘quarterback’ of sorts. Moutinho and Dendoncker would be positioned further forward during this phase, however as the ball reached the centre third of the pitch around the halfway line, Neves and Moutinho would play alongside each other whilst Dendoncker pushed forward. With these three on the pitch together, Dendoncker was constantly the furthest man forward and was positioned in front of the other two but also towards the right-hand side, forming an asymmetrical midfield three.
Whilst Wolves were positioned in the final third attempting to break through the consistently stubborn Crusaders defence, Moutinho would push a bit further forward, looking for the perfect defence-splitting pass, whereas Neves would hold his more defensive position. If Neves did become involved in the attack near the opponent’s box, this was usually through a shot from outside the box, something the crowd were encouraging very enthusiastically knowing full well what he has in his locker.
Like most teams who play with two strikers, one would drop to become involved in possession and the other would usually stay on the shoulder of the opponent’s defensive line. However, there were times throughout the match where both Jota and Gibbs-White found themselves in a deeper position at the same time and when this occured, Dendoncker took the opportunity to advance and become the furthest forward Wolves player. He made a few runs in-behind where he was not picked out.
The first substitution was an enforced one on the 58th minute as Jimenez replaced Neves who had taken a heavy knock to his side and was in too much discomfort to continue. This is obviously not a like-for-like replacement, so Jimenez went up front alongside Jota, with Gibbs-White moving back into an attacking midfield role whilst Dendoncker dropped to play the deep-lying midfielder role that Neves had previously occupied. On the 84th minute, Saiss replaced Gibbs-White, which saw another shift around in midfield, this time Saiss took the ‘Neves role’ with Dendoncker moving forwards to play alongside Moutinho.
The other substitution was a straight swap at left-wing back with Vinagre replacing Jonny after 64 minutes.
My man of the match by some margin was Adama Traore. He has always been well renowned for his dribbling and pace, however, just as renowned for his lack of end product. The Crusaders tried to double-up on him with their left-back and left sided midfielder, however, this did not bother Traore in the slightest as it meant he could have two defenders on toast rather than just one, satisying his hunger. He was a constant menace throughout both halves, using his incredibly fast acceleration to skip past the defenders, most commonly on the outside but also on the inside on a number of occasions. He did this so many times and even when the defender knew exactly what he was going to do, it was rare that they could stop him. It seemed for a while that the regular occurence of all this running and no end product was going to happen once again, however, on the 37th minute, his cross reached Jota who smashed the ball in the back of the net with his weaker right foot.
The movement from Jota to reach the cross perfectly demonstrated his natural striker’s instinct. He was initally positioned close to goal in the box, in line with the the opposition’s defence, however he quickly moved backwards and found himself with complete space and finished superbly on the half-volley. This is a move that Jota was trying throughout the match, with his intial run aimed towards either the posts or just in front of the keeper, before very quickly dropping back and looking for a cut-back. He should’ve had another first half goal as he had a one-on-one shot well saved. As was the case for most of the Wolves side, his involvement noticably dropped in the second half.
One player who really impressed me was Dendoncker. Throughout the course of 90 minutes he was required to play in three different central midfield roles, starting as the most attacking, before moving back to become the deepest lying midfielder and then moving forwards again to play alongside Moutinho. I feel very similarly about him as I do about Scott McTominay, simplicity of play being key with no fancy stuff before ensuring the basics are being done properly. He won the ball back on multiple occasions, played simple but smart passes and demonstrated an incredible versatility to play across the ‘6’, ‘8’ and even ’10’ roles at points. He took a number of shots, was looking for the ball in-behind on occasions and where possible, would thread neat passes out to the wing-backs to begin a phase resulting in a goalscoring opportunity, as seen with his pass to Traore which led to the first goal. I feel he is a massively underrated player as he does nothing flashy but does what he needs to very effectively, a valuable asset to any team.
Having struggled since Jota’s opener to break down the dogged Crusaders defence, the second goal finally came right before the final whistle. Moutinho delivered a ball into the box which the goalkeper came for but spilt, leaving Vinagre with an easy finish from close range. Both Jonny and Vinagre were a constant threat down the left flank, looking to thread passes through to the strikers or stretch the pitch by running in-behind themselves.
Although he got himself into a number of goalscoring opportunities, Gibbs-White did not have his finest performance in a Wolves shirt at all. His finishing was poor and a lot of his passes went astray during the build-up phase. You could see his frustration grow and this did no favours for his final third decision-making. When Jimenez came on, an immediate improvement in link-up play between the strikers was evident and he was trying to make things happen as much as he was waiting to be on the end of a pass from a teammate. He did not have any big chances but was looking for any opportunity of a half chance and created a few where there was seemingly nothing on.
Written by Nick Pasquet
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