Tactical football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) reviews the weekend, picking out a series of themes he believes we can exploit in future weeks.
Weekend Debrief: 20th January 2020
Wolves can kick-on with the correct recruitment
An impressive comeback victory over Southampton on Saturday has left Nuno Espirito Santo’s side sixth in the Premier League and only five points off a Champions League spot, as the potential for a second season in Europe looks an increasing probability.
Nuno has instilled a brand of football and tactical shape which his players are confident with and buy into, and the form of wingers Adama Traore, Diogo Jota and Pedro Neto have been a revelation, as they have built upon last season’s success.
In midfield, the Portuguese duo of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho offer the Old Gold both control on the ball and defensive solidity, and it is the wide-ranged nature of their attackers and midfielders that allow them to adapt from game-to-game so well tactically, both showing an ability to sit deep and counter, as well as dominate games against lower opposition, with the ability to break them down.
Opportunities to capitalise
With many top sides in transition and struggling this season, we have already seen Leicester make the most of this as they sit third in the table, but their stuttering form has seen them lose ground in the race for second behind Liverpool. However, with a gap of 11 points back to Wolves and Manchester United, they will be confident they have enough to kick on and secure one of the Champions League spots.
The congestion up the top of the league means the opportunity is there for a side to spring another surprise and kick on in the second half of the season, and with the core at Nuno's disposal, Wolves will be relishing the opportunity of doing so.
However, with injuries a concern to a thin squad and a Europa League campaign still to contend with, reinforcements are desperately required in January for Wolves, particularly up front and out wide where they are under-resourced. So who could the Midlands side opt for in their search for European football.
Search for a winger
Starting out wide, Wolves require a winger who would fit the similar mould to the three aforementioned players. Scanning the betting markets show two stand out options at the current moment, and these are Thomas Lemar from Atletico Madrid (7/2) and Hwang-Hee Chan (7/2) from Red Bull Salzburg, and both of these players would make strong additions to Nuno's side.
Focussing on Lemar, his class is undoubted, but with a lack of game time and a struggle to adapt to Diego Simeone’s rigid, defensive tactics, he has not been able to find the same form as at Monaco, which saw him emerge as a talent in the 2016/17 Champions League run alongside the likes of Fabinho and Bernardo Silva.
The 24-year-old will be desperate for more game time to push on his credentials of representing France at the European Championships, thus a move away from Madrid could be on the cards.
Arsenal are rumoured to be the other contenders for the winger’s signature, and he would be a good fit for both sides systems. A tricky winger who has pace to burn on the counter, he would link up well with the hold up play of Raul Jimenez down the centre, whilst offering a similar back up option to Jota on the wing, particularly with his willingness to drive on the ball and commit defenders.
Although Lemar's numbers have tailed off in terms of key passes per-game and assists in Spain, the change in system and lack of consistent game time won’t have helped, and a move to a side such as Wolves, even if temporary, would certainly be what the Frenchman requires in his hopes of pushing on towards a potential Euros spot for the French, as well as finding his form that saw him shoot onto the scene at Monaco.
Old Gold's striking options
The other area of concern for Santo is his lack of depth in the centre forward role, especially now Patrick Cutrone has departed back to Italy for Fiorentina.
Whilst the Italian forward did struggle at times to adapt to life in the Premier League, he offered Nuno an experienced option from the bench, as well as an excellent rotation option in the Europa League. And whilst his goalscoring form didn’t excel, his ability to hold up the ball and bring the players around him as a team player cannot be understated.
Youngster Ben Ashley-Seal has seen a place on the bench in recent weeks, however as was seen in the first half against Manchester United in the FA Cup, the young striker isn’t ready for first team action, and Nuno will be desperate to add fire-power to share the striking responsibilities with Jimenez.
A similar striker in the mould of Cutrone and Jimenez is required, and one that would bring the best out of the wingers around him as well as relish the opportunity to get on the end of crosses in the box with the service provided from Traore, as well as the wing backs. Interestingly, when scanning the betting markets for strikers on the move in January, Wolves’ name very rarely crops up.
They have been linked with a move for one of agent Jorge Mendes’ players in Ecuadorian forward Leonardo Campana, and although the 19-year-old is already a full international, it does represent a risk if he is the only name through the door up front for the Midlands side.
United there for the taking
Unpicking exactly who Wolves should opt for up front is a tough ask, but an experienced name would go a long way to aiding Wolves push in the second half of the campaign and capitalising in a season where many sides are in transition. Signing Lemar, or a similar winger, is desperately key, especially when considering Jota’s injury, whilst another striker is a must.
The main issue for Wolves will be the balancing act between not paying over the odds for a striker at this stage of the season, especially with many sides understandably not wanting to part with key players at this time in the season, so the striker search could prove to be a tough one when trying to match the class of Jimenez.
If they can get these players through the door, they could take interest in a number of outrights, but the stand out option is pitting them up against a Manchester United side who have just lost Marcus Rashford to injury, and they themselves are looking short of striking options.
Available at 2/1 (SkyBet), Wolves to finish above Manchester United is a tempting option, and although January recruitment is fundamental to both sides in this market, the correct signings could see Wolves drive on and overtake United this season. A top-six finish is also an interesting option at 6/4 (SkyBet), but I’d happily see give the inconsistent United side a run for their money at 2/1.
Premier League – Wolves to finish above Manchester United (2/1 SkyBet)