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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Wolves

Tim Spiers of The Athletic with the view from Molineux

21 January 2022

Wolves are eighth in the Premier League at the time of speaking, just seven points off the top four with 19 games played. What have you made of the past few months?

It is easy for me to say as I am in it every day, but I think, nationally, they have gone under the radar. Not a lot of people are talking about them and not many know who the manager is; they have just quietly gone about their business and, mostly, relied on the foundations that were set up almost five years ago now under Nuno, when they went 3-4-3. Of the back three this season, Conor Coady and Romain Saiss have been there even before Nuno’s time, while Max Kilman has been around for a few years next to them. So, though there is a new manager and there are a couple of new faces, it is the same system and mostly the same players from last season and, in some cases, the season before. Bruno Lage tried to bring in a new style of play at the start of the season, when Wolves were very intense, played with a higher line and a high press as well and they looked great doing it – after three matches, only Man City had taken more shots, but they did not score a single goal. Lage realised there was no point going all-out attacking if they were not going to score, so for now, let’s get some points on the board, let’s do what we know and get a few results – and that is exactly what has happened. In the last few weeks in particular, it has not been thrilling and there have not been many goals at all for either side in their last few games. They are, however, pulling off results and for Lage to recognise what this squad needed and what its strengths were is pretty intelligent management.

Given that one goal, generally, tends to be worth a point, are you surprised where they are in the table, are you in any way surprised that Wolves are where they are having only scored 14 goals?

I am surprised that they have only scored 14 goals at this point because that is really unusual to score 14 in 19 games and be as high as they are, but I’m not surprised that they are eighth in the table in general because of the quality they have in the squad; most of this squad finished seventh two years in a row. They had a blip last season and there were so many reasons behind that - Raul Jimenez’s absence being one, Covid was a major disruption and they had an horrendous injury crisis – but, in general, this squad of players is full of quality. You look at someone like Adama Traore, who has not even been in the first team in recent weeks, or Leander Dendoncker, who is in the Belgium squad. With Lage being such an unknown quantity when he came in, most fans were just hopeful of improving on last season and looking to the future, so to go from 13th to eighth and to beat Man United, draw with Chelsea and come so close to drawing with Liverpool and Man City, they have definitely done better than what people expected, even inside the club.

So far this month, the club have brought in Japanese midfielder Hayao Kawabe from Grasshoppers. Do you expect any more business before the end of the transfer window?

Wolves have said publicly that it is going to be a quiet month. They will look to bring in maybe a loan or two as they are really short in central defence – Saiss is at AFCON with Morocco and Willy Boly is injured – so they have only got two senior recognised centre-halves. There are a couple of games they would like to fill, but in terms of spending money and buying players, that is probably dependent on sales and Traore’s future is the main talking point this month. He has only got 18 months left on his contract, there is no immediate prospect of him signing a new deal and Spurs are certainly interested in signing him, so if they get a decent amount of money for him, I am sure some of that will be reinvested into the team, but if not, it is probably going to be a quiet month.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?

Given his recent form, I think Daniel Podence is one to look out for. He goes under the radar to an extent, with most of the attention last season on Pedro Neto. He has been at the club for two years now and that time has been stop-start with injuries, form and struggling to get into the team as well, but he is probably in the best form of his Wolves career at the moment and was superb in the recent games against Chelsea and Man United. He is right-footed, but will probably play on the left and with the damage he can cause in between the lines with his technique, pace and vision makes him probably the biggest threat at the moment.

How is Bruno Lage likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?

He has played 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 in every game this season. I think, in the long-term, he probably does want to move to a back four and play a high line, but for now, as I said, he is playing to the squad’s strengths. A 3-4-3 is the way they like to go the majority of the time, with two forwards either side of Jimenez, a couple of attacking wing-backs and then Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves tend to dictate play in the middle. They have got this phenomenal defensive record, so will certainly be hard to beat.

Brentford won the last game 2-0 back in September, but what is your score prediction for this one?

With Wolves’ defensive record, I will have to predict that they will not concede a goal and given their lack of goals, maybe they will not score any either! I’m sure you don’t get many 0-0 predictions, but that is what I am going for!

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