Round-up of this week’s action
Quality of football
Seven games into the season and we remain committed to playing our football on the deck, with none of the aimless hoofball that we’ve been forced to endure over the last couple of years. The upshot of this is that we spend large periods of games in full control with the opposition simply unable to disrupt us other than through repetitive fouling. We had 70% possession against Millwall and the opening half hour of last night’s game against Bristol City should have seen us further than one goal in front. This is a team which is still learning how to play in what is an alien formation to many and in the case of the new arrivals from overseas, settling into English football as a whole. With further coaching and games under their belt we should only get better from here; encouraging stuff. There’s a definite plan in place from the management and one that’s been properly thought through with players signed and utilised to match what we’re trying to do. This is not the way Wolves normally operate. I’ll have to get used to it.
Set piece defending
The vast majority of the goals we’ve conceded under Nuno – going back to pre-season – have come from set piece situations. Last night we firstly failed to clear a ball from a corner despite having a couple of opportunities to do so and then neglected to mark up properly or react to an effort off the post. We continue to employ a zonal marking system which personally I’m never going to get on board with; for one thing, it allows attackers to get a run on the ball while it’s in the air which puts you at a natural disadvantage as a defender. Also, when something goes wrong, it’s much more difficult to work out who specifically is to blame and where improvements need to be made. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that approach (and it does tend to be a personal thing whether you do or don’t side with it), it’s pretty clear that it’s a current weakness of ours. This remains a fairly low quality league but if there’s one thing that many of the teams can do, it’s to exploit frailties from dead balls. Change the system, make sure the current setup works better, whatever. We won’t get away with being vulnerable in this area.
Three goals already (matching the entire output of each of Nouha Dicko, Joe Mason and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson from last season) having arrived in the country around 48 hours before the start of the season and having had practically no pre-season to speak of. Excellent link up play which allows the likes of Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro to thrive. A physical presence capable of dealing with multiple defenders at once. And yet…he’s still becoming a target for some criticism. The demands continue for the mythical “20 goal a season striker” as if we could have just popped down to the Big Championship Supermarket and picked one up off the shelf (I believe they’re located next to the “Paul Ince type” midfielder aisle). For the record, I don’t think Leo was the absolute best striker we could have signed and I don’t expect him to top 20 goals this season. There are aspects to his play which mark him out as slightly imperfect; in a team which has a left wing back in Ruben Vinagre who can carry the ball up the pitch with mind-boggling speed and skill, he does stand out as a little more rustic in that respect. We’ve yet to see him put away a chance which would be considered anything more than meat and drink for a decent striker (though again, with some of the chances our forwards have missed in the last year or so, I’ll take a bit of basic efficiency in this area). But he’s doing very well and he’s pivotal to what we do. It’s true that last night there were a number of balls across the six yard box that say, a peak Sylvan Ebanks-Blake would have feasted on. But we aren’t asking our central striker to basically goal hang. He plays a role which is fundamentally focused on link up play and often dropping deep to allow the inside forwards free reign to burst towards goal. He isn’t always going to be in there. That’s our system. The worry is that every time he misses a chance – and he should have had another goal last night having worked the opportunity to get a shot off – or God forbid, doesn’t score at all, the complaints will begin about how we should have signed another forward (we should have, but we got stiffed on one target and couldn’t find an adequate alternative) or how he isn’t going to score enough goals. He’s doing well and we need him to carry on doing well. Time to get off his back a bit.
With all the Twitter-based kerfuffle over our failure to land another striker on deadline day, the signing of N’Diaye went somewhat under the radar. As I mentioned in my last article, reports from his previous adventures in English football at Sunderland and Hull were mixed to say the least and so I approached the transfer with some caution. It’s with pleasure that I’m happy to report that early signs are very good indeed. Strong, committed, actually using his size to his advantage (which again, should really be a given, but then I spent years watching Seyi Olofinjana) and with a surprising turn of pace and willingness to get forward. It seems that Sunderland in particular played him purely as a holding midfielder with a pure brief to sit in front of the back four and break up play, but that really isn’t his game. He’s much more of an all-rounder as shown with his part in our first goal last night. He did fade a little as the game went on – a probable consequence of a lack of recent action – and it’s fair to point out that we’ve seen strong early performances in the past from other midfielders who’ve gone on to descend into absolute nothingness (I’m talking to you here, Segundo Castillo). However thus far, this looks like another astute piece of transfer business.
An embarrassment of riches
Last night was Ivan Cavaleiro’s first league start of the season and he was outstanding – the only blot on the copybook being a failure to get himself on the scoresheet having had a couple of good chances. We gave N’Diaye his full debut and in the process left out Romain Saiss who had, before last night’s round of fixtures, completed more passes than anyone else in the division and had a 95% pass success rate against Millwall. Kortney Hause, Helder Costa and Morgan Gibbs-White are yet to play a single minute this season as they recover from injury while Michal Zyro and Connor Ronan remain largely on the fringes. Danny Batth and Ruben Vinagre have both had two successive excellent displays in these games…yet would still probably drop out for Willy Boly and Barry Douglas respectively when they return to action. Will Norris is as good a backup keeper as you’re likely to find at this level. It’s refreshing to think that when everyone is available, the question will now be who we’re going to leave out, rather than having to compromise and pick players who obviously aren’t good enough because there’s simply no alternative.
Refereeing is still poor
Debate will rage around the penalty award against Vinagre from last night – personally I think he was far too close to the ball for a spot kick to be awarded, and the linesman with an unimpeded view from no more than 10 yards away signalled for a corner – but really my problem is with how many routine decisions referees at this level get wrong. For the avoidance of doubt, Bristol City were also on the receiving end of some dubious calls from Steve Martin, who continued his 100% record of never making me laugh. Blaming referees for results is a folly and the realm of the likes of Steve Bruce who doesn’t want to make excuses but will anyway…that said, the standard of officiating is really, really poor from what we’ve seen this season. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for referees to get the basics right and keep an eye on the treatment meted out to Jota in particular. I won’t hold my breath on anything changing.
Oscillating Wildly is a “pay-as-you-feel” website. The content will never disappear behind a paywall. However, if you enjoy my work and would like to help me continue to write – as this is essentially my main focus now – please consider making a small donation via the button near the top of the page. If you want to and can, that’s great. If not, then no worries.