Wolverhampton Wanderers have been on a rollercoaster journey to begin the season, so has been the Wolves performance under Bruno Lage.
The Portuguese who took over from Nuno Espirito Santo, took some time to settle in but the results have improved dramatically off late as Wolves have shot upto 8th in the table. Many credit the upturn in form to a more adventurous, attacking style of play that Lage has injected in the side which is certainly one of the prime reasons.
‣ Unbeaten in six (all comps)
‣ Up to seventh in the Premier League
‣ Only Chelsea & Arsenal have more points since the start of Sept
‣ Improving under Bruno Lage
‣ Raul Jimenez back & scoring
🐺📈 Wolves this season.
— Sporting Life Football & Infogol (@InfogolApp) November 1, 2021
Wolves have been utilising their supreme pace and world-class passers to great effect, saw them go unbeaten in October, picking up 10 points from the available 12. Though there is a large portion of the campaign still left to be played, the fact that Wolves have started taking the game to their opponents is a sign of better things to come for everyone associated with the club.
MORE POSSESSION, LESS GOING LONG
Under Nuno, the team was notorious for using big switches of play and a rather defensive back-five which did not move too forward. Instead, they wanted to use the wide players more who could deliver crosses for Raul Jimenez as well as taking shots from long through the attackers and midfielders. There has been a marked shift under Lage, and the incredible first three games in the league is the place to start with. Wolves created an xG of 4.3 and scored…zero goals.
13 – Since losing their first three Premier League matches under Bruno Lage, Wolves have taken 13 points from their six matches (W4 D1 L1). Indeed, since the start of September, only Chelsea (5) have more Premier League wins than Wolves (4). Building. pic.twitter.com/hcMatnh0R7
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 1, 2021
All three of the matches were 1-0 defeats, and there was a point where Wolves had taken the most shots without scoring once. Their first two goals came in the victory against October, by which time they had taken 71 shots. However, their wastefulness in front of goal and the fact that Raul Jimenez is still not fully back to his former self after a horrific skull injury suffered last season, means the best is yet to come.
What Lage has done brilliantly is make Wolves a more forward-passing team as a whole. Their playing style is far quicker than it had been under Nuno and even the backline is joining attacks more regularly. This is evident from comparing where the team stands now and where they were last season after having played 11 games. Wolves have created an xG of 15.74 this term as opposed to just 11.25 back in 2020.
What a start to his Wolves career!
🔏 Future secured
— Wolves (@Wolves) July 9, 2021
The fact that they are underperforming by around five goals still in 2021 goes to show how many more points they could have had by now if they had finished off their chances in earlier matches. What is even more remarkable is that their shots P90 has remained almost the same over this period of time.
Actually, it is less now at 11.36 as compared to 11.91 under Nuno and the first three months of last season. This means that Wolves are getting into better shooting areas which are increasing their rates of finding the back of the net.
Transforming a long-ball team with a direct style of play into a team who play a fluid possession-heavy style, is one of the toughest coaching tasks in football. Huge credit to Bruno Lage for his early work at Wolves, which is achieving exactly that, whilst still getting results.
— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) November 1, 2021
Lage has continued to rely on Adama Traore as the foremost dribbler and speedster in the team, with the Spaniard once again clocking the most dribbles attempted and completed. On the other flank is exciting youngster Trincao, who is complementing really well. Furthermore, their threat from set-pieces has also increased with three defenders already on the scoresheet. However, the star of the frontline has no doubt been Hwang Hee-Chan, the new loan signing from RB Leipzig. He has already scored four goals from just eight shots, and had a hand in seven shot-creating actions too.
🗣 "It's not just about the goals but what he can give the game in general."
Bruno Lage is very happy with the addition of Hwang Hee-chan and what he has added to Wolves pic.twitter.com/crIFMcw7li
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) October 29, 2021
This eases the pressure off of Jimenez and gives Lage another alternative through the middle, something that Nuno did not have in Pedro Neto or Vitinha who were both wide players.
SOLIDITY IN DEFENCE, BUILDING THROUGH THE MIDDLE
The importance of Ruben Neves has been understated to the rise of the Wolves this term. Lage sets his side up to advance the ball through the Portuguese, who is an ace passer and can transition quickly from defence to attack. Alongside Joao Moutinho, the pair have been central to the progressive moves that Wolves have done so far. Neves has been involved in 2.54 shot-creating actions P90 as he remains the linchpin in this side. Last year, they had more of a slow buildup with more lateral passing which tended to involve playing the game with a lot more waiting.
⏱ 75' – Aston Villa 2-0 Wolves
⚽️ 80' – Roman Saiss
⚽️ 85' – Conor Coady
⚽️ 90+5' – Ruben Neves
⏱ FT – (1.07 xG) Aston Villa 2-3 Wolves (1.75 xG)
— Sporting Life Football & Infogol (@InfogolApp) October 16, 2021
Lage has been using the 3-4-3 which changes into a 5-4-1 when Wolves are defending. The wingers cut the passing lanes inside meaning that teams have to go through the middle, where they have found little success. Wolves’ xGA of 13.8 is more than the 12 goals conceded, meaning their defence is holding firm in face of attacks. That is good enough to be the 8th-best backline in the league, but the best is still left.
🗣"It's not about our result it's about our performance."
Bruno Lage thinks the most important thing about Wolves is the link between the players pic.twitter.com/JPF8HknCHB
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 1, 2021
Wolves have attempted the third-most tackles (217), winning almost two-thirds of them (142). Jose Sa in goal is one of the few goalkeepers who have a positive post-shot xG rating (+1.2), all of which are in stark contrast to Nuno’s time last year.
Since the start of September, no team has more Premier League wins than Bruno Lage's Wolves
— The Coaches' Voice (@CoachesVoice) November 1, 2021
Back then, the team allowed 315 shots against from open play while Lage has overseen just 98 from 11 matches, with 41 of them being from outside the box. Nuno’s back five used to depend on outmuscling and out jumping their opponents which has certainly not been the case this season.
MORE THAN WINNING OR LOSING
Lage has time and again stressed on the fact that what is important right now are the performances by the team, rather than the final result. One of the players who has benefited immensely is Max Kilman, who barely featured last season under Nuno. Kilman has played all the games in full and has already made 24 tackles, only three less than the entire total he got in 2020-21.
⚽️ "It's been great. Not just in possession, but out of possession."
💨 "How aggressive we are in the press."
🐺 "How many chances we've created, the possession we have.
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) September 18, 2021
Not only Kilman, but many players have stated how Lage wants the team to develop as a whole along with individual players- a notable shift from Nuno’s alleged approach of not doing one-on-one sessions from players. Wolves can genuinely became a top team with time if this is set to continue.