Much has been made of our slight dip in attacking verve and goal output recently, so I thought I’d delve into my footballing tactics handbook to see how Wolves could adapt their current approach without dipping into the transfer market.
Before I start I must admit that I don’t see too much wrong with our play at the moment. Much of our attack isn’t necessarily based around patterns and movements, but individualism and having a good relationship with the players around you. Players have suffered from a dip in form and subsequently we haven;t been quite at our best. I imagine the conversation wouldn’t even have occurred if Vinagre had not been sent off against Swansea and we dispatched them like we threatened to do for much of the first half of that game. Nevertheless, here are some alternatives for Nuno to think about.
Plan A – If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
Part of me is very much still in this camp. If Kieran Dowell’s tame volley doesn’t pinball into John Ruddy’s net, I firmly believe we would not be talking about a Wolves defeat right now. But our current shape in actuality looks a lot like this:
I won’t speak about this too much as I’ve written about this in great detail earlier in the season (click here to view the article), but this shape offers us great solidity defensively, while placing three players in a position to score a number of goals. It does rely quite a lot on the front three being in tune with each other and in good form however.
Plan B – Two Up Top
Relatively similar to our current shape, although it changes the focus of our attacking by including an extra striker. This formation would put more onus on the wing-backs to provide width, but also add extra penalty box presence to feed off their crosses. The No. 10 would have licence to combine across the whole pitch and even beyond the two strikers, with the two deeper midfielders less likely to involve themselves in the final third. The defensive shape remains pretty much the same, although they can be a little more direct in their passing with an extra striker on the pitch. This could open some different avenues to goal, rather than them constantly looking to find the feet of Cavaleiro and Jota in the inside-right/left channels. The quality from wide areas would have to improve though, for this to work.
A slight variation on the above would be to withdraw the No. 10 into a genuine midfield role. This is similar to how Chelsea operate, in an attempt to field Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard in the same line-up. One caveat to that is that they have Hazard and Fabregas. The beauty of this is that you can employ this midfielder in any role, dependent on the game situation. I’ve included Gibbs-White for illustrative purposes, but in his mould this player could be a ball-carrier/distributor if you’re looking to force the issue in a game. This encourages domination of possession in the middle of the pitch, with width again provided by the wing-backs. If you;re looking to close a game out, this third player could be a pure destroyet, free to press the ball anywhere in the middle third. The other way to use this formation would be similar to how Juventus employed Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal in front of Andrea Pirlo, as tireless protectors, running themselves into the ground to ensure Pirlo had the time and space to operate in his way. The role is actually tailor-made for a certain ex-player who departed this summer….
Plan C- Four at the Back
Now before you decide to execute me for high treason and Crimes Against Nuno’s Back Three, take a look at the possibilities available to us if we decided to lose one centre-back. There are a number of ways this could be implemented.
To continue the theme of using two strikers and to encourage the attacking capabilities of what are now full backs, Nuno could go with a diamond. I’d Suggest Coady wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective in a two-man centre-back partnership – neither would Batth or Bennett for that matter – and it would require two more robust man-marking centre backs to play in this shape. Again this affords plenty of freedom for the man playing behind the strikers, who would be able to pick up positions in wider areas. There would also be an onus on one of the strikers to make runs into the channels, but Wolves would unequivocally dominate the centre of the pitch with this formation. It allows us to play as many of our robust players as possible and maintain a strong spine, although there is a danger opposition full-backs could have a field day going forward. One thing it would afford, is Neves a lot of time on the ball, dropping between the centre backs to pick his passes. Many of our best attacking talents do not obviously fit into this system however and the likes of Costa and Cavaleiro would go to waste. This looks like the least probably tactic Nuno would employ.
To bring those forward players into the fold, you could operate a more conventional 4-3-3, the like of which many of the most successful sides of the past 10-15 years have employed. This is a popular formation due to its flexibility and it’s ability to dominate possession. The best exponents go from 4-5-1 to almost 2-5-3 with flying full-backs a key feature. The central striker would need to be adept at holding the ball up, while maintaining some penalty box-presence. The wide players could operate either as inside forwards or more conventional wingers if deployed on their natural sides ie. Costa on the left and Cavaleiro on the right. You would then have a midfield player breaking from deep to make runs into the box. Again, with three central midfielders it allows domination of possession, but it can be left vulnerable if the deepest midfielder doesn’t keep their discipline and protect his centre backs.
Finally, we have this work of art. This is probably the most tantalising option available to us. In my eyes, this formation is balanced, robust, fits all of our best attacking players into it and allows us to take a varied approach to any game. The central midfielders would operate basically as they do now, as a double-pivot, but with extra options ahead of them. The striker wouldn’t need to drop as deep as they do in the current shape and maintain a penalty-box presence, while the full backs would be encouraged to combine with the winger in front of them. Again, there is the risk of being left susceptible on the counter, but as long as the midfielders remain disciplined, then teams could be forced into wide areas and allow the forwards to recover their shape. It’s an exciting prospect, but Nuno probably errs on the side of caution as a coach.
The fact is Nuno won’t change. And why should he? His ideas are stronger than the rest of the Championship, to the tune of 9 whole points. What this does demonstrate though, is the wealth of options available to us when you think about the roles the squad can fill. We may not have cover for our current shape, but a little tinkering here and there and all looks rosy again. Football is a game of perceptions. You can put whatever spin you want on a situation. Ultimately, the players win us the game, but the structure upon which they are built has a key tole to play. Trust me when I say, it ain’t broke – so why fix it?