Welcome to the Premier League is that? Or just welcome to the game of football in general, a game which doesn’t always go to plan. No matter how well you prepare, analyse, dissect and implement according to your plan, things will happen that are out of your control. And Wolves learned that in the harshest manner on Saturday.
For what it’s worth we were genuinely excellent. This was like watching games from last season, where our intensity, structure and overall quality seemed to overwhelm the opposition. Leicester seemed genuinely starstruck, which shocks me given the quality of our team and manager, I do find it strange to see Premier League clubs not put measures in place to stop us playing. We deserve more respect than that and we showed in the first half an hour exactly why.
Moutinho curling beautifully against the bar, Doherty’s shot being blocked by Chilwell and Jimenez hitting the post before the ball diverts off the back of Schmeichel and out are all marginal moments which could have gone our way. In almost every goal you see scored, there are random happenings which can dictate the outcome of a situation. None more so than Leicester’s opening goal. Matt Doherty’s concentration could have been questioned, but Lord knows that the ball could have been diverted in all number of directions off his head. Unfortunately for us it was buried in to the top corner. Strikers would be proud.
All the momentum that had built up over the course of the start of the game, was lost and we had the stuffing knocked out of us. This could be a genuine cause for concern, but again this is a team that just doesn’t go behind in games. It’s a mentality we need to overcome. The subsequent lull led to the second goal, although dues need to be paid to the excellent Ricardo Pereira who had a very intriguing running battle with Jonny all game. The one thing I couldn’t accept about the goal however, was Conor Coady’s attempt at blocking it – it was half-arsed and there was absolutely no excuse for that. Stand firm and take the hit. That ball does not go in if you stand your ground.
And so we were left in a situation where entirely undeservedly we were 2-0 down, against a team with a £70 million-rated centre back next to a Premier League title winner, with one of the best ball-winners in the league in front of them and Claude Puel’s general negativity to overcome. The 45 minutes that followed should all be viewed in this context, even if we were up against ten men thanks to the thuggish Jamie Vardy and his Sunday League challenges.
Nuno’s substitutions left a lot to be desired, with our most effective forward being shunted wide and two players with the ability to go past defenders being replaced by just one. Adama Traore is a beast of a dribbler, but he was consistently coming too deep to collect the ball, confronting himself with 2/3/4 defenders instead of one. With two more static forwards in Bonatini and Jimenez alongside him, Traore was consistently shepherded into non-threatening positions, without the real concern of another dribbler for Leicester to contend with. He still made the most of situations, but the second half resembled the way Middlesbrough approached getting back into the game against our nine men last season.
Add to this the fact Harry Maguire was tagged at birth as ‘able to deal with balls into the box’, and you reach a situation where we just couldn’t find a way through. We do play lovely, flowing attacking football, but we are not the team to breach a deep back four.
Which brings us to a point where we sit with one point from two games against two top-half teams from last season. The Premier League schedule means we have to stew a little longer over our results than we’ve been used to. There isn’t that midweek game round the corner to get results out of our system and even then, the next obstacle could be the biggest we’ve seen at Molineux in a lifetime. The anxiety will remain until we get a win. Our fanbase is notoriously of that disposition, but we can’t infect the playing squad with that mentality. The problem with results is that they can often dictate your approach, despite performances suggesting otherwise. The key now is to stick to our guns.
As individual performances go, Wolves were full of promise. Jonny looked a class act, despite not immediately offering an attacking threat to the naked eye. What he does do though, is make us extremely effective in the press when we lose the ball high and he will be a real feature of our play when it comes to winning the ball back. All of our best work came down his flank, although that’s not do a disservice to Matt Doherty who again defended manfully, but was defined by a glaring miss and an own goal. Demarai Gray got little change from him and he also kept Ben Chilwell honest. It’s not his fault Helder Costa was pretty anonymous.
The real conclusions to be drawn from this fixture though are that we look completely at home at this level. Very little about the 90 minutes gives me cause for concern. Nuno’s approach works. Claude Puel readily admitted that his team got away with one. We’ve still had a more strenuous start to the season than many clubs and I have no doubt we won’t be so forgiving when it comes to taking chances against other clubs. But never, ever underestimate football’s ability to be football. As much as you might make football happen, sometimes it just happens to you. On this occasion, football happened to us. I have confidence in us turning that situation around.