The Other Guys is one of my favourite comedy films. It’s a tale of haplessness pretty much everywhere you turn, unlikely heroes and shines a light on those who are in the shadows of operations. It has basically nothing to do with Wolves, but the Leicester Game felt like the turn of ‘The Other Guys.’
Namely, John Ruddy, Leander Dendoncker, Kortney Hause, Ruben Vinagre, Romain Saiss, Morgan Gibbs-White, Ivan Cavaleiro, Leo Bonatini and Adama Traore. If you’ve watched the aforementioned movie, you’ll realise our supporting cast is decidedly more capable than Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell.
Only Conor Coady and Jonny Castro Otto remained from Saturday’s fixture against Manchester United, alhough this felt as much a test of their mettle as any of the newly introduced players. Jonny especially, reverted to the right hand side and it was interesting to see how he took to the role. Matt Doherty hasn’t had a break in such a long time and it was an eye opener for us all to see a Wolves side without his indefatigable presence down the right flank.
Yesterday’s performance needs to be viewed through a spectrum of match fitness. No matter how much you train, how often and intensely your match-specific drills are, you will not be match sharp unless you get time on the pitch in pressurised situations. Until you’re up against team who have A) watched you and come up with a plan to attack/thwart you and B) who are actively trying to beat you, you won’t have that match sharpness you need.
We were sluggish to start with, late to the press, uninvolved and largely spectating as Leicester passed the ball about with the kind of panache that we’ve become accustomed to ourselves. We simply couldn’t get out and our front three weren’t allowing the ball to stick. What we did do, as is usual, was restrict Leicester to shots from distance, although Coady did need to clear one off the line. This is the beauty of the Nuno system. You can actually be relatively passive and still manage to keep chances conceded to a minimum. It says a lot that we’ve conceded so few good chances and more of than not our xG is higher than the opposition. This is where we faltered once more though.
Our front three looked relatively formidable. Adama is a phenomenon, Cavaleiro is arguably our most effervescent attacker on top form and Bonatini is all about knitting things together. The theory was not quite the reality though. Bonatini is never going to spin in behind defences and he’s never going to fight off hulking centre backs like Wes Morgan, so you need to be precise with him: Cavaleiro and Traore aren’t the most precise footballers. Cavaleiro, for what it’s worth slipped pretty seamlessly into some kind of form, but he was operating as an individual. Adama Adama’d his way through the game. He will always go past players – the fact it’s almost a given is pretty astonishing given the calibre of player we’re talking about – but that isn’t going to be enough. His decision-making was as erratic as ever and nothing really came off for him. He proved exactly why Nuno hasn’t started him in the league yet.
You could see Nuno getting frustrated with his charges but you have to accept a drop-off in fluidity when you replace Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho with Romain Saiss and Morgan Gibbs-White. Saiss and Gibbs-White are perfectly capable footballers and arguments could be made for them to appear in a number of other Premier League starting line-ups. But to expect them to slip into Neves-Moutinho mode is fanciful. If you want to tackle the issue of squad depth then, you also have to accept the Harry Kane Principle – who would want to sign for Wolves in the knowledge they would be behind the Portuguese pair in the reckoning?
To be fair to the team they managed to work their way back into the game after a rocky first 20 – in Nuno terms anyway – and for much of the rest of the game were on top. There was plenty to be encouraged about on the flanks with exuberance of Jonny and Ruben Vinagre. Vinagre in particular looked a more muscular version of himself and coped well with the dangerous Ricardo Pereira.
Leander Dendoncker was a formidable, assured presence on the right of the back three and he showed his ability when stepping out from the back on occasion too. Kortney Hause was his usual domineering self, but he could do with tightening up his distribution. He simplified his game after half-time and felt the benefit of this.
I won’t delve into the penalties, but we played a little like a team getting to know each other and perhaps if this was a seamless unit, like the one who play in our league fixtures currently, this would have been a victory for us. We were certainly the team in the ascendancy towards the end. It’s an unfortunate end to a competition that gave plenty of players opportunities.
A word on the atmosphere though. I appreciate Wolves are pricking the ears of locals who otherwise may not be drawn to attend Molineux fixtures and it was clear there were plenty infrequent travellers in attendance yesterday. This is welcome of course, but there seemed to be an air of frustration that this team didn’t reproduce the levels of the United performance or the Man City performance. Let’s not become those guys who just expect. Let’s enjoy these players. They won’t be here for long and even some of the reserves are exceptional footballers in their own right who we are fortunate to have. We have no right to be entertained as football fans. You don’t buy your ticket with a guarantee on it. It’s a human game, played by humans and one thing humans always promise to do is to let you down on occasion. We’ll be back at it on Saturday no doubt.
On to the next one.