Part of the beauty of football and why it’s so popular the world over, is that it can be interpreted in many different ways. Only last night I was discussing the fact that leaving Molineux yesterday you probably had 31,000 different interpretations of how it went. The same goes for footballers. No two players are the same and each sees their role in a unique way. While we are a team that operates pretty systematically by nature, you often need those differing interpretations to get you over the line. This is how we beat Southampton.
Going into this one it was easy to fall into the trap of assuming victory. Based on the form of each side, we were pretty heavy favourites, especially given our home advantage. But when you take into account the time Southampton have spent in the league, the quality they have accrued – and lost – over time and the simple fact that pressure builds week-to-week in this division due to the reduced number of fixtures, you can never assume anything.
We have to get used to the fact that all Premier League teams have dangerous players. Barring Cardiff and perhaps Huddersfield. As much as this looked a winnable fixture on form on both sides of the coin, we were still dealing with the shell of the squad that took Southampton to the upper echelons of the Premier League.
We let them off the hook in the first 15-20 minutes, missing a number of good opportunities and making a number of bad decisions in promising positions. We’re becoming a second-half team, not because of performance levels but because we’re just not capitalising on the pressure we build. Just the one first half goal so far, and that was back in the 44th minute of the first game of the season.
While we did dominate the opening proceedings, the middle third of the game belonged firmly to Southampton.. I don’t think I’ve seen Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves put in so much work which tells you how ragged we were at times. We also gave away a large number of free kicks which was down to the growing frustration of not being at our best. A lot of that was to do with the way Southampton stifled us, especially down our productive right flank. I remember Neves playing his favoured switch out to Matt Doherty or Helder Costa twice, and on both occasions we created good opportunities. Ryan Bertrand is one of the clutch of excellent players Southampton have at their disposal, along with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Cedric Soares and Mario Lemina, and he showed his international credentials in putting a stop to most things down his side.
That was, until the substitutions were made. Few teams in the league will have the danger posed by Ivan Cavaleiro and Adama Traore lurking on the bench. They’re not Nuno’s typical forwards and that’s why they may not be seen starting games as often as fans might like this season. They’re a little bit off-the-wall compared to some of their counterparts. They take their talents and physical prowess and look at the geometry of a game slightly differently to the others. All of a sudden, spaces widen, openings appear and just a little bit of excrement can be seen exiting the backsides of defenders.
We have a much more wholesome squad than we had last season, a necessary improvement of course as we look to provide answers to problems we wouldn’t have faced last year. Cavaleiro remains our most thrilling presence on top form, a real testament to his ability given he was one of the earliest signings of the Fosun era and he has a habit of making timely interjections. Traore will always be a source of frustration, but he will also always create openings. Nuno is firmly wedded to his system and tactics, but on these occasions when you need someone to write their own script, to plough their own furrow, this is what Traore has been brought in for. He, more than anyone, is unlike any other footballer.
And so eventually, our trusty right hand side proved the catalyst again, even culminating in a welcome ‘wing-back to wing-back’ goal. What greater vindication of Nuno’s Wolves could you get? Jonny’s efforts so far this season as an all-action, all-purpose wing-back deserved his moment in the spotlight. it was almost strange to see him take a touch in the box in front of goal, the sign of an unnatural finisher but it actually took the awful lump Jannik Vestergaard out of the equation and he finished well.
So 3 points were drawn from a slightly out-of-sorts performance. Credit must be due to Southampton who had clearly done their homework, but this is a sign of the respect that we command now. Eyes are opening to our performances and results. It’s all a bit of a surprise at the moment, with a slightly patronising tone at times, if you ask me. But one day soon, it will stop and that is the moment when there’s an acceptance that Wolves are just a good side. Not a ‘well-drilled outfit’, or a ‘breath of fresh air’. Just a good, well-coached football team with excellent footballers and when that silence arrives, is when we will have announced ourselves.