Tactical Watch: Full-backs must pass Wolves' wing-play test


Sam Tighe previews Southampton’s Premier League trip to Wolves in the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with

On surface level it’s been a disappointing start: Wolves are winless in their first five and currently sit in the bottom three. But dig a little deeper and there’s a feeling that things are coming together.

They could and should have beaten AFC Bournemouth in midweek – they hit the bar, had one cleared off the line and missed a one-on-one chance – and put in good displays against Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur before that.

With a handful of new signings settling in and Raúl Jiménez still trying to re-find his best form, manager Bruno Lage will be quietly confident things will take a turn for the better soon.

In appointing Lage, Wolves looked to build on the defensive and counter-attacking foundations laid by his predecessor Nuno Espírito Santo and become a more expansive, attacking team on the ball.

To an extent that has happened – plenty of key attacking metrics have ticked up, plus they simply have more of the ball nowadays – but their big strength remains in explosive counter-attacks.

With Pedro Neto, Gonçalo Guedes, Adama Traoré and Hwang Hee-Chan exhibiting raw speed and one-on-one ability on the flanks, Wolves are one of the most difficult sides in the league to handle once the game breaks open.

Pass-master Rúben Neves sits at the base of midfield and continually pings passes to either flank, then the wingers either drive at their markers or look to make space to cross, aiming for Jiménez in the box. A simple, yet extremely effective formula.

Priority No. 1 is to close off Neves and limit his ability to look up and hit long passes to the flanks, which means midfield pressure is of paramount importance here.

He’ll inevitably get a few passes off, shifting the focus to one-on-one defending for Saints’ full-backs. Kyle Walker-Peters’ defensive ethic will be crucial, while this could be another day for Moussa Djenepo’s newfound lockdown defensive skills or the sheer energy and determination of Romain Perraud. Pedro Neto’s ability to use either foot and go inside or out will prove troublesome, though.

If Neves is crowded out, Wolves will either look long to their striker or play to Matheus Nunes instead – a new signing at Molineux and one of the best around at dribbling under pressure.

In attack, it’s vitally important Saints’ full-backs play a two-way game and cause Wolves trouble down the flank, while the recent tactic of playing directly into Ché Adams and watching him dominate centre-backs has been so effective, there’s good merit in carrying on with that.

Adams and Joe Aribo’s connection on the pitch is improving with every game; their combination could give Wolves great difficulty in and around the box.

Sá; Jonny, Collins, Kilman, Äit-Nouri; Neves, Moutinho, Matheus; Neto, Jiménez, Guedes.

- Midweek games for both clubs will surely result in rotation, with Lage likely to freshen up at full-back and perhaps in the forward line

- Äit-Nouri and Nélson Semedo are sharing duties in defence and if the rotation pattern remains consistent, the former should play on the left and Jonny will take up a berth on the right

- Tall striker Saša Kalajdžić, newly signed from Stuttgart, could get a starting debut if Jiménez needs a breather