Whether or not you agree with youth teams of Premier League and some Championship clubs competing in the Checkatrade Trophy, one thing can’t be argued against – it’s a second to none experience for the youngsters involved. At Wolves, the majority of the players that have been loaned out don’t have a long-term future at the club, however, the ones that have been kept and are working with the u23s, they most certainly do. One of the biggest problems with only playing u23 football is you’re not pitted against men, as such. A way around all of this is to reintroduce reserve football, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen anytime soon, so, rightly or wrongly, the Checkatrade Trophy is the next best thing.
Earlier in the week, our u21 team bowed out of the 18/19 Checkatrade after beating Lincoln on penalties as with no games left, it’s impossible to qualify from the group which contained Crewe, Mansfield and the aforementioned Lincoln. I’m not entirely sure why it’s classified as an u21 team rather than u23 as it seems to confuse the matter further, nonetheless, our XI doesn’t differ between the u21 and u23 games, with one or two exceptions. We are going to focus our attention on the most recent game which was at Sincil Bank in midweek.
For the first time in this season’s competition, the Checkatrade fixture didn’t fall in an international week which meant that Elliot Watt was able to play. Without trying to be overdramatic, Elliot Watt is an integral part of the Wolves u23 set up and considering his experience at different youth levels with Scotland, it’s hardly surprising that Wolves’ only ‘win’ came with him in the starting lineup. For all intents and purposes, I am going to call the side u23 throughout, despite it technically being a u21 side. It’s just easier.
Iorfa started as the RWB before being brought inside after an early injury to Max Kilman saw him depart and he was replaced by Oskar Buur Rasmussen who briefly flirted with the first-team last season. Bouncing back to Watt momentarily, the fact that he was available for this meant that Rob Edwards’ side deviated from the ‘Nuno model’ of 3-4-3 and adopted a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Pedro Goncalves effectively having a free role behind the two front men. Goncalves was arguably the biggest thorn in Lincoln’s side all night as he popped up here, there and everywhere.
As is clearly evident here, the shape is very similar to that of the first-team, with the exception of Ashley-Seal and Ennis (#24 & #45). Iorfa’s position (#67) is skewed due to the already referred to injury picked up by Kilman in the first half. The width held by Giles (#23) and Rasmussen (#40) is identical to that of Jonny and Doherty in Nuno’s side, which will please the Portuguese man, no doubt.
A Clear Style
On the balance of play, Lincoln would’ve been the happier of the two sides with the scores level after 90+ minutes. Reason being, Wolves had more shots on target, an xG of 1.02 more and the better of the play in general. If it wasn’t for the ambition of emulating Nuno’s senior side, both of Lincoln’s goals could’ve probably been avoided. Don’t just take my word for it, let me talk you through their goals.
Just because Goncalves has a free role, that doesn’t excuse him from his defensive duties, not by a long shot. He’s the deepest player in old gold as he plays the simple ball along the deck to Ryan Giles, who is just out of shot. It’s great to see Goncalves standing by his defence even when he has been selected in a more advanced role. It’s what happens next that is the cause for concern…
With a Lincoln player hot on his heels, Giles has two choices. Play the ball with his weaker right foot in between two Lincoln players to Seydou Diallo or go for the simple ball to Watt, who is already looking for the pass when he receives the ball. You’ll notice I used when and not if – that’s down to Watt and his belief that every time he asks for the ball he will get it. In a similar way to Neves, no matter what’s going on around him, Watt always wants the ball. On reflection, maybe Watt having the ball there wasn’t the best idea, although the goal is hardly the Scotsman’s fault. See next.
Kilman Kills The Move
After picking up the ball from Giles, Watt plays the simple pass inside to Kilman and tells him to go out to the right and build from that side. You can tell that as Watt is pointing to that side. Kilman has other ideas. An indescribably bad first touch from the centre-half allows Green the split second he needs to win the ball and he finishes beyond an onrushing Will Norris. It wasn’t Kilman’s finest moment, nevertheless, the whole point of this competition for the U21 sides is to make mistakes and importantly, learn from them.
We will cover the Wolves goals after we’ve looked at Lincoln’s & Green’s second of the evening which came three minutes after Ashley-Seal levelled proceedings. In a somewhat alarming fashion, Lincoln’s second starts with us faffing around in and around the penalty area once more.
I’m guessing that Iorfa was moved to the ‘Coady’ role after Kilman’s injury because of his seniority over the other two centre-backs, Molberg and John. He’s doing the right thing here by taking the ball off John before playing it into, yeah, you’ve guessed it, Elliot Watt.
As the ball makes its way out to Rasmussen on the right-hand side, Watt is ready to have the ball back immediately. Molberg, the right-sided centre-back, is also ready to have the ball if necessary. Rasmussen didn’t have anywhere to go, so Wolves recycled the play and started again. It’s all a process, you see.
Wrong Decision & Awful Positioning
On this occasion, Watt gets it wrong. I’ve watched it back a few times and I still can’t quite understand what he’s trying to do, he just plays it against the Lincoln man, Green is through on goal and it’s a case of thank you very much and goodnight. Looking back on it, Watt will know that he should have played it to Rasmussen (Buur on the image), once again though, it’s all a learning process.
While it was Watt’s error that put Green through, what on earth is Iorfa doing all the way over there? Does he not understand the meaning of the word sweeper? For starters, he should be a lot closer to Molberg and paying closer attention to Green, who must have thought Christmas had come early. That’s the negative stuff out of the way. It’s now time for some positive reinforcements and there’s enough of them for everyone!
As is the case with the first-team, the youth wing-backs are vitally important to the way we play. For the first goal which made the scoreline 1-1, Giles has the ball on the left and within five passes, Rasmussen is having an attempt on goal. Check it out.
One of the biggest differences between Neves and Watt is displayed in this image, for me. If Neves had picked the ball up in a similar area, he probably would have played the switch directly to the right-hand side. Watt does things slightly differently as he plays the ball into Pedro Goncalves on the deck.
Goncalves then plays a cute ball forward to Ashley-Seal, who somehow manages to find a pocket of space despite there being SEVEN Lincoln defenders in the surrounding areas. The ex-Norwich man shows great maturity to pick his head up rather than just hammering a shot at goal, as Rasmussen is in a lot more room on the right-hand side.
From Giles having the ball in a relatively nothing position to Ashley-Seal having the ball in the back of the net in the blink of an eye. Not only did Ashley-Seal show his maturity by laying the ball off to the right, but he also displayed it once again by being the fastest to react to the loose ball. The beauty of this goal is that we could easily see it replicated at the Emirates on Sunday. Swap Rasmussen for Doherty and Ashley-Seal for Jimenez and we have our win in North London. One step at a time, eh?
A Special Goal On A Special Day
On the same day he signed a four-year contract, Ryan Giles scored the goal of the game at Sincil Bank. It should come as no surprise by now who orchestrated the move. That’s right, Elliot Watt was yet again at the heart of the move.
Watt wanted the ball more than the Lincoln player and drove into space, which is why Watt has so much room in the above image. A perfectly weighted pass out to Giles is exactly what the doctor ordered. What happened next was nothing short of sublime.
Giles took one touch to set himself before unleashing an outrageous shot on goal that flew straight into the top corner, leaving the Lincoln keeper no chance at all. You can see #24 in the middle, who is, of course, Ashley-Seal. If by some miracle, the keeper did keep Giles’ effort out, you’d bet good money on the frontman getting to the ball first again. To give you some idea how good Giles’ goal was, it had a measly xG of 0.03. In case you don’t know what xG means, it essentially tells you the probability of the ball going in from the position the shot is being taken. So, 3/100 times that shot goes in and we were fortunate enough to be blessed by it.
There was a couple of chances late in the second half where we could’ve and perhaps should’ve won the game, albeit, if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. Yes, we won on penalties – it’s not quite the same, though. That being said, despite the exit at the group stage, valuable minutes have been picked up.
You Do Have To Wonder…
If the first two games hadn’t fallen during international breaks and Elliot Watt was available, what difference would that have made? You only have to look at his performance in this game to see what he’s all about. Much like Coady is in the senior side, Watt is the manager on the pitch as such. Constantly talking to those around him and most importantly, leading by example.
As you can see, Watt was everywhere. Not only that, his passing was on point, too. From the game, he had a passing success rate of 80% and even though that’s not quite at ‘Nuno’ standards yet, he’s definitely moving in the right direction.
If his development continues at the same rate for another 12 months, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him named in a Premier League squad come next season.
A strong performance blemished by a single error (Kilman) for the first goal and two errors (Watt & Iorfa) for the second goal. Undoubtedly, Watt & Co will be hoping for some game time in the FA Cup and if that does happen, it will be intriguing to see how they all get on, on the bigger stage.
Until the next time.