Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis

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When Wolves and Leicester last met at Molineux in the Premier League, it ended in an epic seven-goal thriller. 16 years later, surely the same thing couldn’t happen again, could it? Lo & behold, lightning did strike twice as Wolves and Leicester played out another barnstorming game.

Wolves leapfrogged their East Midlands opponents after a stoppage-time winner from Diogo Jota gave them a deserved win. In this tactical analysis of the Premier League game, we are going to look at each of the seven goals and if the word count isn’t bordering on insane, perhaps also a couple of the more questionable decisions from the referee. Without further ado…

Team news

Romain Saiss deputised for the suspended Willy Boly as the left-sided central defender as Leander Dendoncker, Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves continued as the midfield triangle.

In a somewhat surprising decision, Ruben Vinagre was brought in for Matt Doherty with Vinagre playing on the left, Jonny on the right. Nuno, forever the man of few words said “because Jonny is playing” when asked by Sky Sports about why Doherty wasn’t starting.

Considering Saiss is left-footed, it makes sense to play with the left-footed Vinagre on that side of the pitch. Whether or not that was Nuno’s thinking as well remains to be seen, although it will become clearer as there are two more games without Boly. 

Claude Puel sprung somewhat of a surprise as he opted for the recently recalled Harvey Barnes over the illustrious James Maddison. Harvey Barnes didn’t disgrace himself, not by a long shot, especially as he was integral to Leicester’s first equaliser.

On the other hand, Maddison’s wicked delivery drew The Foxes level on the second occasion. Swings and roundabouts. Onto the game itself…

The early bird…

Going into the game at Molineux, Wolves had scored 23 goals, of which only two came in the first 15 minutes of games. After the first 15 minutes of this game, that tally was doubled.

The imperious Joao Moutinho became the first Wolves player to produce two assists in a top-flight game since Kevin Doyle in 2012. How did the ex-Monaco man manage that, though?

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Strong work from Dendoncker.

Since Dendoncker made his full Premier League debut against Spurs, he has grown into his role. Here, you can see him pressing Demarai Gray, turning over possession and Jimenez then has the ball in a promising position. Due to the pace that Wolves play with, these quick turnovers are so important.

Moutinho is just out the shot, however, he’s soon involved as you can see from the following image…

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Moutinho doesn’t have an awful lot of space, but as it goes, he has more than enough…

Jimenez slides in Joao Moutinho and despite Jota’s position, he ends up on the end of his countryman’s delivery. Big question marks have to be slapped on Danny Simpson as from the above image, how on earth does Jota end up goalside of the Premier League winner?

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Jota doesn’t need asking twice.

If we look at Simpson (circled) and his body shape, he doesn’t seem up for it. It’s not fair to say that he doesn’t know that Jota is behind him because he undoubtedly will, but he’s almost flat footed whereas Jota is bouncing. Diogo Jota gets the right side of Simpson and stabs it home beyond Kasper Schmeichel who had not too long before produced an outstanding save to thwart Neves.  

On the double

Just after the 10-minute mark, it was 2-0 to Nuno’s side. Another telling delivery from Moutinho, more weak defending from Puel’s side and better desire from Wolves were all the ingredients that were required as Bennett powered a header beyond the Leicester keeper.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Zonal marking doesn’t work on this occasion.

We can argue until we’re blue in face as to whether or not zonal marking works. Regardless of your opinion on it, we can all agree that it doesn’t this time. Saiss, Bennett and Dendoncker are only being picked up by Ricardo meaning they’ve all got runs on the Leicester backline. In essence, once Bennett judges the flight of the ball, there’s only ever one outcome on the cards.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Maguire was targeted and he doesn’t cope well.

Dendoncker slips to the near post, Saiss runs down the middle and Bennett arcs his run to the back of the trio. Morgan and Ndidi are left standing there helpless as the delivery from Moutinho passes them by. If they were man marking, it wouldn’t have happened. If they had someone on the post, it would’ve been kept out. Fine margins.

Diogo Jota had a glorious opportunity to make it 3-0 but his header was straight at the Dane between the sticks and ultimately, that changed what happened at the start of the second half.

The early bird (edition two)…

While Wolves started the first half with blistering pace, the complete opposite could be said about the second. A catalogue of errors allowed Leicester a way back into the game. Strangely, it all started with a misplaced cross from Ruben Vinagre.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Vinagre brings it back onto his weaker right foot.

Instead of whipping the ball in with his left (white line), he cuts the ball back and tries to curl it in with his right (red line). From a Wolves perspective, it’s positive to see four Wolves players in the box as there have been times earlier in the campaign when balls have been played in the box to absolutely nobody. Anyhow, Barnes heads the ball clear and then it’s Bennett’s turn to make a mistake.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Oh, Bennett – how did you misjudge that?

I’m not sure how Bennett misjudges the flight of the ball, but he does. From that moment, Leicester are in the driver’s seat. As is evidenced, Gray is slightly behind Neves, but as soon as the ball bounces over Bennett and Vardy collects it, Gray is off and away. Bennett has little chance of recovery due to Vardy’s pace and once the ball is played into Demarai Gray, Wolves are at sixes and sevens.

Nobody gets near Gray

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Pinpoint pass from Vardy.

Once the ball is played to the ex-Bluenose, Gray, Saiss has two tasks and two tasks only. Keep him wide. Don’t let him shoot. The Moroccan midfielder-cum-defender does one without the other. Gray is kept relatively wide but because Saiss jumps in, Gray is left relatively alone. Take nothing away from Gray, though, he still has an awful lot to do.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Into the bottom corner.

Despite the best efforts of Wolves skipper Conor Coady, Gray’s shot finds its way beyond Rui Patricio. So, with less than two minutes played in the second half, Wolves’ lead had been halved.

Four minutes later, Wolves’ lead was gone altogether as a surging run from Ben Chilwell caused all manner of problems. There is a question as to whether or not Jonny is unfairly impeded, either way though, it’s not the best defensive phase of play from the Black Country side.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Chilwell is tracked by Dendoncker.

Looking at it from the reverse, all you see here is Chilwell run and run with Dendoncker covering him relatively soundly. Chilwell then comes to a dead end by the name of Jonny Castro.

Is it a foul?

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Two issues in the above image.

Essentially, what you need to know is Jonny was knocked to the floor by a stray Chilwell arm hitting him in the chest. That’s why Dendoncker’s arms in the air as he is appealing the misdemeanour.

Unfortunately for Wolves and Dendoncker, Harvey Barnes plays to the whistle and finds the back of the net via Conor Coady. Coady now has two goals in two games, both at the wrong end of the pitch.

The protege takes centre stage

While Moutinho may have assisted two goals in the first half, it was his young accomplice, Ruben Neves who stole the show for Wolves’ third and fourth with two exquisite passes. In between those goals, Wes Morgan levelled and looked set to give Leicester a point. Ironically, you could say Morgan was at fault for Wolves’ third as Jota leaves him for dust.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
PING!

It’s crazy to think that this pass wasn’t even his best of the game. And still images don’t do it justice, watch it back if you can. As soon as Jota gets the first touch and takes the ball even further away from Morgan, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Back in the lead!

With his second touch, Jota rifles it through Schmeichel’s legs. Could the Dane in goal have done better? Maybe. Did Jota deserve another goal? Absolutely. For nigh on 25 minutes, it looked certain that Jota’s second was going to be enough for Wolves to win the game.

Nuno brought on Doherty and Gibbs-White for Vinagre and Moutinho and whether or not either of the subs were the right thing to do is up for debate.

Vinagre adds more natural width on the left and Moutinho is well, Moutinho. Bringing on Traore for Moutinho would’ve made more sense as Traore’s pace would’ve stretched the game tenfold.

As it happens, it was Puel’s decision to bring on Maddison that almost made the biggest difference.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Maddison puts in into the danger zone.

If the Wolves defence are where the white line is rather than where they are positioned, would they’ve been in a better position to defend Maddison’s delivery? Yes, there would be Leicester players running onto them, but surely it’s got to be better than what happened? Let’s take a look…

Neves & Jota to the rescue

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
The one beats the three.

Morgan beats Saiss, Dendoncker and Doherty in the air. He was Dendoncker’s man to mark and while there was a question mark over whether or not Morgan fouled the Belgian, let’s not run the risk of sounding like a broken record. Could Rui have done more?

Admittedly, Maddison’s delivery was an outswinger, but could he have come out to collect the ball? In the end, it didn’t make a difference, but it’s certainly a worry. A high volume of Wolves’ goals that they concede come from set pieces, food for thought.

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
PING #2!

Neves produced another mesmerising pass to set Jimenez on his way. It could be argued that he’s borderline offside, although, considering the decision that went against Wolves and Doherty against Spurs at Molineux, you could say Wolves deserve a bit of luck. Jota is clearly offside, but that’s not how the rule works anymore. It’s just a shame that certain Sky Sports pundits don’t understand that. Anyway, Jimenez’ squares to Jota and…

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Hattrick hero!

Jota has an awful lot of time to think about this. By the same token, so does Schmeichel and Jota gets the better of the Dane for the third time. Portugal 3-0 Denmark. Cue pandemonium around Molineux. An epic finish to a wonderful encounter.

Final thoughts

Wolves Leicester Premier League Tactical Analysis
Credit: Sofascore.

Both sides had sustained spells of pressure, in what was a sensational game for the neutral. Diogo Jota ended up with the match ball, however, there is an argument as to whether he was even the best player on the pitch as Neves looked more like the Championship self we all grew to love last year.

Wolves make the short trip to Shrewsbury this weekend in the FA Cup fourth round, meanwhile, Leicester have got the week off after succumbing to Newport County in the previous round.

Until the next time.


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I've got an unhealthy obsession with Wolves, Wolverhampton Wanderers, WWFC, whatever you fancy calling us today. When we win I'm on top of the world, when we lose I'm a nightmare to be around. It's been that way for as long as I can remember and people tell me that you're meant to grow out of it, however, I don't envisage that happening anytime soon. Anyway, I'm the lead analyst on here and while I try and keep my opinion out of my writing, sometimes it's too difficult to do that. I also use the terms 'we' and 'us' when talking about Wolves and I do try and remain impartial although it's debatable whether or not I do. In hindsight, I'm probably over critical of Wolves in the same manner that I'm over complimentary, so I guess it all balances itself out in the end. Grab yourself a cuppa and have a look around.