Sometimes an international break comes at the worst possible time.
Wolves had built up some serious momentum during the Premier League’s opening eight matchdays, losing just one of those, but after returning from a near fortnight’s hiatus looked a little leggy and out of practice against Watford. Saturday’s Molineux visitors scored twice within just a minute to charge to a 2-0 victory.
Of course, the big blow in the hunt for a strong final standing during their first campaign back in the Premier League could quickly prove to be more of a momentary blip, but the manner of the defeat and the result will no doubt have some ramifications for Nuno Espirito Santo and his squad. Football FanCast look at three potential consequences of last weekend’s loss…
It feels like Santo has been waiting for the perfect time to bring Traore into his starting XI following a club-record move from Middlesbrough, with Wolves’ succession of strong results using the same line-up restricting his capacity to do so.
But we all know how talented a player Traore is and what he could give to this team; without his impact from the bench this season, Wolves would be averaging less than five dribbles per match and the second-lowest rate of any Premier League side.
While Diogo Jota and Helder Costa are clearly much-better acquainted with Wolves’ 3-4-3 setup, Traore feels like he could be an upgrade on either – especially against the calibre of opposition the Molineux outfit will face in the coming weeks.
Speaking of calibre of opposition, Wolves will encounter Tottenham twice, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal before the turn of the year in a tricky run for the newly-promoted side. Much has been made of Wolves’ impeccable organisation since returning to the top flight and how assured they’ve been at the back, with just three goals conceded in open play before the weekend.
But Watford proved that Wolves are susceptible, even if their lapse in concentration was largely momentary, and plenty of Premier League clubs will now be analysing exactly what Watford did in the hope of finding a weakness in a backline that has otherwise been largely impenetrable.
Throw into the equation the touch of confidence Wolves’ defenders will have inevitably lost after conceding twice within just a minute and it’s likely the club’s impressive defensive record will take a hit in the coming weeks.
It would be wrong to call Santo a one-trick pony but he’s used 3-4-3 pretty much exclusively during his time as Wolves boss. All the summer signings have were made with that formation in mind, and with the exception of Traore coming on for Matt Doherty at the weekend, Santo’s changes from the bench were largely like-for-like against Watford.
Executing a game-plan perfectly is all well and good, but at Premier League level you need to keep opponents guessing and there are already signs that Wolves are starting to be found out a little bit. In their last three games, climaxing with the defeat to Watford, they’ve ended up with less possession than the opposition. During the first six games of the season, the only teams Wolves didn’t dominate the ball against were Manchester City and Manchester United.
So whether that means altering the formation slightly to have another body in midfield like Romain Saiss to re-establish control of possession, or shifting to a more conventional four-man defence when chasing a lead, perhaps the Watford defeat will convince Santo its time to add something else to Wolves’ tactical armoury.