Shaping up

How would you feel if Wolves didn’t sign a striker in this transfer window?

There’s a widely held assumption that one or maybe even two new forwards will enter the equation before the end of August.

I’m not so sure.

If you look at the squad and the tactics being employed by the head coach, we’re not short on numbers in any area of the pitch.

I watched the live stream of all three matches in Austria and it’s clear that Nuno has committed to a 343 system (he didn’t try anything else), so we must assume that we’ll lineup this way come August.

Looking down the squad list the head coach has options in every position, including center forward.

Nouha Dicko is the nailed on starter as things stand, but Michal Zyro, Joe Mason and even Bright Enobakhare could play up top in this formation.

We’ll be without Helder Costa (injured) and Ivan Cavaleiro (suspended) in our opening fixtures so that does put the squeeze on the front line, but Nuno may choose to make do in the short term.

This would be my prediction (not my preferred team before anyone starts unloading) for the team versus Boro as things stand:

It’s all based on logical assumptions, one being that John Ruddy will get the nod between the sticks ahead of Will Norris because of his experience. I don’t think Burgoyne will get a look in.

Coady at the center of a three man defence is an intriguing project that Nuno has persisted with so I suspect Conor will get the nod.

Boly will definitely start – I’d put my house on that one. Miranda I’m not as certain about, particularly as Hause is yet to return to the fold, but his ability on the ball might put him ahead of Batth and Bennett.

Leaving out captain Batth would make a big statement, but a back three relies on pace and that immediately makes the skipper vulnerable in my eyes.

Doherty and Douglas in the wingback positions seem untouchable at present. Phil Ofosu-Ayeh may return from injury to push Doherty, while Sylvan Deslandes and new signing Ruben Vinagre offer competition down the left.

Saiss and Neves look like the preferred partnership, despite some impressive outings in Austria for Jack Price who is also well suited to the system.

Whether Dave Edwards can force his way in will be interesting to see, but there’s no obvious position that suits his game.

He is however one of only four central midfielders (five if you include Ronan) who seem to be getting a serious look in at present so you can’t discount him yet.

Across the front three, it’s difficult not to see Dicko leading the line, with Zyro perhaps offering a different option should he be required.

With Costa and Cavaleiro out, I think Enobakhare is in a strong position to get a start. Mason Zyro or even Ronan could occupy the left forward role in the early games.

Ronan I’d prefer to see playing centrally, but Nuno has tested him out wide so that could be something to watch in the upcoming friendlies.

The wildcards are Jordan Graham and Ben Marshall. It’s unclear how Graham fits into the coach’s plans after he didn’t travel to Austria. Similar Marshall who came home injured.

Marshall could play as a wing-back or in a more advanced role, whereas Graham would only fit that left forward position.

Again, the upcoming games at Shrewsbury and Peterborough will be a good indication as to whether either will figure come August.

I hope both players are pushing hard for a place as they can unlock defences, which we’ll need in the absence of our Portuguese playmakers.

Returning to my original point, I think the squad is stacked up with players and although it would be nice to see a proven goalscorer added, I’m not entirely convinced it will happen.

This is the full breakdown of players within the system as I see it:

Goalkeepers (one to play) – Ruddy, Norris, Burgoyne

Right wing-backs (one to play) – Doherty, Ofosu-Ayeh

Left wing-backs (one to play) – Douglas, Deslandes, Vinagre

Center backs (three to play) – Boly, Miranda, Hause, Batth, Bennett, Coady

Central midfielders (two to play) – Saiss, Neves, Price, Edwards

Left forwards (one to play) – Graham, Marshall, Cavaleiro, Ronan

Right forwards (one to play) – Costa, Enobakhare

Center forwards (one to play) – Dicko, Zyro, Mason

That’s a 27 man squad and a number of those forward thinking players (Ronan, Marshall, Enobakhare, Zyro, Cavaleiro and Mason) can occupy different areas of the pitch.

When you’ve got this sort of flexibility it opens up various combinations.

I’m still expecting Prince Oniangue and Lee Evans to depart before the summer is out, but whether that’s to make way for the star striker many believe is forthcoming, who knows?

This fascinating summer may well take a few more unexpected diversions.

Cold shoulder

I was at Rotherham last August, more in hope than expectation that Walter Zenga would mastermind a convincing Wolves victory.

A slow start (2-0 down to the worst side in Championship history) was cancelled out by a stellar second half performance spearheaded by our new Icelandic striker.

He was a man mountain, a colossus and capped his Man of the Match display with a thunderbolt to level the scores and a thunder clap to enthrall the traveling support.

Soon after he netted at St. Andrew’s and continued to look unplayable over the first two months of the season.

Where had this guy been hiding (aside from knocking England out of the Euros)?

But the remainder of his brief Wolves career would be episodic, partly because two different managers couldn’t land on a settled eleven and partly because he couldn’t buy a goal.

To my mind though, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson has all the attributes required to be a very useful Championship striker.

It goes without saying then – I think we’ve made a mistake dispensing with his services, particularly to a rival.

The mere fact that Reading, a team who came within one kick of the Premier League in May have identified him as the man to give them that extra few per cent should tell you a lot.

Paul Lambert pointed out Bodvarsson hadn’t had a proper break from football in three years due to switching leagues and international commitments.

The then Wolves boss was confident the Icelander would come back strong after a good break and a full pre-season, ready to rediscover his top form.

I was inclined to agree and was hoping at the very least that he’d be utilised in a supporting role.

The fear is now we’ve given him a season to acclimatise, rested him, polished him up and handed him over to a team who will probably be competing with us for a top six finish.

It will come back to haunt us – just saying.

And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, yes, I know I can count his goals from last season on one hand, yes, I know we had to sell players to balance the squad and yes, he might not fit in with Nuno’s style of play. I surrender.

I’m just making the point that I believe in the months to come, there’s a strong possibility we’ll be wondering why we let him go.

Best of luck Jon.

Three at the back

The most interesting thing about yesterday’s pre-season win wasn’t the 343 formation, but the personnel of that rejigged backline.

Most notably Conor Coady – the only man to complete 90 minutes in Nuno Espirito Santo’s first game in charge.

What an endorsement that is for a player who probably wondered whether he’d even get a look in this season when reporting for duty at Compton Park a fortnight ago.

But there he is, right in the heart of the back three and suddenly looking integral to the head coach’s plans for Championship domination.

Perhaps Wolves were a little fortunate to escape with a cleansheet given that Bremen struck the bar twice with excellent free kicks, but even so I’m delighted to see Nuno trying something different.

I’ve long been an advocate of the 343 and felt it would have suited us perfectly last season had either Zenga or Lambert been prepared to give it a go.

Matt Doherty is a perfect wing-back and partially freed from the shackles of defensive responsibility could be a very potent weapon. He demonstrated this repeatedly yesterday.

Early indications are that Barry Douglas could be just as effective down the opposite flank, so all bodes well in those wide positions.

I might be in the minority, but I’d be keen to see Dominic Iorfa given a go in this new shape, either marauding down the right or playing on the outside of the defensive trio. His pace and physicality would be well suited.

And pace is the key ingredient for those two defensive positions outside the middle man in a 343, so Kortney Hause might also fancy his chances, although Willy Bony seems certain to be a guaranteed starter in one of those slots come August.

But Coady is the intriguing element of this equation and how his role develops in the games leading up to Middlesbrough will have a significant influence on the other center halves vying for a spot.

Willy Bony hasn’t come from Porto to sit on the bench so if Coady is to be used at the back, that only leaves one place for the other four center halves competing – five if you include Dominic Iorfa.

For what it’s worth, I hope the experiment proves successful. Coady is a good character, a vocal presence and a strong competitor.

It’s a flattering comparison but Pep Guardiola successfully converted Javier Mascherano to play at the back during his time at Barcelona and Coady is a similar type of player (albeit nowhere near as good).

What always irked me during the Stale Solbakken era was his constant desire to play out from the back but never using a ball playing center half.

At the very least, this at least shows some sort of connected thinking.

A pleasing start.

The second time around

For the second year running we’re hurtling towards August with a completely different team, a manager new to the league and a bullseye painted across our chests.

Outsiders sneer, turn their noses up and dream of our demise, but closer to home optimism is building.

I was a reluctant naysayer last summer but my disposition is sunnier this time around and the reason is simple.

Wolves have done all the same things again but just considerably better.

Better timing. Getting the new head coach in before pre-season for starters, even though it felt like that issue could have been resolved much sooner.

Better coaching. Nuno Espirito Santo is an upgrade on Walter Zenga based on their respective track records. Nobody can dispute this point.

And perhaps most importantly, better playing staff.

Unlike last season when it seemed like Wolves were prepared to give anyone from Benfica B a game if Jorge Mendes could convince them to put up with the weather, this time it feels more selective.

And to put it bluntly, these are better players.

If you believe what you read, Ruben Neves was beyond reach for most Premier League clubs let alone a team who narrowly avoided League One in May.

The footballing world isn’t quite as shocked to see Willy Boly pitching up at Compton, but nevertheless his arrival direct from Porto feels like another coup.

Miranda, Ofosu-Ayeh, Bennett and Douglas aren’t Hollywood signings but all have games under the belts, come ready to go and bring long overdue balance to the back four.

More bodies seem destined to arrive, not least a goalkeeper (or two given the desperately sad news about Carl Ikeme) and a star striker to feed off an increasingly potent attack.

The missing ingredient though, which may prove pivotal to our success is better organisation and that means a mass exodus to get this squad down to a manageable level.

Wolves are at least six or seven bodies too heavy and nearly every coach in football will attest to the fact that a bloated group makes their life infinitely more difficult.

So while the rest of the world wait to see how many other rabbits Mr Mendes can pull out of his hat before August, we should be paying equal attention to how successful our club are at trimming the fat.

Either way though, signs indicate a much smoother ride the second time around.

* I’ve setup a thread for everyone to write their comments in support of Carl Ikeme here. Please do take a moment to add your own message.

Carl Ikeme

There’s not a lot I can add that hasn’t already been said since Friday’s announcement.

But I do want to say that the whole Wolves Blog community is right behind you Carl.


Please leave your best wishes below in the comment section and I’ll make sure they’re forwarded onto the club. Apologies if you’ve listed these in a previous thread already, but I’d appreciate them being copied over.

First day back

Well, if everyone is going back today I guess I’d better pull my finger out too.

It’s been a long, over indulgent summer so you’ll have to bear with me while I get back up to speed. Here’s a few warm-ups.

Bad timing

Wolves have been handed a tough looking start with games against Middlesbrough, Hull and Derby.

Many seemed to be saying words to the effect of ‘it makes no difference’ or ‘you have to play them all at some point’, but I don’t agree with this sentiment. Quite the opposite in fact, I think the timing of fixtures can be pivotal.

With the continued upheaval behind the scenes at our club, I’m fearful of a slow start and the implications that could have on the team. More than anyone else, I think Wolves could have done with a softer launch.

Walter Zenga was fortunate to kick off last season with games against Rotherham, who proved to be easily the worst team in the league and Reading who themselves were adjusting to Jaap Stam’s methods.

Shortly after we lost against the first decent side we played in Huddersfield and everything went south with Zenga chopping and changing the team every week in search of answers.

I’d like to see us get some points on the board early again to inject confidence into what’s certain to be another new look team. That will be difficult in a pretty horrendous looking August. I hope to be proven wrong.

Exit door

I wasn’t upset to see either George Saville or Jed Wallace leave for Millwall today. They’re obviously a couple of good, honest pros but it wasn’t working out for either of them.

Saville was always on the fringes of the team under Jackett, Zenga and Lambert and I thought it was unfair of those coaches to constantly shoehorn him in at full back or left midfield. He rarely made an impact and was mercilessly torn apart by supporters.

In Jackett’s final season he scored some important goals against Derby and MK Dons to ensure we finished in midtable instead of more uncomfortable territory, so there was a meaningful contribution there for sure.

Wallace just never got started. He had a great game against Blues last season in the 3-1 win at St. Andrew’s but got injured and fell away.

I suspect both players will prove to be solid Championship performers for Millwall, but the club already have better players and should be aiming higher again in this transfer window. Good night and good luck lads.

60 not out

If you’ll excuse the shameless self-indulgence, I just wanted to finish with a big thank you to Bully who joined us for breakfast at the weekend to celebrate my dad and godfather’s 60th birthday.

Suffice to say they were surprised to see our record goalscorer holding the birthday cake and delighted to share an hour or so in his company.

Steve told some great stories, answered all our inane questions and scribbled on the 300 or so items we all brought along for his cherished signature.

I put together a lighthearted quiz for the occasion, which I’ll post in the comment section below if you’d like to test yourself on some Bully trivia (FYI, even he didn’t know the answer to most of these).

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