Talking tactics

Wolves Blog regular Adam Bate returns for the first time this season with a tactical analysis of Sunday’s win over Fulham.

Johnson to the Rescue

The signing of Roger Johnson has obviously excited Wolves fans. It seems too much to dare to hope that one man can transform last season’s 17th leakiest Premier League defence into a formidable unit. However, he’s made a positive start and he’s done so by doing the things that earned him such praise at Birmingham City – tackling, blocking and intercepting. Johnson managed more successful interceptions than any other player on the pitch on Sunday.

Henry Still Important

The dirty Wolves tag is one that haunted Mick McCarthy and his side for much of the 2010-11 campaign and, for many, Karl Henry personified all that was wrong with that team. The player himself was clearly affected by the controversy but he has begun this season in encouraging form by doing what he does best – tracking runners, pressing the ball and making interceptions.

Henry intercepted the ball high up the field on five occasions on Sunday. Astonishingly, this was four morethan the entire Fulham team combined. Jol’s side preferred to sit back before pressing the ball but only succeeded in inviting Wolves onto them. The contrast between Henry and one of his chief detractors, Danny Murphy, was stark. The Fulham captain did not attempt let alone succeed in making a tackle in the entire contest.

Stearman’s Role

The inclusion of Richard Stearman at right-back was arguably the most controversial selection at the start of the season. Kevin Foley remains a firm favourite and Ronald Zubar has become a cult hero. In particular, the case for Foley’s recall was enhanced by an assured second half performance at Ewood Park during which the Irishman completed more passes than any other Wolves player.

However, Mick McCarthy has expressed concerns about the size of his midfield and clearly favours Stearman’s height in the back line. Although it was Stephen Ward who made the most high profile interception of the day, Stearman actually made five to Ward’s spectacular one and it was noticeable that he frequently tucked in and won key headers at the far post. Indeed, the heat maps show the contrasting roles that the two full-backs had on Sunday.

Stearman had a higher percentage of the ball than Ward in every equivalent zone within Wolves’ half, while the attacking left-back enjoyed an astonishing 51% of his possession in the opposition’s half. Foley may be the ball player but that is not currently the role that McCarthy is looking from his right-back.

Shoot, Shoot, Shoot

Wolves’ shoot on sight policy may have veered into the self-indulgent in the second half, with some fairly ambitious efforts, but Jamie O’Hara and Stephen Hunt in particular have added a goal threat from midfield. The twenty shots attempted against Fulham were more than Wolves had managed in any home game last season.

Left is Right for Jarvis… not Hunt

Inverted wingers have been de rigueur for several seasons now and Mick McCarthy seems to finally be embracing the trend. Although Matt Jarvis provided the assist for Steven Fletcher against Blackburn with an orthodox cross from the right byline, McCarthy saw enough at Ewood Park to decide to utilise Jarvis and Stephen Hunt on the opposite flanks from the outset against Fulham.

He got his reward as both wingers cut inside onto their stronger foot to help set up the goals – with Jarvis even coming inside to fire home for the second. While Jarvis has long enjoyed more success on the left-wing, there had been some debate as to Hunt’s preferred flank but playing from the right appears to allow the busy Irishman greater options with the ball at his feet. Lacking Jarvis’ electric pace, Hunt is less focussed on getting to the byline and more keen to drift around in search of space.

This is borne out by the heatmaps that indicate Hunt enjoyed 25% of his possession in central areas compared to Jarvis’s 12%. As with the full-backs, McCarthy appears less concerned with symmetry – instead keen to allow the players to play to their strengths.

Don’t forget to check out Adam’s excellent blog Ghost Goal.

If you enjoy looking into detailed match reports, and enjoy betting on the outcomes, on future trends, but don’t know the odds, then why not check out a betting calculator.


  1. Love it. More please.


  2. tentonipete says:

    nice. it’s like a wolves only version of zonal marking!


  3. Adam B says:

    Cheers. Might be the odd typo – late night effort so we could get in on there before the Northampton posts. e.g. Think I’ve referred to Johnson graphic as ‘interceptions’ when they’re actually his ‘tackles’ but you get the idea.

    Chalkboards aren’t for everyone but (as you can probably tell!) I find them really interesting.


  4. Paddytheflea says:

    interesting data, Adam!
    And your interpretation of them are very revealing and gives much information on why we are so successfull right now, but I’m not yet convinced that Stearman is to prefer to Foley.

    They offer different things, as you also say, and I believe we need Foleys’ quality on the ball and his crosses more than Stearmans’ qualities in the air, but it’s not an easy choice to make and the right answer might be that it depends on the team we will play and also the standing in the game.

    Keep on the good job!



  5. Brilliant as always Adam. The stats on stearman and ward’s respective blocks were telling, being as I only remembered Wards! (btw, didn’t he make another moments before his memorable one,thus injuring himself on the process?)
    His 51 per cent possession in their half summed him up 4me. It tells us how much he got forward and shows how fit he is. Not easy!
    This is where I hold my hand up. I barely acknowledge this part of his game as i only look for his faults. I.e. he bombs on,.move breaks down and I curse him for going AWOL. fair play!
    Nice stats on Karl too, who does a bit more than a crab would suggest, amazingly enough 😉


  6. BAZZA (Selly Oak) says:

    Thanks Adam.

    I’m still not convinced on Stearman ahead of Foley. I always thought Foley’s positional sense was excellent and he made his fair share of interceptions. I think comparing Stearman with Ward magnifies what he has done there, which to a certain extent is your point when comparing two very different full backs. I’d be interested to see a Stearman v Foley comparison from a home win last season, I doubt there’d be much difference and Foley is better on the ball.


  7. Clive from Houston says:

    Easy solution is to play Zoobs at right back, thus eliminating the question between Stears and Foles, and buy a new left back.
    Nice to see us get 4 tonight. Does not matter who the opposition is, we must aim to win every game, it becomes a habit.


  8. Baltimore Wolves says:

    After seeing a blog post like this, it continues to get me to question why Wolves do not have an SB Nation page. (about 8 or 9 of the premier league teams do)

    This post will probably make more sense for American writers (as I’m not sure of SB Nation’s presence over seas) But does anyone know why a blog does not exist over on SB Nation for the Wolves.

    I love this blog and think that with the features on the SB Nation blog could really help this blog take off.

    Trust that I’m not looking for a new location to find out my Wolves info, but SB Nation gives fans of the blog an opportunity to post their own opinions in their own posts, often times leading to such data analysis such as this.

    I love the work you do, keep it up!


  9. Thomas says:

    Excellent post Adam.

    My responses to each point would be:

    Johnson – Yes, yes, yes. Seeing a defender read the game and make clean interceptions like Johnson did both against Fulham and Blackburn was a joy to behold. Combined with his towering headers, it shouldn’t be underestimated how vital his contribution has been to our success.

    Henry – Like you say, closing down and intercepting the ball are his two greatest strengths. However, it was slightly disconcerting to see Fulham thread a few incisive passes straight through the middle of the pitch on Sunday with Henry pulled out of position. I get uncomfortable seeing him high up the pitch when the other team is in possession because nobody covers him.

    Stearman – His physical presence is indeed vital due to our lack of height in midfield. Despite his flaws, I’d still love to see Zubar in there, but can’t complain about Stearman’s selection. He’s been solid and reliable thus far. Long may it continue.

    Shooting on sight – We need to shoot more so this is welcome. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve felt for a long time we have to work bloody hard to score a goal. Would be nice just to see a few goals fly in out of nothing. I expect we’ll see some too with Hunt, O’Hara and Fletch in the side.

    Jarvis on left, Hunt on the right – Just a no-brainer to me. Jarvis has to play down the left, that’s always been the case. Hunt’s driving runs inside have been a pleasant bonus though. Not something we saw much of last season. With both wingers committing players, it opens up spaces thus allowing us to create far more.


  10. BobbaWolf says:

    What a great read. Never thought about the benefits of stearman at right back. Very interesting.

    Definitely agree that Henry is undervalued and these stats demonstrate how important he is.


  11. Fantastic, very much enjoyed this, thanks Adam. Would love to see more of the same after future games.


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