‘There is no game I recall that we changed. That tells a lot about what the players believe. If you change, it doesn’t make sense.’
‘Changes doesn’t mean anything for us; we keep the same style, we keep the same ideas and philosophy and game by game, it doesn’t matter what competition (it is).’
Those were the words of Sir Nuno prior to our Carabao Cup tie versus Leicester City last month, as journalists and pundits alike have queued up in recent weeks to praise the great man’s unwavering belief in sticking to our philosophy and identity.
To the eye, Wolves’ style of play has obviously not changed one bit since last season. In fact, Nuno’s ideas are even more evident on the pitch this term.
I was interested to see what the stats would reveal if we were to compare last season’s first eight games with this campaign’s.
To say the defence is as efficient and organised as ever would actually be doing them a massive disservice.
This time last season we were making on average 49 defensive actions a match (390 in total), whereas now it’s down to 39 (310). Quite remarkable really when you consider we’ve played both the Manchester clubs.
Breaking this down further, we’ve made 66 fewer clearances (down from 252 to 186), 27 less interceptions (down from 124 to 97) and blocked only 13 more shots (up from 14 to 27).
The improvements don’t stop there; Wolves have made a meagre 214 tackles (down from 277) and the success rate has increased from 40% to 64%. Fouls made has decreased too – 91 compared to 94.
In terms of goals conceded, Rui Patricio has conceded six compared to John Ruddy’s eight in the Championship.
A settled back three of Willy Boly, Conor Coady and Ryan Bennett certainly helps – we lost Boly for two months after five matches last term, while the calamitous Rodders Miranda and fish out of water Danny Batth exposed Coady and the entire defence to more attacks.
The return of Boly and an eager-to-impress Bennett, at Norwich City on Halloween, gave Coady the much-needed support to restore calm at the back.
Patricio and Jonny have of course come in for Ruddy and Barry Douglas, providing that extra bit of quality.
Whilst rare, there were occasions throughout last season when our goal was under siege, it was backs against the wall, and Ruddy was called into action. Thus far in 2018/19, I haven’t had that feeling, with the defence showing supreme organisation, meaning Patricio hasn’t needed to get his hands dirty too often. The decrease in average defensive actions back that up.
With Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho orchestrating proceedings in midfield, it’s no surprise that the passing stats are similar to last term’s first eight fixtures.
Total passes are marginally down from 3,525 to 3,488, or 4.6 a match, with short passes attempted remaining virtually the same (3060 in 2017/18 and 2996 in 2018/19), as well as long balls (465 in 2017/18 and 492 in 2018/19).
Perhaps the most important aspect is the average passing accuracy, which is down just 2% from last season to 79%.
Whilst average possession has slipped from 53% to 47%, which is to be expected when you have to face United and City, we’ve still managed to carry a threat through our passing game. Contrary to what many think, possession isn’t key to Nuno, it’s control, and we don’t need the lion’s share of play to hurt teams with our incisive passing – the trip to Old Trafford, where we enjoyed just 36% possession, a perfect example. We all know who played the better football that day.
For all our exciting play this term, we’re only too aware of our wastefulness in front of goal. At this stage in 2017/18, 13 goals had been scored from 82 shots, but 2018/19’s nine goals have been achieved from 110 efforts. With 81 actual chances last season comparing to 80 this, the lack of cutting edge is underlined.
Interestingly, only nine strikes were attempted in the penalty area in 2017/18, whereas this number soars to 57 for this campaign. But six-yard box shots are down from 27 to four.
Nuno knows we need to be more clinical but he will be encouraged that we’re creating plenty of chances in the penalty area, and it’s only a matter of time until we click fully into gear. Besides, Burnley finished seventh, scoring only 36 goals last season, and sixth placed United in 2016/17 only weighed in with 54. I’m not one for making Premier League predictions in October, but that certainly bodes well.
A special mention should go to Raul Jimenez, two goals and three assists since the summer, he’s been involved in 56% of our goals. Raul’s link up play is a joy to behold, and is the perfect Nuno number nine.
Adama Traore has certainly made an impact with 19 successful dribbles, second only in the Premier League to Eden Hazard, and just seven unsuccessful. This has helped Wolves’ dribbles total 123 – it was 106 last year. However, the success rate was much higher (70% compared to this season’s 50%).
This is largely down to both Helder Costa and Diogo Jota committing over 50% unsuccessful dribbles. During the entire course of 2017/18, Costa was only 41% unsuccessful and Jota 36%.
The 2018/19 numbers don’t come as a surprise to me, as I’ve been frustrated by the duo’s reluctance to take on their man or when they do, a heavy touch or indecision has cost them. They’re so much better than that.
Despite the shots and dribbling stats throwing up a couple of curveballs, there’s no denying that the defensive and passing numbers prove Nuno is sticking to his beliefs. Wherever this journey with Fosun takes us – on the pitch Nuno is always going to do it his way.