Since Willy Boly’s broken fibula, Leander Dendoncker has filled in admirably.
Wolves are producing their best football of the season, sit one point off fifth and are on the verge of progressing to the Europa League knockouts.
Some of us had an inkling the Donk could do a job in defence.
Blimey, the Belgian couldn’t be much worse in midfield, with his appetite for replicating Dangerous Dave’s disappearing acts doing little to alleviate Wolves’ habit of sitting in and inviting pressure against all comers.
However, I didn’t envisage the Donk turning into Franco Baresi in the space of three starts.
The 24-year-old is calmness personified on the ball while carrying out his defensive duties with ease.
With help from WhoScored.com, here are some stats underlining his impact at right centre-back.
Lacking in the middle
Let’s start with the Belgian’s contribution in midfield (or lack of). Two particular games (I could have picked many others) paint a startling picture – Everton and Braga.
In a wide-open affair at Goodison Park, you’d expect an all-action midfielder like the Donk to be heavily involved. But he only made one tackle, interception and dribble, with zero shots. His passing stats weren’t much better – 27 with a 59.3% success rate, only Rui was less accurate.
Then there’s Braga. The onus was on the midfield to create in a contest where we enjoyed 60% possession. In 76 minutes, Dendoncker attempted 22 passes with a 68.2% success rate. Alarmingly, the back three made 258 between them, Joao Moutinho attempted 24 in as many minutes as a sub; the Donk himself got through 21 in 32 minutes v Burnley.
Busy in defence
The Donk’s passing and defensive stats have soared since Slovan Bratislava at home.
The former Anderlecht man attempted 69 passed v the Slovakians, 20 more than any other fixture he’s played this term, while his passing accuracy hasn’t dipped below 87.8% since the switch to defence. He registered a remarkable 91.2% at Arsenal and 92.5% v Aston Villa, no one from either starting XI bettered that on Sunday.
Dendoncker’s defensive numbers are equally impressive. In three starts at RCB, the utility man has registered 19 clearances, won nine aerial duels and claimed four interceptions. The Donk ranks first, second and first respectively (from Wolves players) for clearances v Arsenal, Bratislava and Villa, and second for aerial duels against the latter two.
It’s funny to think that Boly’s enforced lay-off has led to Nuno going with the three midfielders in the heart of defence that has transformed our style of play.
With the Donk, Conor Coady and Romain Saiss confidently bringing the ball out from the back, Ruben Neves and Moutinho are stamping their creativity on proceedings further forward.
It’s reassuring to see the stats backing up what the naked eye has witnessed: Dendoncker is having a major influence on the back-line.
And I’ll take a gold and black Baresi over the second coming of Edwards any day of the week.