Monday evening sees Wolves return to Turf Moor to face perennial bogey team Burnley. In Wolves last trip there, they looked extremely feeble followed by a stoppage time penalty which all but ended European hopes last season (Thanks for that Matt Doherty).
Therefore it is safe to say that on the contrary to the feelings of Jordan North, Turf Moor is no happy place, happy place for the Wanderers.
However, Molineux was certainly an ecstatic place to be on Tuesday evening and as Nuno stated after the Chelsea game, ‘it was too bad the fans are not here to celebrate with us’. Indeed it was too bad that we weren’t there, but we did get filled with a feeling of comfort and familiarity when the team line-ups were announced.
The back three was back; and with it a much more assured Wolves performance. What also returned was the first half weighing up of the opposition. Nothing of great note happened in the first 45 minutes, and defensively Wolves looked more comfortable within their shape as a back three.
The second half, as is typical for Wolves, is when the game came alive. After the game, the bearded genius said, ‘we were always in the game. We were well organised. In the second half we played really good football’. Neto and Podence must have had some of what the Tune Squad had at half time in Space Jam before the second half; with both putting on joyous displays and both getting on the scoresheet.
The issue for Wolves this season has been goals, and with Raul’s absence that looked like it could become a greater worry. Neto and Podence showed on Tuesday night that they can step up to the plate in terms of goals, but it is clear that they will need a helping hand from others and potentially the January transfer window.
Will the real Ruben Neves please stand up? Tuesday was comfortably his best game of the season so far; with him looking comfortable on the ball, spraying passes and battling in the middle of the park. This is the Ruben Neves that we know and love, and hopefully this game can kick-start his season.
What will have helped Neves, is the fact that he was paired up with Dendoncker initially and then Owen Otasowie, making his Premier League debut. Otasowie was a physical presence in the middle of the park and was on hand to do the ‘donkey work’, allowing Neves to show glimpses of his Championship form. It would not be a surprise at all to see a similar look central midfield partnership come Monday.
Burnley go into Monday’s game having gained 8 points from their past 5 games, and seemingly having turned a bit of a corner. They started the season poorly, but Thursday’s goalless draw against Aston Villa was their third game unbeaten following the annual 5-0 drubbing they received at the hands of Man City. Wolves have never found Burnley to be an easy opponent, and Monday will be no different.
They will no doubt be stubborn defensively, and if the defensive line is breached by Wolves, they will then be faced with the task of trying to beat Nick Pope. In addition to this, Conor Coady has been known to struggle against physical centre forwards, and on Monday he will have to deal with potentially the most physical forward line in the league.
Burnley will be hoping to utilise the skill and pace of Dwight McNeil and will target the vulnerable right hand side of the Wolves defence. Nelson Semedo has come under social media fire for recent performances, and McNeil will definitely cause problems for the right wing back. Whether or not you agree with the criticism of Semedo, he definitely could have done more to prevent Chilwell crossing for Giroud’s opener on Tuesday. This is a part of Semedo’s game that McNeil will be looking to exploit, by trying to get crosses into the box for the towering Wood and Rodriguez.
The whole point of Nuno adapting his system this season was to give his side an unpredictability that it hasn’t had before. It is for this reason that it is impossible to say how Nuno will go on Monday.
He could go for a back four and look to attack Burnley. Or he could stick with the back three to counteract the physicality of Burnley and defensive vulnerabilities we have seen at times with the back four. Wily Boly may be a doubt for Monday, but Max Kilman could slide in quite easily in a back three or four.
With Dendoncker hauled off at half time, it is not clear whether he will be fit in time for this tie, but his physicality is something that has been extremely handy against the likes of Burnley in the past. With Otasowie giving an assured performance on Tuesday, he could slot in for his first Premier League start and bring that imposing presence to the centre of the park. The Neves and Moutinho combination has not been fruitful this season, so it will be interesting to see, depending on fitness, who Nuno goes for on Monday.
On Thursday, Burnley conceded 27 attempts at goal against Villa but still managed to keep a clean sheet. Wolves will be hoping to retain their defensive solidity and be looking to Neto and Podence to unleash some magic to break down what will inevitably be a stubborn Burnley. Here is to hoping that Wolves can come away with a positive result on Monday and share the sentiment of happy place, happy place, Turf Moor.
Predicted 11: Patricio, Coady, Boly, Saiss, Semedo, Marcal, Dendoncker, Neves, Podence, Neto, Silva.