In the last two posts I have written for the Wolves Fancast, I have light-heartedly looked forward to the next fixture with introductory quips. This week I think it is pertinent to send thoughts and best wishes to Raul Jimenez following the traumatic incident last week.
There has been some cautiously optimistic news in the past few days, and the support from the Wolves faithful has been something to be proud of. This includes the remarkable fundraising effort for a banner to support Raul surpassing its target, with funds also making their way to a charity of Raul’s choosing (the link to which is at the end of this post). An awful incident yes, but a moment in time that makes you proud to be a Wolves fan.
This sentiment was shared by Nuno himself, who stated after the game on Sunday, ‘I’m very proud of my team tonight’. We all shared in this pride towards the team, who, given the circumstances, put on a performance filled with guts, flair, and finesse.
The team news was accompanied by a dastardly graphic from the Wolves Twitter admin, who had placed Pedro Neto at Left-Wing Back in a 3-5-2 formation. It was obvious that this was not the way Wolves would set up, and it would be a back 4. Wolves with a back 4, two games in a row. Coady in the middle of a back 4. A mouth-watering front 4. The Nuno handbrake looked well and truly off.
It was clear that the squad had been afforded more time to practice the shape in training than they had before the previous fixture with Southampton. Granted, the Arsenal attacking line up looked timid and toothless, but Coady slotted into the central position and looked comfortable. He played less long, diagonal passes and Wolves worked the ball through the midfield and into the dangerous attacking front 4, who interchanged wonderfully.
Following the game, Nuno said, ‘the talent and quality are there and the will and belief we have will move us forward’. Something Wolves did seem to do much more effectively against Arsenal, was move the ball forward in a threatening manner. Joao Moutinho looks revitalised in a more advanced role, Traore showed flashes of his unplayable side (much to Rob Holding’s chagrin), and Fabio Silva did a decent job leading the line whilst also putting in a shift with defensive duties.
It also seems obvious as to where the main creativity in the Wolves 11 is at the moment; Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence. Podence is a joy to watch, and this formation could provide him with the platform to play a potent and pivotal role in the Wolves attacking artillery. That chip to lift the ball over Gabriel for his goal was a thing of true beauty (chef’s kiss), and he looks like he is playing with a swagger and confidence that is only matched by one other man.
That man is Pedro Neto. I am running out of superlatives for Neto at the moment, who has scored as many goals in Wolves’ ten league matches this season as he managed in 29 last season. We know we need goals and creativity to come from the chasm left by the injury to Raul, and Neto may just be the man who provides those going forward. A front 4 including three fluid attacking threats behind a young, hungry striker with a point to prove is something that should excite Wolves fans.
I am sure Jürgen Klopp will be thrilled to not see his sparring partner Des Kelly on the side-line at Anfield, as Sunday night’s spectacle makes its way to Amazon Prime. The perception of Liverpool from the outside looking in is that they are yet to find their groove this season and have been hampered with injuries and bad fortune every time they have looked like they may have reignited that unstoppable form of last season. Perception is a strange old thing, as Liverpool are still sitting second in the league and have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The home side will still be without Van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Thiago, Shaqiri, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner for Sunday’s fixture. Alisson became the latest addition to the injury list for Liverpool this week, with Caoimhin Kelleher replacing him in the mid-week fixture against Ajax. The safe bet would be that Klopp sticks with the youngster for Sunday’s game, after an impressive performance and clean sheet. This coupled with a make-shift looking Liverpool defensive line currently, could pose an opportunity for a strong Wolves attacking line-up sitting behind the young and eager to impress Fabio Silva.
Make-shift defence and questionable start to the season, surely Wolves stand a real chance here? There are still two huge factors that Wolves should be wary of going into this fixture. The first being that this Liverpool team has recorded an unbeaten run at Anfield in the league of 64 games. This game will see the return of fans in the stadium, and even though it may be a Carabao-Cup-Style-2000-fans, Anfield has still remained a fortress for Liverpool in the Premier League.
The second thing to be extremely cautious of is the formidable forward line of Liverpool that has been improved by a familiar face to us Wolves fans. People questioned whether the front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino could be improved, but Diogo Jota has hit the ground running upon his arrival in Merseyside, netting 9 times since joining in the summer. This isn’t the time or place to have the Jota debate that has been raging on the Wolves Twittersphere, but I am sure Diogo will be eager to impress and will be as tenacious and tricky as he always was when donned in gold and black.
There have been calls for Wolves to revert to a back 3 for this fixture to try and nullify the attacking threat of the home side. However, this could also be an opportunity to implement Nuno’s new system against one of the big hitters in the league, and get a real benchmark of where this current Wolves squad sit in relation to the likes of Liverpool.
It would be great to see Wolves try and penetrate the makeshift defence of Liverpool, whilst keeping a solid base themselves with a back 4. It is for this reason that I expect no major change in personnel, other than the expected introduction of Fabio Silva. In the centre of the park, the positions are currently Moutinho’s and Dendoncker’s to lose. In this system, Semedo and Marcal look like solid choices; with Marcal offering solidity and defensive maturity, whilst Semedo offers an attacking threat and looks more comfortable as a right-back as opposed to a wing-back.
Liverpool is the only major scalp that Wolves do not have since returning to the Premier League, and it could be argued that this is the best chance to get something at Anfield since then. In their last outing at Brighton, Liverpool only recorded 2 shots on target, and if Wolves can keep the Liverpool front line quiet, they may find joy going forward themselves. Of course, this is easier said than done, and Liverpool have shown Wolves a level of respect in the last two seasons that I am sure they will replicate on Sunday. During 2020, only Manchester United (nine) have won more Premier League fixtures away from home than Wolves (seven). If Wolves can demonstrate the same levels of intensity, attacking threat and defensive solidity as they did last week, then this should be a great spectacle and could lead to a night to remember on Merseyside.
Predicted 11- Patricio, Marcal, Coady, Boly, Semedo, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Neto, Podence, Traore, Fabio Silva.
Fundraising Link: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/raul-banner