Wolverhampton Wanderers fans are happy with the position of the club. They know a good thing when they see one, and Bruno Lage certainly seems to fit the mould. Former Arsenal player-turned-pundit Alan Smith agrees, stating it’s been “a fantastic first few months” for the Portuguese star in his Sky Sports column.
The table doesn’t lie, and the Wolves are potentially on course to finish this season with 13 more points than they did under Nuno Espírito Santo’s guidance in 2021. But, what’s the recipe for his success?
Astute Tactical Changes
When Santo was in charge, the Wolves team was noted for its brilliance on the ball thanks to the likes of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho in midfield, with Raul Jimenez providing the finishing touches upfront. As the Premier League got used to the midfield duo, and Jimenez suffered an injury, Wolves struggled to dominate. Losing Diogo Jota was a huge blow, too.
Lage hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel with his defensive style. By keeping it simple and finding astute flaws in the opponent’s armour, the Black Country club has secured big results against the top sides. 0-0 with Chelsea looks like a boring draw, yet it’s anything but for Wolves supporters. The 1-0 win against Manchester United is probably where Lage has shone the most, though.
Speaking after the game, he noted how his side required more men in the middle of the pitch to blunt United’s pressing. To do it, the full-backs, Nelson Semedo and Fernando Marcal, came inside to narrow the playing field and stop United’s star players from cutting through the defence. When Wolves had the ball, they hugged the touchline to create width. Meanwhile, everyone was brave enough to keep possession, enabling Wolves to create opportunities to score, which they did through Moutinho, as well as Romain Saiss hitting the crossbar.
Working with What He Has
The thing is, apart from smarter tactics, there’s not much to separate Lage and Santo. The players, for example, are pretty much the same footballers the latter had at his disposal. So, why were the wheels about to fall off before Santo moved on? An unignorable factor is the return of Jimenez, a target man and goal-scorer who brings an added edge to the team’s play.
However, working with a former manager’s players is another tick in Lage’s box because it highlights his man-management skills. Neves isn’t the only person to laud the Portuguese manager’s approach to winning matches this season. Let’s look at Fabio Silva in more detail. Judging by the way the press adores Adama Traore, you’d be forgiven for thinking he is Wolves’ star man.
Of course, it’s Silva’s energy and work rate, as well as his product on the ball, that provides much-needed balance. The same applies to Daniel Podence. While haven’t started as frequently as they would like, their impacts have been significant. Podence, for example, averages a key pass every game, has two assists and is fifth in the Wolves’ squad for shots-per-game.
How Far Can Wolves Go?
The question is whether Lage can maintain the same level of success in the second half of the season. Firstly, finishing above 13th (last season’s position) will be the main goal as it shows progress. It’s not surprising that most pundits, fans and bookmakers believe they’ll do this easily, with the latter making them short favourites to end up in the top 10. Bet365 is a major UK brand, but it’s also one of the top betting sites in India, the USA, Canada, and Australia, with a plethora of markets and bonuses that serve millions of users in these regions.
Currently, the bookie quotes Wolves as 1/2 sixth-favourites, showcasing the operator’s confidence in Lage’s men. After that, the Premier League and Europe is the squad’s oyster as a good run of form could put them in a Europa League qualification spot. The same provider ranks them as 12/1 outsiders behind the likes of Leicester and West Ham, regardless of the fact they are a handful of points behind fifth place. Of course, if a club in the Champions League or Europa League wins the FA Cup, a sixth-place finish will be enough.
For now, supporters are enjoying the philosophy and incredible results that Lage is bringing to the Midlands. Where that takes Wolves is an answer for the end of the season.