Wolverhampton Wanderers came into this home fixture having lost their last two Premier League games after conceding seven goals in these two defeats. Fulham don’t hold a good away record at Molineux as they still haven’t won a game in the Premier League against Wolves at this venue. In contrast, Wolverhampton Wanderers hold a good record against Fulham having lost just one, winning seven, and drawing two of their last 10 league meetings with Fulham.
This time it was just a goal from Pedro Neto in the 56th minute separating the two sides. This game lacked action in the first 45 minutes and major attempts from both teams came only in the second half. Fulham were dominating at the early stages of the first half, but Wolves managed to not concede anything early and got back in shape as the game progressed. The tactical analysis of this game covers the tactics of the Wolves build-up and their defensive strategies. Also, we will be highlighting the analysis of Fulham’s high pressing and counter-attacking football.

Line-ups

Nuno Espírito Santo made three changes to the side that was downed 4-0 by Hammers last week, with Max Kilman coming in for the departing Ruben Vinagre, Joao Moutinho dropped to the bench and replaced by Leander Dendoncker, while Daniel Podence was fit again and replaced Adama Traore. Scott Parker made three changes to the team that lost to Aston Villa as Kenny Tete was not fit and dropped out of the squad, while Michael Hector and Dennis Odoi both dropped to the bench. He handed full Premier League debuts to both Ola Aina at right-back and Antonee Robinson at left-back. Maxime Le Marchand also came in for his first start of the Premier League season.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

Wolves’ 3-1-4-2 attack, but have yet to find a way to ignite the attacking spark

The Wolves attack was short of imagination and intensity, particularly in the first half as Rúben Neves was looking to find players with long balls. The side that lost Diogo Jota and Matt Doherty to Liverpool and Tottenham respectively in the transfer window was clearly seen to be missing the ability to counter-attack with pace and penetrate with runs behind opposition defences.

Wolves’ play had a trio of centre-backs starting the play with Neves dropping as a pivot to support and take the play further. There were a lot of movements from the front players and even Jiminez was seen dropping to midfield to collect the ball. The full-backs, Nélson Semedo and Romain Saïss were seen going higher up their respective flanks during the build-up.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

This image shows Neves dropping to collect the ball from a centre-back and looking to build the play. Here, Fulham has offered plenty of space to Neves and they are sitting back to avoid any attack from the centre area. Neves waits for off-the-ball movements of his teammates to release for a free player or he has the option to go long or spread the play towards either flank.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

This example shows the 3-1-4-2 structure of Wolves in attacking half. Again, Neves was dropping in the pivot role to support the play and has plenty of space here too. It’s easier for him to dictate the play with Fulham’s forward players sitting deep and not pressing.

Wolves compact 5-3-2 defending shape

Both Semedo and Saïss dropped to support the back three and together they formed a solid and compact defence line. The midfield three of Dendoncker, Neves, and Neto dropped into their zones and nullified Fulham’s attack from the centre. Kilman was impressive in the back three along with the other two defenders. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side looked much more sound, disciplined, and in good shape while defending and the only concern was beaking out when they get the ball.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

It is clearly evident from the picture above how well-organised Wolves’ defenders were. The two wing-backs Semedo and Saïss dropped back quickly to have five at the back and provide extra support to the high line. The centre looked compact nullifying anything from the opposition through the centre.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

Wolves’ have kept a similar defensive shape in the second half too. They were sitting back and deep and avoiding any entry from the centre, either forcing Fulham’s players for the long ball or crossing from the flanks. However, Semedo and Saïss were quick to close down whenever Fulham’s wingers tried crossing the ball.

Fulham defending deep and finding target-man Mitrovic on counter 

Fulham sat deep particularly in the first half with the idea of beaking on the counter to find their main striker, Mitrovic. Parker’s side played in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but they formed a back five while defending. Joe Bryan can be seen dropping into the left-back position to form a solid defence line for Fulham which shaped them into a 5-3-2 formation. Fulham were too well-organised in their defending duties but conceded with that one error in the 56th minute that cost them the game.

Fulham had either Tom Cairney or André-Frank Zambo Anguissa dropping as a pivot to support the centre-backs in their build-up. They found it difficult to carry the play from the centre and looked to spread wide or long balls, searching Mitrovic or other attackers.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

We can see in the still above how Fulham’s build-up started with their keeper, Alphonse Areola, as he plays it short to either Tim Ream or Maxime Le Marchand with the full-backs going wide to receive the ball from either of the centre-backs. Also, Anguissa was dropping as a pivot, giving another option to start the build-up and progress into the opposition half.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

Similarly, Tom Cairney is seen here dropping as a pivot to collect the ball from the centre-backs with the full-backs stretching wide to spread the play. Either Anguissa or Cairney dropped in order to unlock the compact defending of wolves.Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

Ademola Lookman launches an amazing long ball, releasing Mitrovic on the break and catching three Wolves’ defenders out. But Aboubakar Kamara on the left side fails to convert after receiving a square ball in the penalty box from Mitrovic after beating all defenders to set a 1 v 1 with the keeper, Rui Patrício. Kamara hits straight at the keeper and Fulham fail to convert the golden opportunity to equalise on the counter. Better finishing here could have rewarded the well-organised defence structure of Fulham.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

This image shows the 5-3-2 defensive structure of Parker’s men. Like Wolves, Fulham were also successful in restricting any attack from the centre by the opposition. They sat deep with five men committing to the backline. Joe Bryan dropped to the left-back position with Robinson getting inside to be the third centre-back on the left. The rest adjusted accordingly, forming a solid defensive unit.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

We see here how Neto swings it with the left foot in the big gap between the two Fulham centre-backs, Ream and Le Marchand. Also, Semedo is left free to run inside the box to have a second go after a saved shot. Both Bryan and Robinson were busy watching the ball and neglecting the late run of Samedo in the penalty box. Areola’s brilliant double save helped them survive this Wolves’ attack which caught their defenders on a quick counter-attack.

Premier League 2020/21: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

Here, Fulham’s defenders were caught off-position with everyone protecting and throwing bodies at the centre, leaving a 20-year-old Portuguese winger free in space. He has time and space both to take it on his strong left foot and nail it into the right bottom corner for the goal. What’s difficult to understand is Aina’s role here, as he hasn’t either moved to protect his goal when Dendoncker was taking a shot nor has he stayed with Neto to not allow him a free go towards the goal.

Conclusion

The Fulham players must have been gutted to not take their chance and earn a deserving point in this fixture, but both teams will take positives from this fixture. Wolves were better than the previous week but were still missing the spark in the attack. The analysis shows that wolves were well organised and in control of the game, hardly vulnerable to conceding anything.

As per their standards, Wolves need to do better and step up their game in attack and moving forward. Parker must be impressed with his new-look defence that included Antonee Robinson, Maxime le Marchand, and on-loan Torino defender Ola Aina, as they were much better from the side that conceded 10 goals in their opening three matches.