Wolves were the least surprising success story of the Premier League last season. Ever since the club’s ownership changed hands and Fosun International came on board in 2016, it has felt like a very well-thought-out plan was being implemented. Appointing Nuno Espirito Santo to mastermind their promotion from the Championship was one such move, along with the signings of players like Rúben Neves, Diogo Jota and João Moutinho. The owners’ close links with Jorge Mendes have undoubtedly helped in this regard, but Santo’s tactical acumen has had an even bigger role in ensuring that Wolves not only survived comfortably but made it as high as 7th in the league table, giving them a place in this season’s Europa League qualifiers. This tactical analysis scout report will look at Santo’s tactics from last season and how Wolves may set up for the season ahead.
As the image shows, Wolves primarily used two systems last season; 3-4-3 and 3-5-2. While Santo started the season with the 3-4-3, he switched to the 3-5-2 system around December, following a home win over Chelsea. This change allowed him to get an extra man into midfield in the form of new recruit Leander Dendoncker, while the strike partnership of Jota and Raúl Jiménez would prove to be a masterstroke. However, the core tactical principles remained the same between the two formations.
Use of width through wing-backs
Playing with a three-man defence usually means that any width must come from the wing-backs, and Wolves were no different. This was especially true once Nuno started using the 3-5-2; in the earlier 3-4-3, the likes of Hélder Costa, Ivan Caveleiro and Adama Traore played as the wide attackers, reducing the need for the wing-backs to get too high up the pitch. In this system, Matt Doherty and Jonny Otto were solely responsible for the side’s width when attacking, with the result that the duo would usually be high and wide up the pitch as a Wolves attack progressed –
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