Wolverhampton Wanderers are arguably the Premier League’s most cohesive team, and are a side who are greater than the sum of their parts.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s troops aren’t just a collection of individuals doing their own thing, rather the Portuguese has created a genuine team in every sense of the word. Of the current sides in the top half, perhaps only this season’s new boys Sheffield United rival them for hard work, togetherness and compactness.
While Nuno’s side came about after heavy investment, Chris Wilder’s army are a team of bargain signings. Still, games against both sides can be likened to intermittent visits to the dentist, such is the nature of the managers’ influence over their clubs.
At Wolves, while Raul Jimenez, scorer of 17 Prem goals this term, is probably the team’s most important attacker, Adama Traore has been important in their push for the Champions League spots this term.
The former Barcelona man’s immense improvement has been crucial to the team’s success in their second season in the big time. He’s scored four and set up nine goals in 35 appearances (26 starts). Last season, the attacker managed a solitary goal and assist in 29 top flight appearances.
In fairness, he only made nine starts in the preceding campaign but his increased minutes and direct goal contributions suggest Nuno is now harnessing a side of his game that many observers thought never existed.
Previously tagged an impact player, the effervescent attacker is now proving his worth from the start in 19/20. This is somewhat contradicted by the fact all but one of his 13 league goal involvements have been after half-time, although this is not by coincidence as Wolves are, by design, a second-half team.
This has been validated by the timing of the Wanderers’ goals since football resumed in June: they’ve netted eight times in their seven games, with only one coming before the interval. Even that was in first-half stoppage time (Jimenez’s penalty vs Everton in gameweek 35), so the West Midlands team are perennially slow starters.
Still, despite Adama’s all-round improvement and constant combinations with Jimenez in the attacking third, Nuno’s stalwarts in central defence are equally important as the duo in the final third, if not more.
Indeed, the backline forms a solid foundation upon which Wolves play, evidenced by their stats from last season and this term. Their 46 goals conceded was joint-fifth in the division and second-best of the best-performing promoted sides in their maiden campaigns since the advent of the Prem. Sheffield United, currently on 35, could become the outright best ahead of Ipswich Town (42 in 2000/01), pushing them to third barring a collapse in their final two games.
They’ve so-far conceded even fewer this season (38), a stat that, in part, can be attributed to Nuno switching things up defensively.
While two of the Portuguese trainer’s primary centre-backs – Conor Coady and Willy Boly – have remained, Morocco captain Romain Saiss has replaced Ryan Bennett in the back three, prompting an interesting change for the experienced Franco-Ivorian.
Having played as the left centre-half last term, the introduction of Saiss at the back has seen the ex-Porto man deployed at RCB this year, with the North African utilised at LCB. Despite the Moroccan’s penchant for rash challenges, this move has seen Wolves concede fewer and lose lesser games this term.