Leeds United v Wolves tactical preview - formation fluidity, space to exploit and a challenge for Stuart Dallas
Going into their third consecutive season in the division, the Midlands side have two seventh-place finishes to show for their endeavours as well as European qualification. They exist as proof that immediate Premier League success is possible for promoted sides.
With the close links to super-agent Jorge Mendes, Wolves exist as a little part of Portugal in England. Their manager, Nuno Espirito Santo – also Portuguese – has made them into a solid defensive unit based around a back three. With defensive reliability assured, Wolves then look to spring counter-attacks, using players like Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez to good effect.
Here are three aspects of Espirito Santo’s system to look out for on Monday evening:
Although Espirito Santo is committed to a back three (or back five in a more defensive orientation), he is more flexible about how his team line up in front of the defence. Wolves are probably more famous for their 3-4-3 formation, but this season, they have divided their time between the 3-4-3 and the 3-5-2 formation. Where the 3-4-3 gives them an extra man in attacking phases and more scope to exploit width, it also leaves them with a two-man midfield. In games where he wants more control in the middle, Espirito Santo will go for the 3-5-2 to rectify this. Against Leeds, Spirito Santo will probably look to be more dangerous in attack so expect to see the 3-4-3.
The use of the 3-4-3 raises questions about which combination of midfielders he uses in the centre. Generally, the Portuguese will go with a creative option – Ruben Neves or Joao Moutinho – and then a more box-to-box option – Leander Dendonker, for instance. Against West Ham, they went with Moutinho and Neves and shipped four goals. If the 3-4-3 is chosen, look to see how Marcelo Bielsa exploits the space in the middle.
The problem posed by Adama Traore
One of the main benefits of the 3-4-3 is that it allows Adama Traore to play out wide on the right rather than more centrally as the striker in a 3-5-2. Traore is something of an enigma. Unquestionably the best dribbler in world football right now, there have always been questions about his efficiency beyond dribbling. With Stuart Dallas likely the defender tasked with marking him, the real skill will not be preventing him from dribbling, but channeling him into areas where his effectiveness can be limited.