Five matches into the season, with Wolverhampton having picked up four points in their opening six matches, things looked bad. It doesn’t look so bad now!
It’s getting hard to argue against the fact that Wolves is a really good football team. After an inauspicious start that saw them start winless in their first six matches, Wolves have been on a tear: unbeaten in their last 11, a streak that goes back to September. In that time they’ve beaten Manchester City at the Etihad and taken points off of Arsenal. Their only defeat at home this season is a 5-2 loss against Chelsea in week 4.
This team is real good, and they’re doing it without out-performing their metrics. They are 8th in the Premier League in xG, fifth in xGA. They have balanced scoring with Raul Jiminez leading the way (6 goals) but nine other players on the scorer’s sheet this season.
Manager Nuno Espirito Santo has Wolves in a fast, direct 3-4-3 formation, often dropping into a 3-5-2 when protecting a lead. Dribble-machine (and Carty Free masthead favorite) Adama Traore stretches defenses, Johnny Castro and Matt Doherty operate as wingbacks, while Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves anchor a solid midfield. They like to play out of the back, and the front three of Adama, Jiminez, and Diogo Jota are positionally flexible and use their movement to drag defenders around to make room in the half-spaces for players to run into. But they have plenty of pace, and can also hurt clubs on the counterattack should they lose the ball.
In short, despite the weird start, this is an exceptionally dangerous Wolverhampton team, especially at home where they’ve lost only once. They’re not invincible — they have the most draws of any team in the league with nine — but they are difficult to break down and beat. Wolves should provide a much, much stiffer test than Burnley did last weekend, and Spurs should underestimate them at their peril. Should Tottenham want to somehow get back into the top four, they’ll have to climb over Wolves to do it.
How will Tottenham line up against Wolves?
The dead-rubber Champions League match against Bayern Munich was a little difficult to watch, but it was somewhat instructive as to how Jose Mourinho views his current team. After the match in Munich, in which Mourinho gave starts to players on the fringes of the first team such as Giovani Lo Celso, Ryan Sessegnon, and Kyle Walker-Peters, the Spurs boss made it clear that he would be reverting to his preferred lineup against Wolves. The “fringe” players, so-called less to their potential and more that Mourinho just doesn’t really know them yet, will get their chances as the holiday fixtures pile up.
But for now, that gives us a good idea of how Mourinho will lineup. With Harry Kane, Dele and Serge Aurier left in London mid-week, expect all three to start. I would guess that Mourinho will again prefer his lopsided fullback formation with Aurier on the right and Jan Vertonghen deployed as a combo third CB slash defensive fullback on the left.
The front four picks itself — Kane at the tip of the spear, with Son Heung-Min, Dele, and Lucas Moura behind. Midfield also feels settled — while Harry Winks has returned to training after sustaining an injury a couple of weeks ago, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be match-fit for this match, so a pivot of Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko feels right, especially since Tanguy Ndombele is still out with a groin injury.
This was a formation that did wonderful things against Burnley, but less wonderful things at Manchester United. I don’t think we know yet what they’ll do against a solid Wolves side at Molineux, but I’m nervous.
That’s my lineup for Tottenham Hotspur’s match at Wolverhampton. What’s yours?