Wolves have lost three matches in a row with defeats to Everton, Chelsea and SC Braga. And, although the pack shouldn’t panic, it is concerning that Nuno Espirito Santo is no longer getting the best out of Ruben Neves.
The defeat to SC Braga was an especially cruel punch to the gut. Nuno’s men played beautiful football and clearly dominated the match with 13 shots, 60% possession and 600 completed passes.
However, you reap what you sow and Wolves didn’t deserve to win. The statistics mentioned above plaster over the cracks, with the biggest being the wasteful employment of superstar Ruben Neves.
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Why Wolves are no longer getting the best out of Ruben Neves
Nuno has constantly repeated that Wolves’ poor run of form isn’t because of match congestion. Ruben Neves said he agreed with his manager before the group match with SC Braga at Molineux.
“I don’t think fatigue [from playing qualifying games] has anything to do with it,” Neves said via the Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League.”
Neves and Nuno are both right. The issue isn’t with fitness or fatigue, it’s with Wolves’ style of play and utilisation of the former youngest ever captain for FC Porto.
Wolves have so far been too pragmatic and cautious in their approach to matches. And this is embodied by Neves playing almost as another centre-back.
Neves playing so deep is hurting Wolves because there’s a lack of creativity in midfield. Leander Dendoncker is a conservative player by trade and Joao Moutinho is often on his own.
Nuno’s men had 13 shots against SC Braga last night, but only one of them was a clear-cut chance missed by Patrick Cutrone. The rest were hopeful hits from afar by Neves and Boly, as well as a tame header by Raul Jimenez.
Wolves aren’t creating enough clear cut chances to threaten the opposition or score. And Neves playing as a centre-back is partly to blame.
Another issue with Neves sitting so deep is that Conor Coady already fills the role. It’s up to the skipper to pass out from the back and to complete long range balls from Wolves’ own half.
Neves isn’t needed at the back as he just gets in Coady’s way. The Portuguese maestro should instead be further up so Wolves have more bodies in the opponent’s half.
Not only that, but Neves isn’t going to hurt any defense when standing next to Coady. It’s a complete waste of his talents and it’s arguably the biggest difference between the Wolves of last season and now.
The pack shouldn’t panic as every team suffers a blip, but Nuno needs to become fearless again. Neves needs to be further up the pitch so he can contribute to the attack and transition the ball faster.