Talking Tactics

Nuno can exploit Fulham's flaws with extra attacker

By Adrian Clarke 6 Apr 2021

Adrian Clarke says an aggressive strategy can help Wolves win Matchweek 31's opening fixture

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points in Matchweek 31.

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Nuno Espirito Santo's choice of formation is likely to determine the type of match we see when Wolverhampton Wanderers visit Fulham.

When Nuno starts with a back four, adding an extra attacker to his line-up, Wolves tend to be a significantly more potent force going forward but also less secure in defence.

Since the start of 2021, they have averaged 2.2 goals per match in a 4-2-3-1 system, compared with just 0.6 when playing in their more familiar shape with a back three.

The more daring approach is exciting to watch but comes at a price, with Wolves sacrificing their renowned defensive structure.

When using a four-man defence they have lost 3-2 at home against both West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United, and drawn 3-3 at Brighton & Hove Albion.

The table below shows how significantly Nuno's choice of system affects the way Wolves perform both in and out of possession.

Impact of formations
2021 Back three Back four
Matches 9 5
Shots 9.8 14.4
xG* 0.9 1.5
xG against 1.3 1.4
Scored 0.6 2.2
Conceded 0.9 2.4

*Expected goals

Fulham have the worst shot-conversion rate in the Premier League this season, with just 8.9 per cent of their efforts finding the net.

Only Sheffield United have scored fewer goals than the Cottagers' 24.

This may encourage Nuno to use his more positive formation, with a trio of attacking midfielders - Adama Traore, Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence - playing behind the main striker.

"We know we must find the balance between the two shapes that can allow us to compete better and we are positive we’re going to achieve it," Nuno told Wolves' official website ahead of Friday's match.

Pedro Neto's goals

A show of ambition would be logical against a team who have scored more than once in only two of 16 home matches this term.

Indeed, Fulham have looked shaky against sides who close them down. In each of their last three matches they have conceded a goal from a turnover inside their own half.

Wolves are not known for a high press, but the presence of an extra attacking midfielder at Craven Cottage may help them apply pressure.

A concerted effort from Neto, Traore and Podence to press the man on the ball could well be rewarded.

Wolves' possession won per match
  Poss. won PL rank Poss. won final third PL rank
2018/19 58.9 1st 3.3 14th
2019/20 55.7 4th 2.8 19th
2020/21 49.6 17th 3.2 18th

Wolves have suffered a major drop-off in the ball-winning department.

In 2018/19 they regained possession more often than any other side thanks to their discipline, work-rate and outstanding organisation.

This season they are ranked 17th in this same facet of play.

Regular changes to the shape and starting XI might be contributing factors, but Wolves' appetite to close down passes and apply pressure has also dipped, making them easier to play against.

If they can rediscover the style that worked so well in the past, they could have a very productive night in west London.

Also in this series

Part 2: Palace pair can give Chelsea the blues once more
Part 3: Can Kane and Son make Mourinho's game plan count?
Part 4: Pereira pivotal to West Brom's hopes of great escape

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