Talking Tactics

Neves' new role can unlock Man Utd defence

By Adrian Clarke 25 Aug 2021
Ruben Neves, Wolves

Adrian Clarke says Portuguese midfielder is now more advanced in an attacking Wolves side

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Ruben Neves (WOL)

Wolverhampton Wanderers may still be awaiting their first point and goal of the Premier League season, but under Bruno Lage they look an attack-minded side.

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They have racked up a combined total of 42 shots in their 1-0 defeats by Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, compared to their opponents' 17.

Wolves are posing a threat both during sustained periods of possession and on the counter-attack, so it feels only a matter of time before they start plundering goals.

Manchester United will head to Molineux this weekend on the back of a flat performance at Southampton last time out, and they are likely to be asked plenty of questions by Lage's adventurous side.

Despite their difficult pair of opening fixtures, Wolves are one of the most creative teams in the division.

Wolves' threat compared to 2020/21
  2020/21 2021/22
Stats/90 Total PL rank Total PL rank
Open-play chances created 7.6 10th 16.5 1st
Chances created 9.1 9th 17.5 2nd
Shots 12.2 10th 21.0 2nd
Touches in opp. box 19.3 14th 33.5 4th

Midfield playmaker Neves was particularly impressive at home against Spurs last Sunday.

While the Portugal international's loose pass led to the decisive penalty being conceded, he otherwise produced a quality all-action display.

Neves is playing 10 to 15 yards higher up the pitch under Lage than he did for Nuno Espirito Santo, enabling him to produce more incisive passes in and around the final third.

Neves' stats v Spurs
  Total Wolves rank
Touches 93 1st
Passes 70 1st
Passes in opp. half 50 1st
Through-balls 3 1st
Final-third entries 13 1st
Chances created 5 1st
Shots 4 2nd

In the past, Neves has generally dropped deep to spread the play with his pinpoint long passes. But Lage is encouraging him to spend more time in the opponents' half.

Wolves are using an attack-minded 3-4-3 formation which is giving them more possession this season. 

And in his right-sided central-midfield role, Neves has greater licence to get on the ball in advanced areas.

After a 2020/21 campaign in which he managed a solitary assist, we are now likely to see more direct goal involvements from him.

Neves delivered three through-balls against Spurs, including one exceptional defence-splitting pass that sent Adama Traore clean through for a 1v1.

Head-to-head with Pogba

No orthodox central midfielder has created more chances from open play so far this season than Neves's six.

He is level with Man Utd's Paul Pogba, who he will face this weekend, while West Ham United's Declan Rice is the next closest on four.

If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side allow the 24-year-old time and space to pick out runners with a telling forward pass, Neves can continue to create chances.

Also in this series

Part 2: Mount's movement can give Liverpool the blues
Part 3: Lokonga can hurt Man City with deeper midfield role

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