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Talking Tactics

Positive approach paying off for Lopetegui

Adrian Clarke 25 Mar 2023

Adrian Clarke analyses how Wolves head coach has improved his side's goal threat

Adrian Clarke looks at the impact of new managers in the relegation fight, which is the closest ever at this stage of the season, with only four points separating the bottom nine clubs.

Julen Lopetegui (WOL)

Five of Wolverhampton Wanderers' seven Premier League victories this season have come since Lopetegui took charge on Boxing Day.

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Lopetegui needed to quickly address shortcomings on the goal front, and progress has been made.

Wolves have scored 14 goals in 13 matches under the Spaniard, compared with only eight in 15 fixtures before his arrival.

In a 4-2-3-1 formation there is usually a greater vibrancy to the way they attack, and the overall tactical approach is more positive than under Bruno Lage.

While Wolves' shot conversion rate of 9.6 per cent is the lowest in the division, they have been less wasteful under their new head coach.

Lopetegui’s side have matched their Expected Goals (xG) metric. Before he arrived, their finishing had been way below par, with a -7.5 differential between goals and xG.

xG before/with Lopetegui compared
2022/23 xG Goals Difference
Pre-Lopetegui 15.5 8 -7.5
With Lopetegui 14.4 14 -0.4

There is plenty of scope for his side to further improve inside the final third.

A number of Wolves' forwards and midfielders have yet to score a Premier League goal this season.

Indeed, Matheus Nunes, Diego Costa, Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho and Pedro Neto have had a combined total of 92 shots without scoring.

Wolves' attacking stats 22/23 
Player Shots Goals
Matheus Nunes 23 0
Diego Costa 21 0
Raul Jimenez 20 0
Joao Moutinho 15 0
Pedro Neto 13 0

Between now and the end of the season Lopetegui and his coaching staff will work hard to improve their output from set-plays. 

Areas to address 

Wolves have found the back of the net on only four occasions from dead-ball situations this season, the second-lowest tally behind Manchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion, both with three.

They must also become much more ruthless from transitions.

Although Lopetegui’s side are not renowned for their pressing, they have had 42 shots from high turnovers, second only to leaders Arsenal.

However, they are the only team not to score from a high turnover.

Better output from these two methods of scoring, would ease the pressure on them to create stacks of chances in open play.

Tinkering with the team

Lopetegui is building a reputation as someone who can influence the outcome of matches from his technical area.

He almost always uses his full quota of substitutes (he averages 4.9 a match) and is never afraid to make early calls. 

In fact, the average minute of his first substitution is 46.8. 

Average minute of first sub used
Manager Ave. min of first sub
Graham Potter (CHE) 46.6
Julen Lopetegui (WOL) 46.8
Ruben Selles (SOU) 48.7
Jesse Marsch (LEE) 53.7
Brendan Rodgers (LEI) 54.4

Lopetegui is not averse to switching to a back three mid-match, a tactic that worked successfully in Wolves' recent 1-0 home win over Tottenham Hotspur

He tried something similar against Newcastle United without as much joy though, losing 2-1 after making the change at 1-1.

Overall, Lopetegui's use of substitutes is excellent. 

Since his first match, a 2-1 win at Everton on Boxing Day, no manager has watched their subs contribute a greater number of goals. 

Goals scored by subs since Boxing Day
Club Sub goals
Brighton 5
Man Utd 5
Wolves 5
Arsenal 4
Fulham 4

Across the first 15 matches of the season Wolves had only "won" one second half, fading badly after the interval.

Under Lopetegui they have outscored the opposition five times in the second period. 

Steady progress 

Wolves are a better watch since his arrival, and you can sense the players are responding well to his messages.

Big home wins against Liverpool and Spurs outlined their potential. 

However, to steer clear of the relegation zone in the coming weeks, Wolves must be more efficient inside both penalty boxes.

Also in this series

Part 1: How Gracia has given Leeds width and greater control
Part 3: Dyche's style bringing stability to Everton
Part 4: How Hodgson's return will change Crystal Palace

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