‘Underlaps’, Adama Traore & Bruno Jordao – Wolves talking points after Crystal Palace late show
Diogo Jota struck deep into injury time at Crystal Palace on Sunday to snatch a point for Wolverhampton Wanderers and stop the rot.
Wolves were staring a fourth successive defeat in the face at Selhurst Park before Jota pounced inside Palace’s box to level the contest.
It was the attacker’s fourth goal of the season and cancelled out Palace’s opener at the beginning of the second half, which has now been credited to Leander Dendoncker.
Wolves fans may have made the long trip back from London with smiles on their faces, but there’s still a lot of issues to be ironed out before Nuno Espirito Santo is satisfied.
Here are our findings from Selhurst Park:
Coady, Boly and…
Nobody seems to want to grab the third spot in Wolves’ defence with the three men in contention continuing to mess up their auditions.
Saiss’s silly dismissal has handed the initiative back to Ryan Bennett and Jesus Vallejo, both of whom have been found wanting in the space of the last week.
Bennett’s blunder on Thursday night handed Braga Europa League victory, while Vallejo was part of the shambolic defensive showing against Chelsea.
Both could get a chance against Reading in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday with Saiss now suspended, and a place in the starting XI against Watford could await the one who impresses most.
Adama isn’t an ‘experiment’
You can count the number of times Adama Traore has started on the right side of a front three in the Premier League for Wolves on one hand.
Traore was given that chance against Crystal Palace and didn’t disappoint. The winger has arguably been Wolves’ best player this season and his cross for Jota’s leveller means he’s now created six goals for his teammates.
Most of those assists have come from wing-back and whether it be there or further forward as part of the front line, Traore must play. The Spaniard is no longer an experiment – he’s proved himself to be among the club’s most decisive players and shone when others have faded during this rough patch of results.
The fact Traore has already accumulated one third of the Premier League minutes he managed in the whole of last season is testament to his importance nowadays.
Nuno was expected to revert to 3-4-3 at some stage – but this wasn’t 3-4-3 as we know it.
There were multiple tweaks which proved pivotal to a first half in which Nuno completely outclassed ex-England manager Roy Hodgson with a tactics board.
The first was to field Willy Boly at right centre-back for the first time – a ploy which strengthened Wolves’ hand down their defensively weaker right side.
Dendoncker was stationed alongside Joao Moutinho in midfield to offer the type of combativeness that ball-playing Ruben Neves simply can’t.
And then there was Doherty and Traore, two players who are almost never on the field at the same time. Nuno found a way to utilise Traore on the touchline, where he’s undoubtedly at his best, and get Doherty to make selfless runs on the inside of the Spaniard to create space for him to weave his magic.
Doherty’s ‘underlaps’ also offered Traore an option to bounce one-twos off as he burst inside off the flank.
The first 94 minutes and 40 seconds told the story of Wolves’ season. Nuno’s men managed one excellent half of football, missing a shed load of chances, before deteriorating.
Wolves’ one half wonders have only put together a full 90 once in the Premier League this season, at Leicester City on the opening day. All of their other league matches have been incomplete.
What’s also been prevalent in all of those fixtures is the absence of luck. The lady with the magic dust hasn’t been shining on Wolves much of late, and she wasn’t at Selhurst Park either.
While lady luck cannot be blamed for Wolves’ lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, it wasn’t with Wolves as Joel Ward’s effort struck Dendoncker and spun beyond Rui Patricio.
Wolves overcame that blow, just as they did to end their mini blip in 2018/19. After five defeats in six games last season, Wolves came back from 1-0 – courtesy of Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s deflected strike – to defeat Chelsea 2-1.
That show of defiance in the face of adversity proved to be the catalyst for an unforgettable second half to the season. Maybe Jota’s goal can have a similar impact on this campaign.
Nuno has always rotated his squad for Carabao Cup clashes and made nine in each of last season’s ties against Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City.
He’s expected to do something similar against Reading at Molineux on Wednesday.
One player who fans are hoping to see against the Royals is Portuguese midfielder Bruno Jordao, who is yet to debut for Wolves after his summer switch from Lazio.
The 20-year-old midfielder has been impressing for Rob Edwards’ under-23 side and notched his second goal in as many games against Arsenal on Friday night.
Nuno isn’t expected to draft in a raft of youngsters, though, with several first team players in need to minutes too.