Wolves’ difficult start to the 2019/20 season finally bled into their European form on Thursday night with a 0-1 defeat at home to Braga.
The Europa League had been something of an oasis in the desert during the early stages of the new campaign, with Wolves winning all six of their games in the competition so far, helping take the sting out of their winless start to the Premier League season.
That all came to an end on Thursday as a stubborn, threatening Braga side bunkered in, shut them out and, in the end, beat them. With wide man Wenderson Galeno, whose pace and trickery had the Wolves defence running back toward their own goal on a number of occasions, looking particularly good.
That said, despite losing and failing to score for just the second time this season, there were still plenty of positives for Nuno Espirito Santo to walk away with from Thursday’s game, offering him hope of a turnaround in form sooner rather than later.
And so, here are three of them.
1. Italian job
The first thing that caught the eye about Wolves’ performance on Thursday, despite failing to score, was the chemistry between their front two of Patrick Cutrone and Raul Jimenez.
Jimenez was fantastic for Espirito Santo last season and, as such, his qualities are no real secret. What is encouraging, though, is the way he was able to link up with and unlock Cutrone who, quite frankly, did everything but score against Braga.
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Cutrone fed brilliantly off Jimenez’s movement, driving into the space created between the Braga centre-backs by the Mexican dropping off the forward line, and all in all, the Italian was Wolves’ most threatening player on the night.
He’s only managed one goal for Wolves so far but fans are already singing Cutrone’s name. He and Jimenez pressed hard and forced mistakes from the Braga defence at every given opportunity and seemed to have a great understanding of each other’s intentions.
If this partnership can be worked on further on the training ground, we might just be in store for a fresh attacking ethos from Espirito Santo.
2. Morgan Gibbs-White
Just four minutes before Wolves fell behind, Morgan Gibbs-White was hooked by Espirito Santo in what was a very surprising and somewhat ill-advised substitution, replacing him with Joao Moutinho.
Moutinho has been wonderful for Wolves at the base of their midfield, recycling possession and threading through balls but let’s get it straight, he’s not a dynamic, box-to-box presence.
The same can be said of compatriot Ruben Neves. He’s equally adept in the deep-lying role, taking the ball from the centre-backs and spreading it wide or picking up those pockets of space where he gets the time to unleash one of his trademark thunderbolts.
What made Gibbs-White so effective against Wolves was his relentless energy. The English youngster attempted more tackles in the Braga half (two) than any of his team-mates on Thursday, while he made two interceptions – one deep in Braga territory, the other just inside his own half. All night, he could be seen backing up Jimenez and Cutrone brilliantly in the press.
Gibbs-White was equally effective on the ball, too, completing more dribbles (three) than any other Wolves player and, once again, using that relentless energy to drive his team forward quickly in possession.
Once he got into the Braga half, the 19-year-old showed off his creative talents, linking up with Wolves’ front two, making triangles with his midfield partners and bringing his full-backs into play. Gibbs-White created the joint-highest number of chances (two) of any player on the pitch on Thursday.
All of these stats are incredibly impressive, especially considering he was brought off with 25 minutes still remaining. It’s only when you actually watched him, though, that you got a full appreciation of just how much energy he injected into that midfield, energy which was robbed once the change was made.
Still, he’s given Espirito Santo something to seriously consider ahead of Wolves’ trip to Crystal Palace at the weekend.
3. They’re still creating
Wolves’ defeat on Thursday wasn’t caused by a lack of attacking endeavour. Sure, they should have scored at least one of their chances but regardless, they’d have still come away from the game with a point if it weren’t for a horrendous individual error from Ryan Bennett.
However, the point is exactly that – Wolves aren’t losing by playing poorly, they’re just making basic errors which can quickly be eradicated by the confidence that comes with a few good results.
No side created more big chances than Wolves (14) during Europa League qualifying, while they also ranked third for goals scored (19). Furthermore, they scored two goals in each of their previous Premier League defeats against Chelsea and Everton.
The loss at Goodison Park, in particular, was as frustrating as it was encouraging. In reality, Wolves created enough to take a point or three away from Merseyside on another day but, again, they were undone by some terrible mistakes and lazy playing out from the back against fast forwards.
Yes, these mistakes need to stop. Yes, Wolves do need to start being more clinical but against Braga on Thursday, they had 11 shots, 60% possession and out-dribbled Braga 14-9. They were creative. As long as Espirito Santo continues to stick to his guns, the results will follow.