The influence of enterprising Spanish managers on the Premier League has been more prominent than ever this season. Pep Guardiola, Mikel Arteta and Unai Emery have their sides on the cusp of history with their respective brands of front-foot football. But towards the lower echelons of the table, fellow countryman Julen Lopetegui has worked his magic with a more pragmatic style to guide Wolves to safety with three games to spare. It might not be pretty, but when survival is on the line, it doesn’t need to be.
Wolves are a team who plays in the shadows. They surrender large portions of possession in an attempt to suffocate the opposition and engage them in a war of attrition. They then look to spring free and commit players forward quickly. In Ruben Neves and Max Kilman, they have two of the most prolific players when it comes to taking on their man. Neves and Kilman both rank amongst the top 10 players in the league for successful take-on percentage, with Kilman, in fact, topping said chart, whilst also ranking seventh for progressive carrying distance, according to FBref.
Adopting a low block, they’re combative out of possession, though the fact they rank second for fouls committed suggests they’re not always the most precise in their efforts to regain the ball. January recruit Mario Lemina has added a steel and tenacity out of possession that has helped aid turnovers and release the driving runs of Adama Traore, Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence. With space to run into the trio offer a massive threat on the counter, though as I referred to earlier in the season the lack of a true talisman often leaves these efforts in vain.
This is a squad coming to the end of a successful cycle, and Lopetegui’s efforts in the transfer window, bringing in the likes of Craig Dawson, Matheus Cunha and Lemina, have rejuvenated a team in desperate need of an overhaul. With Wolves’ top scorers, Podence and Neves, having netted just six league goals this season, investment up top will be a priority this summer. Lopetegui’s side have scored the fewest goals and taken the fewest shots of any team in the league, and whilst they’ve kept clean sheets in their last four home games, there is an understanding that they can’t solely rely on staying in games and striking late.
Despite being bottom at Christmas, Wolves have achieved safety by a comfortable margin and currently sit 13th in the Premier League. Julen Lopetegui has excelled in shoring up a team that had won just twice in the league prior to his arrival, but the next step will be to return Wolves to the same team that made their presence felt not just at home but abroad.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images