In Focus: Why Lage is laying the building blocks for success at Wolves
Nuno Espirito Santo’s departure sent shockwaves around Molineux — but Wolves may yet be rewarded for making a change.
The 47-year-old former boss presided over a successful four-year spell in the dugout, winning promotion to the top flight and reaching the Europa League quarter-finals.
But there are plenty of positive signs to draw from replacement Bruno Lage’s first five games in charge, even if Wolves’ points total does not reflect their performances.
As the two managers prepare to meet in tonight’s Carabao Cup match against Tottenham, here is why the Midlands-based side are in good hands with Lage at the helm.
Nuno implemented a clear style at Molineux — his side would set out with a back five and a midfield double-pivot operating just in front of the defence.
The system proved to be a success, with Wolves recording back-to-back seventh-place finishes in the Premier League during his tenure.
However, large sections of the Wolves support had long been crying out for the Portuguese manager to play a more expansive style of football.
They scored a mere 36 Premier League goals in the 2020-21 season, which was the fifth lowest of any side in the division as they finished 13th.
Wolves were without talisman Raul Jimenez from November onwards due to a sickening head injury and they never replaced his goals.
Pedro Neto and midfielder Ruben Neves were their top scorers in the league with only five league strikes apiece.
Bruno’s building blocks
Lage has become an instant hit with the Wolves fans, who have warmed to his honest personality and, more importantly, his style of play.
The team’s wing-backs were often restricted under Nuno but their current boss has given them a new-found licence to attack.
Fernando Marcal has undoubtedly benefitted, and he put in a standout performance in the 2-0 win over Watford. The left wing-back had the fourth most touches (73) and attempted a commendable 11 passes into the final third in that match.
Another clear beneficiary of the new attacking style has been Adama Traore. The winger completed more take-ons (11) against Brentford and Leicester than any other player in a Premier League game this season.
A results business
Despite the praise that Lage has received for the impact he has had at Molineux, there is no hiding the fact that Wolves sit just one point above the bottom three.
They have won one and lost four Premier League games so far this season, which is the first time since 2003 that the Black Country outfit have suffered four defeats in their first five league fixtures.
But Wolves will consider themselves incredibly unlucky to only be sitting on four points.
Despite losing to Leicester and Manchester United, Lage’s side had a better expected goals (xG) total than their opponents in both matches.
Wolves failed to score in their first three games, yet recorded an impressive cumulative xG of 4.3 across those encounters.
It is not just the fans that Lage has impressed — the club’s players appear to be similarly enamoured with their new manager.
Goalkeeper John Ruddy was one of Nuno's first signings at Wolves but recently spoke about the impact that Lage has had since arriving in the Midlands.
He said: "The manager has come in with a brand-new philosophy, a brand-new way of playing. It’s been really good. I’ve got nothing but positives to say about him.
"The way he is as a man, the way he treats the players, the way he conducts himself on the training pitch — because he’s very thorough in what he wants."
From the outside, it would appear that Lage has utilised the same tactical system as Nuno.
Wolves have set out in a 3-4-3 formation in their first five Premier League games.
However, Lage was synonymous with using a 4-4-2 set-up during his time at former club Benfica — and there were signs that the system could be implemented at Molineux, during Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Brentford.
Chasing the game, Lage made the decision to play new recruit Hwang Hee-chan alongside Jimenez up front, with Traore and Francisco Trincao offering on the wings.
The switch from a back three led to some improvement, with Wolves creating eight chances and attempting 23 crosses.
It will be fascinating to see whether four at the back becomes a permanent arrangement in the coming weeks — and if it will help the club turn their impressive displays into points on the board.