Wolves’ Wing Backs: The Importance and Future Targets
Wednesday 5th December 2018, the day Nuno finally broke his mould of the 3-4-3 that rode through the Championship with ease. The switch to a 3-5-2 and the introduction of everyone’s favourite Belgian helped stop Wolves’ nightmare November, and was a major role in the success that led to a remarkable 7th place finish.
Even with the change of system, Nuno stood by his use of wingbacks, mainly Matt Doherty and Jonny Otto. Not only does this show his faith in the players, but his faith in that part of the system. These two positions have been incredibly vital to Wolves’ triumphs over the last two years, even in the Championship. Due to the narrow nature of our front 3, the wing backs provided genuine width, with overlaps and underlaps in abundance.
Barry Douglas, and yes it still hurts to type, provided a staggering 14 assists in the Championship, with 5 goals to boot, with Matt Doherty adding 4 and 5 of each respectively, a decent amount, but just made less impressive by the Scotsman’s wand of a left foot (yes Leeds fans, he does have one, we promise). However, for all of Douglas’ creative nouse, his defensive ability was decided it could not be relied on, and in a prime example of Fosun’s forward-thinking lack of sentimentality, he was shipped off.
And in came Jonny. A much more defensive option, offering protection (pun intended) down the left side of Nuno’s XI. Signed on an initial loan, Wolves fans were sceptical, due to the cult hero status of Mr. Douglas. Whilst not putting the attacking numbers up of his Irish counterpart on the other flank, Jonny has been a fantastic addition to the team. His best game perhaps coming against Arsenal at home, delivering one assist, and playing a vital role in winning the free kick that Neves smashed home.
Matt Doherty, the man without a chant, probably due to the disagreement over the pronunciation of his last name. 18 goal contributions this season, Doherty has not only relished the rise in challenge, but rose with it himself. The hero behind Wolves’s FA cup run, with the second most goal contributions in the competition, behind Man City’s Gabriel Jesus, however on a per 90 scale, the Irishman tops the charts. And this is why I wouldn’t be against him being sold. Before you freak out, I love Matt as well. But his stock will never be higher than this. He’s 27, and the chance of him replicating his output Is very unlikely next season. Mid-way through last season he was subject to interest from Spurs to the tune of 25 million. If we were to receive this bid, I would fully understand Fosun accepting it. But then, we would have 0 RWBs, and we’ll get onto that later.
But first, Ruben. To a non-Wolves fan reading this, they may presume I’m referring to Neves, but no. Ruben Vinagre is probably the least known of our Portuguese talents, but potentially the one with the highest ceiling. We all know he’s much better going forward than backwards, epitomised in the game against Cardiff at home, in which, he recorded the third highest speed in the league this season, at around 35 km/h. A perfect backup to our beloved Jonny, and I can honestly see him being a starter against lesser teams next season.
With this, Jonny moved to the right. So, we’d be looking to sign a first team quality RWB, and one who is younger, and more of a risk, in an ideal world. This isn’t an ideal world, but I’ll do my best.
My choice at the younger RWB would be, given Fosun’s model, 21-year old Spaniard Pablo Maffeo. Currently at Stuttgart, the Manchester City academy graduate was touted to be a starter for Guardiola before the arrival of Kyle Walker, so the kid clearly has talent. He puts up 3.4 tackles and interceptions a game, with double the dribbles of Doherty, with both at one key pass a game. Maffeo likes to dribble, and get to the byline, fitting in with wolves’s system well. And all this, in a team that was relegated from the Bundesliga. While Stuttgart go down, there is no way Maffeo goes down with them, and I believe Wolves can be the ones to bring him in and make him the player Pep obviously originally thought he could be.
Even though this player would be the older option of the two, my first team quality choice is still only 23. Wolves were linked to him back in January, and I would be all for the addition of Kenny Tete to the Wolves team. The rumoured fee was 8 million, and to me this is a low risk, high reward move. A slightly more defensive option, Tete performs 3.9 tackles and interceptions a game, and is barely dribbled past and would be a great option for Wolves’ counter attacking style against big teams, also supplying 1.5 key passes a game. With Maffeo going down, and rumoured to be available for 7.5 million, and 8 on Tete, that’s 15 million spent on two young wing backs. With the hypothetical sale of Doc, we would make a profit of 10 million, whilst making the squad younger, fuller and no massive drop off in quality.
And that, is my best attempt to explain the importance of Nuno’s wing backs, and potential targets to go for this summer. And a bit of Barry Douglas chat, which is undoubtedly never a bad thing.
By Henry Williams, you can follow him here