Wolves host Leicester on Friday night as both sides look to reinforce their European ambitions and keep the pressure on the sides around them.
Wolves went into the Winter break with a 0-0 away at Manchester United, and it was a game that both highlighted their defensive resilience, as well as threat on the counter attack, and Nuno Esporito Santo will be keen to see this take place once again on Friday night. A midweek Europa League clash with Espanyol must be factored into a threadbare squad, and how Santo adapts and rotates awaits to be seen.
Leicester come fresh from a 2-2 draw over Chelsea, where they were wasteful in front of goal once again, before being undone by an Antonio Rudiger double off set pieces. The signs are promising in terms of chance creation for Brendan Rodgers’ side, however there are some signs that defensive cracks are beginning to show, and how they alleviate these concerns on Friday night awaits to be seen.
The two sides met on the opening day back in August, playing out a lively 0-0 draw, and since then, the two sides have undergone a number of tactical tweaks, as both managers have adapted to their squads, and managed to get the best out of their sides.
Wolves lined up 3-5-2, with no Adama Traore in the side and Diogo Jota leading the line centrally, whilst Leicester set up with a 4-2-3-1, with Hamza Choudhury playing in a deeper role alongside Wilfried N’Didi. A more attacking Foxes side has been seen throughout the season since then, but with sides beginning to suss out where the weaknesses are in Rodgers’ side, he may be tempted to adapt to the threat of Wolves on Friday night, and opt for more defensive solidity.
In recent weeks, sides have looked to target the right flank of Leicester, and Chelsea once again looked to expose this side before the Winter break in the 2-2 draw at the King Power, but Rodgers adapted well to this. Ayoze Perez had been identified as a weak link defensively, and without N’Didi fit to cover across like he had been doing so throughout the season, it had been seeing Ricardo Pereira left exposed and 2v1 on too many occasions, something both Aston Villa and Burnley were able to expose in victories in recent weeks. However, Perez carried out his defensive duties to a much higher standard against Chelsea, highlighted by a willingness to both press higher, and track back, and the Spanish forward completed three tackles, but more tellingly, attempted eight.
Although N’Didi is expected to return for the clash and offer cover in midfield against the Wolves counter attack, Perez will still need to offer the same level of defensive support, as his side come up against the threat out wide of Jota down the left and Traore down the right.
It will be interesting to see whether Wolves look to sit back and soak up the Leicester pressure, before releasing Traore and Jota into the channels on the counter attack, where there is often space to exploit, and Leicester may be equally wary of this threat, and be much more reserved in pushing the full backs forward in attack, in fear of being caught out by the pace over the top.
Wolves themselves will be able to play a higher line if they want to compared to most other opposition when coming up against Leicester, as the back three are well equipped to deal with Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho’s pace and pressing in behind. The three centre halves also allow Wolves to isolate the striker Rodgers selects up opting for his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation, and this could see a narrower approach than normal for Leicester, particularly with Wolves able to overload the wide areas in their 3-4-3 formation.
As a result, the midfield battle will be particularly interesting, and Manchester United tried to adapt in game to gain control of the midfield last time out, and outnumber Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho in central areas. With N’Didi’s passing ability and vision on the ball often underrated, he could drop deeper, alongside ball-playing centre half Caglar Soyuncu, and look to bring the ball out from the back. This would allow Youri Tielemans and James Maddison the ability to overload the Wolves midfield, and as a result try and drag one of the centre halves out of position, and it is through this method they could look to try and create space in behind for the wide midfielders, as well as Vardy.
It needs to be a careful balancing act from Rodgers’ side, as by doing the above, it would see the full backs pushed high, and the allow the wingers, Perez and the in-form Harvey Barnes, the ability to drift inside and create overloads in these areas. This would force the Wolves’ wingers back and into defensive roles, and may make it hard for Santo’s side to push out.
However, the threat of Wolves on the counter attack cannot be underestimated, and Raul Jimenez’s hold up play cannot be overlooked. Up against Soyuncu and Jonny Evans, he will be relishing the battle, and with Chilwell and Pereira potentially invited on to provide width for Leicester, it does leave the spaces in behind for the pacey Traore and Jota on the break, as well as Daniel Podence able to make an impact from the bench. Evans and Soyuncu would struggle to deal with the pace of Traore in particular on the break, and his improving final ball is certainly something to watch out for. Jimenez has shown on countless occasions this season his predatory instincts in around the box, as well as his aerial ability, and if Wolves can overload these areas on the counter, especially with the likes of Matt Doherty providing overlaps from wingback, it could see Santo’s side have joy in these areas.
It will be a fine balancing act for both sides regarding whether or not to push on and try and dominate, with the threats in behind and on the counter hard to ignore. An early goal could see this quickly turn into a thrilling encounter, but the longer the game goes on without a goal, the more caution will be required from either side.
With both sides favouring attacking down the wings and looking to get in behind the opposition through these avenues, it should see a number of corners racked up. Traore and Jota will be looking to pick out Jimenez as well as utilise their overlapping wing backs, whilst Leicester will be using Chilwell and Pereira to get in behind and allow Barnes and Perez to drift centrally. They look to use low crosses to pick out Vardy, and these invariably lead to more deflections and corners due to the difficult nature to defend. As a result, combining these two factors, both sides to have over 3.5 corners appeals, available at 2.10 (Bet365).
Mike Dean takes charge of this clash, and it does appeal as a game that could see a handful of cynical fouls as both sides look to stop the counter attack. Despite Leicester’s low card count this season, they have been at times fortunate to avoid more serious punishment in games, and in a similar clash last time out against Chelsea, it saw both sides accumulate two cards. Wolves will potentially be overrun in central areas, making Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves potential culprits for fouls, whilst the attacking nature of the wingers and wing backs could leave the centre backs exposed against Leicester’s counter attacks. At 3.10 (Bet365), each side to have Over 1.5 cards is too big to turn down, especially when considering Dean is refereeing.