How Will Wolves Line Up?

8 07 2010

Ghostgoal’s latest article for Wolvesblog

With Wolves having virtually completed their summer business it is perhaps a good time to look at the likely options Mick McCarthy’s could go with for the 2010/11 season. There are big decisions to be made in terms of both formation and personnel.

Until December 2009 I would wager that McCarthy would have happily described himself as ”a 4-4-2 man”. Although he had operated with a variety of systems in the past, particularly during his spell as Republic of Ireland boss, we here at Wolves had been treated to 4-4-2 week-in week-out through his first three and a half years in charge. As Mick said recently however:

“I used to feel having one set way of playing in your mind showed a real strength in people because I used to think that’s how I did it. But I’ve come through that. You can’t keep playing the same way if you keep losing — you have to be big enough to change it.”

The signing of Steven Fletcher for around £7m was heralded by many as a clear signal that McCarthy intends to revert to 4-4-2 now that the pressure of a relegation battle is not upon his team – at least until September anyway! The theory will go that the players have had a taste of Premiership football and are ready to kick-on with a more attacking formation. I think it is more likely, however, that we will see a hybrid formation from Wolves this season. It is a belief based on a series of factors:

  • McCarthy will be conscious of the increased impact Matt Jarvis had when allowed to play slightly higher up the field in the 4-5-1 (actually more of a slanted 4-4-2 as discussed previously). As can be seen by Mick’s regular touchline promptings he has often been wary of how vulnerable the team is down the left-flank in a traditional 4-4-2 when Jarvis is left stranded upfield after an attack.
  • Wolves now have several players on the right hand side of midfield who are happy to tuck in to form a more solid midfield 3 when needed. Kevin Foley and David Edwards operated there with some success before Adlene Guedioura was given a chance in the role, scoring the winner against Sunderland on the final day.
  • Steven Fletcher played much of the first part of the 2009/10 season on the right-wing for Burnley, part of a growing trend (Jarvis included) of ”inside-out wingers” – players operating on the opposite wing to their strongest foot. It was not a great personal success for the player with fans lamenting the fact he was not given the opportunity to play through the middle. It did, however, coincide with some of Burnley’s better results and we know how fond McCarthy is of guys who put in a shift for the cause. Given that Mick has already spoken of Fletcher’s flexibility, I would suggest this is already in his thoughts.

With Stephen Hunt and Michael Kightly not expected to be fully-fit for the start of the season I would expect, assuming no other injuries, Wolves to line up something like this against Stoke on August 14th:

Steven Mouyokolo and Kevin Foley will be pushing hard for starts but, particularly against Stoke with their expected aerial bombardment, it would seem likely that Jody Craddock and Ronald Zubar will retain their places. Jelle Van Damme also happens to be remarkably strong in the air for a full-back and will surely come in at left-back. David Jones’ strong finish to the season puts him in the box seat ahead of Nenad Milijas in midfield, with the Serb offering an option from the bench alongside the likes of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.

Whilst I would expect Michael Kightly to get his opportunities from the bench this coming season, the interesting shift in system may come when Stephen Hunt returns to full fitness around October time. Of course, as a left-footed winger, Hunt may be seen as a direct challenge to Jarvis. He is, however, also comfortable operating from the right-wing and it will be interesting to note whether he will be threatening Steven Fletcher’s place in the starting eleven or if he will be challenging for one of the midfield positions. If Wolves are playing away from home against a strong side, it would not be a shock to see Hunt and Jarvis playing wide in support of Doyle with a solid central midfield three. This is, after all, more of an attacking line-up than we saw for much of the second half of last season with Foley operating on the right-wing. Hunt’s return to fitness seems likely to coincide with a run of games from mid-October against Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd and Arsenal (the probable top four) so it would be no surprise to see him come in for Fletcher at some point during this run of games.

The real intrigue of course, would be if McCarthy felt able to play Hunt and Jarvis in support of both Doyle and Fletcher in a clear 4-4-2. This is the sort of attacking line-up that the fans want to see. I suspect it would be something that could actually happen if and when Mick is feeling confident that his team is stronger than the opposition – at home to Bolton on November 13th or away to Blackpool on November 20th perhaps?

The 2010/11 season is a fascinating one for Wolves and it is difficult to overstate its importance to the club. Not only would relegation be a disaster in itself and bring the usual problems of the team being broken up but it would also surely see the shelving of the club’s stadium expansion plans. As such there is more pressure than ever on Mick McCarthy to get his tactics spot on… expect the 4-4-2 / 4-5-1 debate to continue.

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