*A version of this post appeared on WolvesBlog earlier this week.
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Five Things We Learned From Wolves vs Fulham – August 21st 2011
by Adam Bate
Johnson to the Rescue
The signing of Roger Johnson has obviously excited Wolves fans. It seems too much to dare to hope that one man can transform last season’s 17th leakiest Premier League defence into a formidable unit. However, he’s made a positive start and he’s done so by doing the things that earned him such praise at Birmingham City – tackling, blocking and intercepting. Johnson managed more successful tackles than any other player on the pitch on Sunday.
Henry Still Important
The dirty Wolves tag is one that haunted Mick McCarthy and his side for much of the 2010-11 campaign and, for many, Karl Henry personified all that was wrong with that team. The player himself was clearly affected by the controversy but he has begun this season in encouraging form by doing what he does best – tracking runners, pressing the ball and making interceptions. Henry intercepted the ball high up the field on five occasions on Sunday. Astonishingly, this was four more than the entire Fulham team combined. Jol’s side preferred to sit back before pressing the ball but only succeeded in inviting Wolves onto them. The contrast between Henry and one of his chief detractors, Danny Murphy, was stark. The Fulham captain did not attempt let alone succeed in making a tackle in the entire contest.
The inclusion of Richard Stearman at right-back was arguably the most controversial selection at the start of the season. Kevin Foley remains a firm favourite and Ronald Zubar has become a cult hero. In particular, the case for Foley’s recall was enhanced by an assured second half performance at Ewood Park during which the Irishman completed more passes than any other Wolves player. However, Mick McCarthy has expressed concerns about the size of his midfield and clearly favours Stearman’s height in the back line. Although it was Stephen Ward who made the most high profile interception of the day, Stearman actually made five to Ward’s spectacular one and it was noticeable that he frequently tucked in and won key headers at the far post. Indeed, the heat maps show the contrasting roles that the two full-backs had on Sunday. Stearman had a higher percentage of the ball than Ward in every equivalent zone within Wolves’ half, while the attacking left-back enjoyed an astonishing 51% of his possession in the opposition’s half. Foley may be the ball player but that is not currently the role that McCarthy is looking for from his right-back.
Shoot, Shoot, Shoot
Wolves’ shoot on sight policy may have veered into the self-indulgent in the second half, with some fairly ambitious efforts, but Jamie O’Hara and Stephen Hunt in particular have added a goal threat from midfield. The twenty shots attempted against Fulham were more than Wolves had managed in any home game last season.
Left is Right for Jarvis… not Hunt
Inverted wingers have been de rigueur for several seasons now and Mick McCarthy seems to finally be embracing the trend. Although Matt Jarvis provided the assist for Steven Fletcher against Blackburn with an orthodox cross from the right byline, McCarthy saw enough at Ewood Park to decide to utilise Jarvis and Stephen Hunt on the opposite flanks from the outset against Fulham. He got his reward as both wingers cut inside onto their stronger foot to help set up the goals – with Jarvis even coming inside to fire home for the second. While Jarvis has long enjoyed more success on the left-wing, there had been some debate as to Hunt’s preferred flank but playing from the right appears to allow the busy Irishman greater options with the ball at his feet. Lacking Jarvis’ electric pace, Hunt is less focussed on getting to the byline and more keen to drift around in search of space. This is borne out by the heatmaps that indicate Hunt enjoyed 25% of his possession in central areas compared to Jarvis’s 12%. As with the full-backs, McCarthy appears less concerned with symmetry – instead keen to allow the players to play to their strengths.