In a FA Cup fourth round filled with shocks and upsets, Wolves were handed a very late get out of jail free card by Matt Doherty. Shrewsbury had forced themselves into a two-goal lead and looked set to defeat a strong Wolves side. The Premier League visitors never really looked that much of a threat until the system was tweaked ever so slightly with Raul Jimenez coming off the bench.
In this FA Cup tactical analysis, we shall look at how Shrewsbury almost sent Nuno’s side packing, how Wolves got back into it and also the enigma that is Adama Traore.
Nuno opted for a strong side with a perhaps rather questionable front two of Helder Costa and Adama Traore. Both wide players by trade, they struggled to really make an impact in the first half . It was only when Traore was moved out to his favoured right-hand side that he really started to turn it on, but we’ll discuss him more later.
Ryan Giles was brought in at left wing-back and didn’t do anything to harm his chances of being involved in the squad for years to come. Ruddy was also brought in for Rui Patricio, as he had been against Liverpool, and we shall be putting the spotlight on the ex-Norwich man as well throughout this article.
Sam Ricketts kept faith with the same side that drew the previous week at Blackpool. While they may have sat quite deep at times, it worked rather well for Shrewsbury. Their opener, for example, came from a swift breakaway after Neves seemingly lost his footing in the middle of the park. We shall investigate just how that happened now.
A split second makes the difference
To give some context to the above image, the ball has been headed towards Neves by a Shrewsbury defender from the near-hand side. Now, 99 times out of 100, Neves brings the ball down with ease and looks to build another attack.
The two players circled, Gibbs-White and Rangers loanee Greg Docherty, have both got different ideas as to what’s about to happen. Gibbs-White is banking on it being one of those 99 out of 100 times, whereas Docherty is banking it on being the one. Ultimately, that’s what makes the difference.
On the surface, Gibbs-White looks at fault here as Greg Docherty has now opened up the gap between the pair of them. Nonetheless, you have to question Romain Saiss’ position and focus as he and Conor Coady are both drawn towards the ball. Bennett is slightly out of position, due to the ex-Norwich man preempting Neves picking up the ball without any bother. The domino effect, if you will, is devastating.
The four Wolves players circled are all focused on the ball, which once more allows Docherty time to take a touch and in the end, beat Ruddy at his near post via a deflection. It wasn’t a huge deflection, and at any rate it’s one of the first rules in the keeping handbook: don’t get beaten at the near post.
When you consider the second goal was almost worse from a keeping point of view, you’ll begin to understand why Rui is Wolves’ undisputed number one.
The blame game
Looking at the defensive setup from behind the goal, you can clearly see how Luke Waterfall manages to double Shrewsbury’s lead. Last week we looked at how Leicester’s zonal marking system didn’t work against Wolves, but the shoe was on the other foot as Wolves got it desperately wrong.
Essentially, what happens here is Bennett, Coady and Doherty all travel to the near post, where Jimenez already is. In turn, this then leaves a gaping hole, precisely which Luke Waterfall runs into. The zonal system doesn’t work very well if everyone moves out of their zone. If Bennett doesn’t go running to the near post, he potentially wins the ball or, worst-case scenario, puts off Waterfall.
Next up, Romain Saiss. Everyone moves to the near post but he stays precisely where he is, showing a lack of recognition at the crucial time from the Moroccan. Ruben Neves also loses his man and because Waterfall has the run on him, there’s no chance for the former Porto man to recover the situation.
Lastly, what was John Ruddy doing? Much like Saiss, Ruddy just stays put. If the ball is anywhere in the central region of the six-yard area, the keeper has to be doing something about it. If Ruddy attempts to claim the ball and gets clattered, the likelihood is the referee awards Wolves a freekick. As it was, the catalogue of errors left it 2-0 to Shrewsbury.
In the direct aftermath of the goal, Ryan Giles was taken off and Cavaleiro was brought on in a move which saw Helder Costa end up as an unorthodox left wing-back. Moments after coming off the bench, Cavaleiro assisted Jimenez to halve the deficit.
Cavaleiro had been on the pitch three minutes and had achieved more than Helder Costa had in 73. However, this isn’t the time or the place to be discussing the pros and cons of Helder Costa. Jimenez peels away from Bolton and then drills it home beyond a static keeper.
Something else that the introduction of Cavaleiro and Jimenez did was fix Traore in his favoured position. Unsurprisingly, it was Traore’s delivery that drew Wolves level as Matt Doherty rose highest to head home. Traore’s influence on the game was there for all to see once he switched to his favoured right side.
This is where Adama Traore is at his very best: one on one. Traore takes one touch out of his feet and he is away, heading to the byline at near breakneck speed. He then stands the ball up wonderfully before Doherty rises and keeps Wolves in the hat for the fifth round of the FA Cup.
How do you solve a problem like Traore?
Adama Traore has been infuriating and irresistible in equal measure since joining from Middlesborough in the summer. One thing remains crystal clear though, which is that Traore performs much better out wide than he does through the middle.
The main issue with that at the minute is Nuno seemingly prefers to play with two central players up top, namely Jimenez and Jota. Perhaps the Wolves boss will shift back to three up front for this evening’s encounter with West Ham, although that remains to be seen.
Wolves were undoubtedly the better side on the day, yet Shrewsbury are the ones that can feel aggrieved by the final scoreline. One would believe that the replay will be a routine home win. Nevertheless, Stoke most likely thought the same.
Until the next time.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the January issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.