How quickly can Lage make mark at Wolves?

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August 23, 2021
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    Bruno Lage greets Nuno Espirito SantoThere was one new face and one very familiar one in the dugouts at Molineux on Sunday

    The handy thing for Wolves fans about their club's change of manager is there is not much difference between their respective first names.

    It means songs can easily be adapted, so as fans returned in numbers to Molineux on Sunday to watch their new head coach take on a Tottenham side led by their former boss, support for Bruno – once reserved for Nuno – was extensive.

    There are other similarities between Bruno Lage and predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo. They are both Portuguese, for a start. They also arrived at Wolves with the intention of playing with a three-man defensive unit.

    However, as Nuno celebrated a familiar winning feeling at the club he coached to unexpected heights in his four years at the helm, Bruno needs to build his own team.

    Zero points from two games is not a feeling Wolves have experienced since 2003. But Lage was bullish after a second consecutive 1-0 defeat, Tottenham following Leicester in beating his team by the narrowest of margins.

    "I am not happy with not winning games but I believe in my work," he said. "The players believe in me. These two teams beat Manchester City this season. I am confident about the process."

    The big question is: will the faith in his methods be justified?

    Evolution not revolution

    Lage has adopted the light touch approach to his short Wolves reign so far.

    On the basis of not trying to fix something that is not broken, major changes have been limited to behind the scenes. Lage is more collaborative than Nuno, it has been noted.

    Perhaps understandably, the bond with his brother Luis Nascimento, the de facto assistant manager, is particularly strong.

    Lage's backroom team is focussed around the analytics side of the game, whereas Nuno's was more medical and scientific. That has allowed Wolves to appoint new staff in key areas, including a nurse, who will not clear out when the manager leaves.

    There have been some changes to the first-team squad, notably the arrivals of goalkeeper Jose Sa from Olympiakos and Portugal winger Francisco Trincao on loan from Barcelona, at the expense of Rui Patricio and Rafa Mir, who have departed for Roma and Sevilla respectively.

    Evidently though, more work is being done behind the scenes.

    It cannot be taken for granted either that Adama Traore or Ruben Neves in particular will still be at the club on 1 September. A bid for Traore from Tottenham would not come as a surprise.

    That means new arrivals, which is virtually certain to involve the input of 'super-agent' Jorge Mendes.

    "We continue to be busy," said Lage, who avoided naming chairman Jeff Shi, but has done so in the past to – maybe by accident – increase the pressure on Wolves' Chinese owners.

    "The way we want to play, the people know the profile, kind of player and positions we need. They need to be top players to make us better."

    Wolves 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur: The game was ours – Lage on Wolves' defeat to Spurs

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    Lage, evidently, is invested in his work.

    At one point in the second half against Tottenham, his encouragement for players to get forward extended to literally running down the wing.

    The formation may be the same, but Lage's style of football is more expansive than the one Nuno imposed at Molineux.

    Forty-two shots in two games is an impressive effort, although no goals is a lamentable return.

    Although Raul Jimenez does not appear to be suffering any ill-effects from the fractured skull he suffered in November, until he starts scoring again, question marks will remain and given his importance to Wolves, the same is true for the team as well as the player.

    However, there are encouraging signs. Nelson Semedo in particular was a threat on the right against Tottenham, having been a massive disappointment following his arrival from Barcelona last summer.

    Trincao did well even if, like the otherwise outstanding Traore, his end product was lacking.

    It is not a time for concern just yet. As Lage said, he has only been working with this group for five weeks.

    But Manchester United's visit to Molineux next weekend raises the spectre of remaining without a point heading into the international break, which would certainly undermine Lage's positivity.

    "We are unhappy with the result but I believe in what we are doing," he said.

    "We challenged the players to play this way and the way we created the chances, we are going to be good."

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