When the time comes for a Premier League club to announce their team selection for a game, there is a choice to be made on social media. You can just list the names, preferably by position rather than squad number, or you can make some semblance of an attempt to show the formation in which the players on the pitch will actually line up.
None of the top six teams in the Premier League opt to give away their shape, but Wolves, the side currently in seventh spot in the table, choose to do so. Not so long ago, a member of Wolves’ media team expressed some caution about this, only to be met with an amused reaction from his colleagues. There was no secret to give away. Wolves played 3-4-3.
Nuno Espirito Santo announced upon his arrival in the summer of 2017 that Wolves would play that formation and they didn’t deviate from the tactic once during the subsequent Championship title-winning campaign. So perhaps it was no surprise that when they took on Chelsea at Molineux in December, the team was announced in the same shape as before.
But something did change that night. Raul Jimenez was not the lone forward as indicated but drifted to the right. Morgan Gibbs-White wasn’t on the wing, he was deployed as something akin to a false nine, dropping deeper to form a midfield three by occupying Cesc Fabregas in what would prove to be the playmaker’s last ever Premier League start.
It was enough to unsettle Chelsea as Wolves came from behind to complete a memorable second-half turnaround and earn their first win in seven games. Nuno had gone into the game under some pressure for the first time following back-to-back defeats against Huddersfield and Cardiff. He eased that pressure by showing some flexibility.
The Wolves boss has always been adamant that the idea never changes. It was fascinating to be in his office and listen to him explain this in animated fashion just the week before that win over Chelsea. Of course, the idea is about more than a formation but nevertheless, that formation has morphed from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2 since then and it’s worked to great effect.