This tactical analysis will break down the tactics used by Nuno Espírito Santo. in Wolves‘ recent victory over Beşiktaş in the UEFA Europa League 2019/20. The analysis will also look at the tactics used by Abdullah Avcı and the way his team approached the game.
The game itself does not affect if either team goes through in the competition. Wolves have already qualified and Beşiktaş is out. However, if Wolves win and Braga fail to do so they will top the group. This may have been the extra motivation they needed to win the game. The Premier League side come into this game in good form as they have not lost in 8 games in all competitions. However, despite their form in this competition Beşiktaş have won their last six games.
Wolves made seven changes from their game at the weekend. This was no surprise considering they had already qualified for the next round. As a result, it was a good opportunity for some squad players to get a runout. Due to the squad rotation, it also meant a change into a 3-5-2 from the 3-4-3 they played at the weekend. This decision would have been made with the opponents’ tactics in mind as well. Nuno likes his teams to be wide so kept a formation that would be able to do that. He also wanted more numbers in midfield to win the battle in the middle of the pitch.
Beşiktaş also made squad changes for this game they could not qualify. This makes the league priority for them. However tactically they did not change from their win at the weekend, as they retained their 4-4-2 formation. This, in theory, means they should limit the amount of space there is for the Premier League side to play in.
From the outset, it is clear how the teams have approached the game. The away team are very much aware of how quickly the home team can transition from defence to attack by switching play. Therefore they do not want to press in numbers high up the pitch. It would also be dangerous to do so as Wolves have three central defenders against the one Beşiktaş forward. If Mehmet Umut Nayir was to put pressure on he would need the support from Güven Yalçın. However, this would play into the host’s hands as it would take him out of position leaving Rúben Neves unmarked in the middle. This is when he can be most effective as he can dictate the play.
As the away side wanted to force Wolves to play it around the back they made sure they did not push apply a high press. Instead, when the ball was played forward Beşiktaş made sure that five players effectively closed down the space to operate in. They did this as their wide player would move across to cover Wolves wing-back. In this case, it is Ruben Vinagre. At the same time, the full-back moves across to cover the space if the wolves man was able to get past Jeremain Lens. Finally, the defensive midfielder would move into space so a Wolves player could not operate in the gaps.
Both teams target the flanks
Due to the way Nuno wants his team to play he wants the ball to go wide. Then look for overlaps to stretch the defence and get crosses in. As explained earlier this was made difficult by Beşiktaş because of the defensive midfielder sitting in the gap. However, the away side was able to stop this threat in the first half as the home side only managed four crosses. All of them being unsuccessful. The away side also want to try and get the ball wide and found very little success. As they only managed three crosses from the right-hand side all being unsuccessful.
With the way the two teams where set up they tactically neutralised each. This happened as both teams shift men across when the ball is played out wide. This meant that to get any success in the flanks they needed to win the ground duels. During the game, this was an even contest as Beşiktaş won 55/106 of these duels. However, the important thing for both teams is where they won these battles and in the first half they cancelled each other out. This is because both teams won the majority of duels in their half as this shows.
Limited shooting chances
Because of the way the two teams were set up it made it very difficult for each team to create any opportunities. This meant that there was only a total of six shots in the (first half three to either team). All of them from being outside the box. The game was also played at a slow tempo as the result did not affect either team. Hence neither team moved their opponent about to create a chance.
The best opportunity fell to Neves. It was one of the few times Wolves had been able to get a ball out wide for a cross. The ball in was covered well but the away side where a little slow to get out as the midfielder was slow to block the shot. Although it is worth praising Neves posting as he is gambling the ball will fall to him. He has scored a fair few goals from this position. This time the shot was poor.
There where know changes at half time for either team. However, Nuno had told his players to up their intensity. He had also made a tactical change to target Beşiktaş right-hand side. This because even though they only had four crosses in the first half they came from Wolves left side. This was an area of weakness that the home side would look to exploit.
This happened tactical change almost had an impact straight away as good work on the left-hand side from Vinagre. His cross made its way to Leander Dendoncker. His header was poor and fell straight into the keeper’s arms. The chance happened as Vinagre was able to beat his man and the Beşiktaş defence was more concerned with marking an area, instead of their man.
In the fifty-sixth minute, Nuno made his first change. He brought on Diogo Jota for Neves. This tactical change meant a switch in formation. It was evident they could exploit Beşiktaş right side. To make the most of this he switched to a 5-4-1. This was so Wolves could double up on the wide players. With Jota on it meant they had a player who would make that run in behind.
Only two minutes later the home side went in front. The attack came from the right-hand side. As a good combination of passes from Patrick Cutrone and Pedro Neto meant that they were able to transition from defence to attack. They were able to do this as when attacking the formation moved to a 5-2-3 as the two wide players are encouraged to break forward. The pace of the attack stretched the away side leaving Jota unmarked at the back, allowing him to put his side 1-0 up.
Wolves take control
Not long after opening the scoring Jota doubles both his tally and the team’s advantage. The goal came at an unfortunate time for Beşiktaş as Avcı was waiting to bring on Mohamed Elneny. This was a tactical change so they would have more in midfield. He would be able to support the wide players and cover the space in front of the defence. As a result, the second goal may not have happened as Elneny would have been in the space where Dendoncker has his long-range shot from. With Jota’s pace, he can get to the rebound first.
The third goal quickly follows this time from a corner won from a cross from Jota. The away side use zonal marking to defend corners. Defending this way can be effective if every player defends their area well. However, it is riskier to defend this way as it enables the attacker to get a run at the ball. This is exactly what happens for the third goal. Despite there being eight defenders compared to four attackers Dendoncker has a free header. So would have the two Wolves players behind him if he missed the ball.
From scoring his first goal it took Wolves only eleven minutes to score four and the winger to grab a hat-trick. This shows how good a tactical change it was from Nuno. At this point, the home side was in full flow operating at their deadly best. The change from Avcı made little impact on the game as Wolves had them where they want them. If the away team was to get anything from the game they needed to commit more players forward leaving them vulnerable at the back.
With Beşiktaş having more players forward Wolves were able to capitalise with a fantastic breakaway goal. Wolves’ best strength is their ability to transition from their half to attack. Because of this, they were able to get up the pitch quickly. In this case, the Turkish team recover well until a defensive error from Lens. This allowed Oskar Buur to cross the ball into a great area giving Jota a tap in for the hat-trick. This is how the game finished as Wolves were able to control the game well and stopped the visitors from creating anything.
To conclude this analysis shows that tactically Wolves got it right in this fixture. Ultimately it took the quality of Jota to change the game and keep his side’s fine form going. It was an impressive display from the hosts as not only does it show they are enjoying life in Europe every player in the squad can play the way Nuno wants.
For Beşiktaş it was not a good performance as in the end they opened up too easily by Wolves. The Turkish side can take confidence from their first-half defensive display. They can now focus on their league campaign as they are currently second and only 3 points of the top.
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