Wolves 2-3 West Brom: Tim Spiers identifies key change Nuno Santo must make

Wolves manager Nuno Santo

Wolves succumbed to their sixth defeat in ten Premier League games on Saturday as second-bottom West Brom staged an unlikely 3-2 victory at Molineux. 

The visitors opened the scoring after just eight minutes when Matheus Pereira converted from the penalty spot but Wolves managed to steer back control of the game by half-time, responding through goals from Fabio Silva and Willy Boly. 

However, it was the Baggies who started the second half the strongest and within eleven minutes of the restart they'd made it 3-2. A long throw eventually fell to Sami Ajayi who headed home, while Conor Coady conceded another penalty that Pereira put away. 

No doubt, it has been a difficult season at Molineux in no small part to the rate of change within the Wolves camp. Well established players like Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota moved on in the summer, while wing-back Jonny and star striker Raul Jimenez remain long-term absentees through injury. 

The changes in personnel even compelled Nuno Santo to field a four-man defence in November for the first time since being appointed Wolves manager back in 2017, having otherwise stuck with his trusted 3-4-3 system or slight variations of it throughout his spell in charge.

The Molineux gaffer set up his side with the same shape defensively against West Brom, but renowned journalist Tim Spiers believes it's time for Wolves' experiment with four-at-the-back to come to a hasty end.

In The Athletic's discussion thread covering the Midlands derby, Spiers discussed the pitfalls of Wolves' formation several times. 

He said: "The only win with four at the back was at Arsenal. The other five league wins were with five at the back. I can understand why he changed the system in a bid to score more goals (and they've scored eight in their last four) but it's completely eradicated their defensive foundations. Time to ditch it now, at least until [Nuno] has his full squad back."

When asked whether Wolves were heading for a relegation battle, Spiers replied: "I don't think so, they're scoring regularly (eight in their last four), it's purely this awful defence which, given that Boly, Saiss, Coady, Patricio and then Neves and Moutinho in front of them are the same personnel as when they were keeping 13 clean sheets in 21, can be rectified. Got to return to 3-4-3, ultra defensive at Chelsea and Palace, do nothing but sit deep and then counter. That'd be a good start."

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Nuno's logic is certainly understandable. Wolves have a much-changed squad from last season with so many injury absences and important players moving on, and it would be naive to assume the current cast are as well-suited to the club's traditional 3-4-3 setup. 

That being said, Wolves now have some of their most reliable servants like Conor Coady and Willy Boly playing in a system that doesn't particularly suit them to accommodate players who haven't necessarily proved they're good enough to take Wolves forward. 

This all seems to be a consequence of too much change in too short a space of time, and after the defeat to West Brom it does feel as though enough is enough. As per Whoscored, they've conceded 16 goals from eight Premier League games with four-at-the-back this season, only actually winning one of them. 

As Spiers says, it's time for Wolves to get back to basics and return to the idiosyncrasies of 3-4-3 that made them such a difficult proposition for Premier League opposition.

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