Julien Lopetegui has taken the Wolves from 20th place to safety since the World Cup. He has done this with the use of various formations such as 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1 and his latest, 4-4-2. His tactical flexibility with the players at his disposal is key to his success, and it was very evident in his first game against Gillingham where he started with a 4-3-3 and ended up with what looked like a 4-2-3-1. In this article, I will be writing solely on the 4-4-2 tactic as it is his most recent and probably frequently used. FM tends to use the set formation more as the defensive one before moving into the on-the-ball structure and 4-4-2 looks to be his ideal defensive shape so it made sense that it was the one I went with. The overall idea is that Lopetegui has been able to tweak his usual possession style and mixed it with counter-attacking football to get the best out of his current Wolves squad.
Wolves press in a midblock starting from the front two (usually Cunha and diego costa), with a lower defensive line height. They tend to be an aggressive bunch, racking up the most red cards in the league, second most fouls and in the top five for yellow cards. So I’ve instructed the lads to tackle harder and be more aggressive. I wasn’t able to map out a clear emphasis from his team on pressing trap and cross-engagement.
Ideally, Lopetegui’s teams often look to counter-attack swiftly, utilising the pace of their attackers. In transition, wolves counter and run at the defence as soon as possession is gained, using the speeds of Neto, Bueno, Semedo, Cunha and Matheus Nunes. After losing the ball, they tend to regroup into their mid-block and then press the opposition aggressively. Wolves look to play out of the back from goal kicks, with Sa passing the ball to the centre backs or either full-back who then look to play long.
Wolves play the right balance of direct and short passing games. As per fbref, they rank 3rd in the league for long passes completed and 8th in the league for short passes completed. Being in the top half for both, it is clear there is not a defined passing structure for Lopetegui’s wolves hence their passing is set on standard passing and their football is played at a high tempo. They rank 9th for crosses delivered into the opposition penalty box which shows they deliver a considerable amount of crosses, which explains my inclusion of the “hit early crosses” instruction.
On watching them, I noticed a lot of through-balls from the middle into the flank runners and the numbers say they rank midtable for through balls completed so I have included the “pass into space” instruction. In terms of attacking width, they often appear much narrow in certain instances but also very wide when taking advantage of counters, hence why I have left it on the standard width.
He instructs the fullbacks to stay wider and the wingers to stay narrow. Cunha is more of a centre forward than an actual striker so he tends to “roam from position” behind Diego Costa
I’m not sure about Cunha’s contract situation and if he returns back to Atletico at the end of the loan deal but if this is the case, I see Nunes picking up his role, Neto moving over to the right and Podence on the left. Podence is their top goalscorer this season so it made little sense why he came out of the team recently for Lemina and Nunes moving to the wing. Traore also seems more suited to the role on the right than Nunes and like I said, I don’t really like the idea of moving Nunes to the flanks for Lemina.
I would also look to get Sarabia more involved in the future especially if Lopetegui looks to pick up his preferred possession style of play. In terms of improvements for the summer, I really like the CB pairing of Kilman and Collins and I do see potential there. Bueno is a prospect that also excites me and his athleticism can prove to be vital to how Lopetegui wants to play with this side in the future. Neves, Neto, and Nunes should also be part of this core that I suggest Lopetegui builds his first team around. I have a feeling he would like to revert to his preferred 4-3-3 going forward.
Tactic file LINK