Refined Ruben Neves is thriving under new Wolves regime

Much has been made about the significant change in style that Bruno Lage has implemented.

Wolverhampton Wanderers' Ruben Neves
Wolverhampton Wanderers' Ruben Neves

It is a key point too, as Wolves have become more entertaining, attacking and gung-ho – while, for the most part, also keeping some rigidity in defence.

Results are paramount, however, and Lage finally has his first Premier League win and first points of the season.

The display at Watford was just as telling as other performances this season and has shown a different side to Wolves.

Marvellous Neves

But first, it is important to start with midfield maestro Ruben Neves.

The 24-year-old has had a superb start to the season and has marshalled the middle of the park perfectly.

His intense pressing helped Wolves win the ball back and he continued that – tirelessly – deep into the second half. At times he was the furthest man forward closing down the goalkeeper.

Neves is thriving in Lage's style as the forward-thinking players ahead of him are making themselves available. This includes the wing-backs who are bombing on.

Ruben Neves average season heat map for 2021/22 (Credit: SofaScore)

However, Neves' role and positioning seems to have changed slightly. By simply comparing his average heat maps for last season and so far this season, he is being given more of a licence to get forward.

That is proven by his ability to pick the ball up on the edge of the opponent's box and pick decisive passes.

He is also sticking more robustly to the right side of the midfield two. His best work has been both narrowly, next to his midfield partner, and when he pushes out to meet the right-wing-back and right-winger and create a triangle situation that, in turn, creates opportunities to pass forward into space.

Neves has picked up the ball deep at times too, but overall his best work is being done slightly further forward and that is helping Wolves.

Last season's heat map shows Neves attempting to influence everything across both sides of the field – perhaps giving himself too much to do. Now, his responsibilities seem refined and Wolves are reaping the benefits.

Tactical tweaks

At the end of the first half against Watford, it was clear that a change was needed as Ismaila Sarr was running rings around Romain Saiss and Fernando Marcal – with the help of Moussa Sissoko.

The two Watford men were playing intricate one-two passes and getting in-behind regularly. They should have found a goal during a good spell for the hosts.

But in the second half Wolves nullified that threat by bringing Joao Moutinho over and filling the space that they were exploiting too often.

It seemed fairly simply, but Wolves have been guilty in the past of not addressing tactical issues in-game and being punished.

In this particular scenario, Lage has shown his attention to detail that has helped transform the club behind the scenes.

He was also happy to discuss the tactical tweaks after the game with the media. A refreshing change from previous years.

Ruben Neves average season heat map for 2020/21 (Credit: SofaScore)

Kilman continues to impress

Left-footed Kilman is still playing on his unnatural right side of defence, but the 24-year-old is yet to put a foot wrong.

Defensively he has been composed on the ball, while also being aggressive in the tackle. He is finding the perfect balance at the moment.

He is able to step out of defence confidently with the ball too, and create counter attack situations after winning back possession.

Willy Boly and Yerson Mosquera have now returned from injury and will offer competition, but right now the shirt is Kilman's.

Mosquera is still raw and a squad option, but Boly is experienced and has been a huge success at Molineux over the years. Kilman's ability to keep him out of the team will be tested, but now there is no sign he will give it up.

He has been Wolves' best defender so far this season and if Boly does come back in, perhaps Kilman will replace Saiss on the left side instead.

Either way, Lage wants competition in the squad and Kilman's performances are creating that – as well as being important to Wolves' performances and results.

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