It is hard to write original things about a pre-season match without echoing the same hackneyed sentiments that pop up as autocues for Football Manager 2014. You can either dispel the importance of the match on the premise that “it`s just for fitness” and “results don`t matter”, or you can get cast into the giddy throes of anticipation because Wolves have put several past a League 2 team. Occupying the middle ground tends to be an unpopular position among Wolves fans, not least because impassioned centrism is almost an oxymoron, and divisive discussions create extremes of opinion by their very nature. I will therefore just offer my observations of the match, which I travelled up for.
For starters, whilst the board`s ticket and merchandise pricing is constantly under fire from fans pointing to the German financial model, I thought £10 was a reasonable fare. By virtue of the match being our only home friendly of the pre-season where Kenny was always going to field a competitive starting 11, against a foreign team with a very strong pedigree. For most Wolves fans, these pre-season friendlies against Spanish sides represent a rare opportunity to see a different style of football in the flesh.
I found the prospect of Celta Vigo very interesting, and I was really excited to see how they lined up on the pitch. Last season, Celta finished 9th in La Liga, having only been promoted from the second division of Spanish football in 2012, where they had previously spent 5 years. Their manager who achieved the impressive point accumulation last season (level with Valencia who were 8th), Luis Enrique, has now been appointed as Head Coach of Barcelona. It would perhaps be not too far of the mark to speculate that the way the Galatians lined up against us could resemble the new-look Barcelona setup, now with Luis Suarez on its books. Also, as a club, they have similar infrastructure to our own: a 31,800 seated stadium; some very illustrious decades of achievement in the past; a transfer budget remarkably akin to our own, but years of underachievement under their belts too. This made the tie all the more interesting to me, because Celta Vigo represented a direction that Wolves could go in with a bit of luck. Obviously this is a bit of a blanket suggestion, and I won`t feign familiarity with the financial and structural nuances of Spanish football, but it added novelty to the match.
Launching into it as an overview, I really enjoyed the match, regardless of what it means in the long run. Kenny mentioned in his post-match interview how he could hear the Celta Vigo team in the dressing room, and how it was clear to him that they wanted to win. Well, that was equally clear from the Billy Wright! I went into the game only being familiar with Michael Krohn-Deli, the nippy Danish midfielder, because I recall him impressing at Euro 2012, and because I saw him on the score sheet for Celta`s 2-2 draw with Norwich the day before. However the impression I got was that the Celta coach put on arguably a weaker team for the first half, which still passed the ball quite leisurely around our midfield and backline, but struggled to break into the box. Nevertheless, they never rested on their laurels at all. A lot of credit has to go to Jackett for organising our defence so well: our defensive shape was rigid with our attacking players pushing a high line. Batth won absolutely everything in the air, and Celta soon learnt to keep the ball on the ground. Ikeme`s handling was comfortable throughout, making one superb save from close range, and our whole defence looked as assured and powerful as it did last season, which bodes incredibly well given our opposition.
We went out with a tactic, particularly in the first half, to contain the Spaniards` fast, fluid passing through the middle of the pitch, and hit them with pace on counter attacks. In this respect, we executed our plan very well, with James Henry nipping it past their full back on more on one
occasion but lacking the final ball, and Michael Jacobs sprinting through their midfield at pace, getting shots on.
I do think we were rather lucky to go into the break with the lead. Despite a few half chances, it was the Celta Vigo show; they just went missing as a team inside the box, and we scored after Van la Parra capitalised on a defence error, squaring the ball to the prolific Nouha Dicko to tap it in. It was, however, the sort of game plan that sometimes works out (if your defence can withstand it), but sometimes goes completely to pot when the opposition have a clinical finisher. Nevertheless, Celta went about their game with a lot of vim and vigour, putting in some very strong challenges, with tempers flaring and rash decisions in abundance. It is tempting to label them a dirty side and demand red cards. It would not be unreasonable to expect at least one red card, perhaps for the blatant headbutt on Dicko. However, a lot of the cautions doled out by the referee reflected an irritated cynicism from the Galatians, rather than overt violence and dangerous play. There is something quite flattering about the team becoming so enraged by their inability to break Wolves down that they resorted to dirty tactics.
The second half was a more contested affair, with Celta Vigo making several changes and bringing on some ostensibly better players. The match became more end to end, with Wolves being more under the cosh at times, and Celta drawing some fine Ikeme saves. Krohn-Deli`s substitution into the game injected a lot of pace into the Spanish midfield, with him zipping through the gaps in our overwhelmingly attack minded 5-man setup. Nevertheless, this forced Wolves to change their game and play a more possession based, controlled style, with our more technically able players like Jacobs and McDonald forming neat passing triangles in the latter third of the park. La Parra grew tired and was substituted, after an interesting game. This was my first glimpse of the man, and he looked so starkly different from what we already have, perhaps closest in style to Sako. He`s a frenetic player, who galloped up and down the pitch, taking long strides with the ball at his feet. He looks very able to wrong-foot fullbacks, who never know which way he`s going with the ball, because I suspect he doesn`t know either. It is definitely too easy to tell with the man, but at times his decision making was awry in quite comfortable situations, but he put in two excellent crosses and looked keen to get shots on whenever he could.
The Celta equaliser was deserved, and a draw was a fair reflection of the game. Wolves had their chances, with Dicko outmuscling the centre-half and breaking from a goal-kick, putting a square ball in for James Henry, who really should have done better than hit the post from about 4 yards. However the momentum in the latter segments of the match was tipping towards the side from La Liga. Their Argentinian centre-forward, Larrivey, scored the equaliser, hit the post and threatened Wolves throughout the second half, gliding seamlessly through our midfield and getting shots at goal from the edge of the box. Again, Wolves were not without their bite and kept possession better than they did in the first half, but going into the closing stages of the tie, it would be hard to make a case for Wolves deserving a win.
In keeping with my mantra to tread the middle ground, it was clear that the Celta Vigo team put out some experimental line ups and formations. The team that lined up in the second half against Wolves played a different style of football with more varied strengths than the first half team. It was a good test for Wolves and it was interesting to see our preparation to compete against a side that is very different to anybody we played in League 1, and perhaps will play in the Championship. I thought Wolves rose well to the occasion, Jackett`s game plan paid off well, and there were a lot of encouraging signs to take from the game. I would however temper this with an appreciation that Celta had played Norwich the day before, did not have as consistent a plan for the match, and were fundamentally playing in a pre-season friendly.
Written by Tom Murray
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