On Saturday, Sébastien Bassong made his Wolves debut, replacing Christophe Berra, as I speculated he might last week. Of course, his debut coincided with Wolves’ first win for 10 matches. But was it a coincidence, or did the Cameroon international’s inclusion contribute to the upturn in fortunes?
I was at Loftus Road on Saturday, eagerly anticipating seeing how he would fit in, and what he would bring to the team. My initial reaction was that he was very comfortable on the ball. Perhaps a little too comfortable – a couple of times he passed the ball into players who were not expecting it, and could easily have lost the ball in a dangerous position. His 92% pass accuracy was the best of the four centre backs who played (I‘m not going to include Fitz Hall’s brief cameo in this, especially as he failed to complete a pass) and only Jamie O’Hara completed more passes during the match.
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This pass accuracy is even more impressive when you consider that 73% of his passes were forward. It is so easy for a defender to up his pass accuracy stats by constantly rolling the ball back to the goalkeeper for them to boot up field.
His pass stats in the area that it matters are even more impressive. In the Wolves’ defensive third, he completed 40 of his 42 passes. These are the areas that a defender does not want to give the ball away, but also where the majority of attacks will be started. No other player on the pitch attempted more passes in the defensive third than Bassong, showing his comfort on the ball. It was often him who received the ball at the back, before looking to feed the ball into the midfield.
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Given Bassong will predominantly look to pass the ball out from the back, and forwards into midfield, will this make a change to the style of play that Wolves employ? It was noticeable on Tuesday against Liverpool how slow the central midfield were to move the ball around – the addition of O’Hara on Saturday did make this less of a problem. But, moving forward, would it not make sense to have a ball playing midfielder in the centre of midfield? It is all very well playing two ‘snotters’ in Emmanuel Frimpong and Karl Henry defensively (as I assume the midfield will be when Henry makes his return), but should there not be a player who is more comfortable in collecting the ball?
Do we have a player like this? Well, there was a player on Saturday who has this ability, and for this reason I could not understand why Kevin Foley was played on the right hand side of midfield with David Edwards in the middle. Perhaps Mick McCarthy was mindful of Edwards’ inability to hold is position wide right, and with Adel Taarabt playing on the left, was worried Richard Stearman would be left exposed? But, but playing Edwards and O’Hara together in the middle (as they were once Frimpong had gone off injured and McCarthy had reverted to a 4-4-2), both were forced to curb their natural attacking instincts. But, Richard Stearman didn’t impress at right back, and I would hope to see Foley make that position his own for the rest of the season.
So, who should play in the middle of the park? We do have a player who is comfortable receiving the ball, and who, until a harsh red card against Arsenal was enjoying a run in the team. Nenad Milijaš is a player who divides Wolves’ fans. Is he too slow and ponderous to play? I always think back to his performance at Stamford Bridge last season when he was easily the best player on the park. Too often in his Wolves career he has been shoehorned into the team as a number 10, when he is clearly a number 4. He has the ability to take control of a match from deep in the midfield, and if you add Bassong’s clear ability to move the ball successfully out of the defence, this could be an excellent base from which to launch our survival offensive.