Norwich v Wolves: Competition will only help raise the bar at Molineux

Competition is what Bruno Lage wants at Wolves and it is competition he is starting to get.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20: Jarrod Bowen of West Ham United battles for possession with Rayan Ait-Nouri of Wolverhampton Wanderers during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United at Molineux on November 20, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Wolverhampton Wanderers FC/Wolves via Getty Images).
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20: Jarrod Bowen of West Ham United battles for possession with Rayan Ait-Nouri of Wolverhampton Wanderers during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United at Molineux on November 20, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Wolverhampton Wanderers FC/Wolves via Getty Images).

There are two facts that remain true. It is a supremely talented squad, but one that is slightly too small.

Luck with a lack of injuries has played a part, but players stepping up to the plate when called upon has been the biggest positive in recent weeks.

Rayan Ait-Nouri has played the last four Premier League games, keeping his place against West Ham last time out despite the return of Fernando Marcal from injury.

And rightly so. Marcal had a good pre-season and a good start to the campaign, but tailed off to some extent with below-par performances.

Ait-Nouri had done well in the two Carabao Cup games and from the moment he came into the league starting XI against Leeds he has impressed. Offensively he offers much more. He is tricky on the ball, has an eye for a pass and can deliver a wonderful cross – both in-play and from set-pieces.

He has also improved defensively and now wins more duels, which was a criticism levelled at him last year.

Even against Crystal Palace, when the whole team underperformed, Ait-Nouri was one of few shining lights.

“Since the first day I have been happy with Rayan,” Lage said.

“He knows he is competing against Marcal for that position. Also I am happy with Marcal because he is playing more minutes than last year.

“I want to manage the players the best I can, even with guys that have some problems and Marcal has some problems. We need to manage that because I want the players available for the games.

“It’s the kind of competition I want. I know Rayan is offensively strong and he knows he needs to improve his defensive game and he also needs to be competitive for 90 minutes.

“That’s the things I want for my players. They need to be ready to play and then give it for 90 minutes.”

More recently, Daniel Podence has also taken his chance.

Coming in for his second league start of the season at the weekend he occupied intelligent spaces, created chances and assisted the winning goal.

With Adama Traore and Francisco Trincao still knocking on the door for the same position, Podence has thrown himself into the conversation.

And despite the squad needing some additions and depth, Lage is starting to see some of the competition he desires.

If the players coming in can take their opportunities and raise the level of their team-mates who missed out, Wolves will only benefit.

Coming into a potential banana skin clash with 19th-placed Norwich, Wolves need to be at their best to come away with three points.

The attitude and application of Lage’s players, and the desire to force themselves into the team, is what will help them continue their current run of form.

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