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Bruno Lage overachieving in first few months in charge at Wolves

Liam Keen looks into Wolves as they approach the half-way stage of the season.

Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's third goal (Photo by Jack Thomas - WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images).
Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's third goal (Photo by Jack Thomas - WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images).

The Highs

In terms of performances, Wolves' highs largely came in the early parts of the season.

The three displays against Leicester, Spurs and Man United – in which Wolves lost all three 1-0 – were superb and deserving of more.

Attacking at will, pressing aggressively and putting on a show – they were brilliant.

Then, later in the season, the first half in the win over Everton and the display in the victory against West Ham were both excellent as Wolves harnessed the home crowd's energy to put two good footballing sides on the backfoot and dismantle them.

Although the performances have not quite got to the same level in many of Wolves' good results this season, head coach Bruno Lage deserves credit for making the most of his small squad and grinding out results with a solid defensive base. He is improving players.

Of course, it would be impossible to discuss 'the highs' without mentioning the comeback win at Villa in October. Frankly, Wolves were terrible for 80 minutes and deserved to be 2-0 down, but a scrappy goal led to some momentum and they quickly took a 3-2 lead – ending in some incredible scenes in the away end.

Marcos Alonso of Chelsea is challenged by Max Kilman of Wolverhampton Wanderers (Photo by Jack Thomas - WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images).

The Lows

The story of 'the lows' comes in the form of two 2-0 losses – at home to Brentford in September and away to Crystal Palace in November.

By far, they were Wolves worst two performances so far this season and on both occasions the opponents pressed Wolves high up the field, forced mistakes and stole the ball back too easily.

In particular against Brentford, their dynamic forward line harassed the Wolves defence and did not allow them to play out from the back. They forced individual mistakes and too easily penetrated the final third.

Against Palace, Wolves were far too pedestrian in the midfield and forward areas and were not aggressive enough in the duels. They sat back when Palace ventured forward and both goals came from Wolves failing to close them down around their box.

Too often in those games and other results – such as the goalless stalemates with Norwich and Burnley – have Wolves been too passive in the final third and not punished opponents who are there for the taking. Despite Wolves' good first half of the season, they could and perhaps should have even more points.

Brentford's Ivan Toney scores the opening goal of the game

Star performer

Plenty of players – particularly in defence – have impressed and improved but Max Kilman is without a doubt the star performer so far this season.

The centre-back has been a colossus. A man mountain.

Cast your mind back to the final pre-season games, and even the first match of the season against Leicester, and left-footed Kilman looked slightly awkward and uncomfortable on the right of the back three.

But since then he has gone from strength to strength and grown in confidence. Lage often refers to the learning curve of Kilman's mistake against Brentford that led to the second goal, but bar that he's essentially been faultless.

In the air he is resolute, with the ball at his feet he is unwavering and his positioning is sublime. Most supporters felt he deserved more game time under Nuno Espirito Santo, but not many would have predicted he would become such a force.

Even the way he strides out from the back with the ball and carries Wolves forward when they're under pressure – he has truly been a revelation this season. Although he's playing on the right, he is left-footed and surely must be in contention for an England call-up sooner rather than later.

What needs to improve

It is fair to say that Wolves must improve their goal output.

Their defence has been superb and only conceded 14 goals in 18 games – the third best in the league – but they have also only scored 13, with only Norwich scoring less.

Raul Jimenez has had some very good performances since returning but understandably he is not yet back to best following his serious head injury – and is currently out of form again.

Hwang Hee-chan was struggling for form before his injury, while Francisco Trincao flatters to deceive and still has a lot to learn about English football.

Adama Traore has come in and out of the team and in and out of form, but is yet to register a goal or assist, while Daniel Podence has done well when he has come in but cannot hold down a starting spot. Wolves also dearly miss Pedro Neto.

It is yet to click into gear in the final third as Wolves often slow the game down too much, do not get enough bodies in the box and are not clinical with their chances. The attacking play of the first three games of the season has been adapted due to the players – and size of the squad – at Lage's disposal.

Also, they need a midfielder who will carry the ball forward through the thirds and will also arrive in the box. Someone to play a one-two with Jimenez and take a shot, or spray it out wide. Their current midfield three are too similar to each other.

Target for the season

Ahead of the season, this writer felt Wolves would probably finish around 12th. Although the squad has plenty of talent, it lacks in depth.

As Wolves sit in eighth, Lage is probably overachieving. He has given Wolves a solid base to work from as he tries to implement his attacking style.

He also needs transfer windows to make that happen and is acutely aware that the squad needs additions.

Looking at the industrious outfit he has transformed Wolves into, they should certainly be aiming for a top 10 finish – and they are capable of it.

Plenty of teams are faltering this season and Wolves could capitalise. Top 10 would be a good start to Lage's reign, but with several European spots open that could drop down as far as eighth depending on the domestic cup winners, then there is no reason Wolves could not aim for that.

Liam Keen's Wolves final position prediction – 10th

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