Conor Coady has enjoyed seven very successful years at Wolves and, as captain, has been a key figure in the club’s rise.
Off the field he has proven to be a massive influence on the dressing room and has dragged the side through difficult spells, while on it he has maximised his talent and become a regular in the England squad.
Coady has been a mainstay in the Wolves starting XI and is often one of the first names on the team sheet, but that could be coming to an end.
In the friendlies against Besiktas and Sporting, which were by far the two most difficult games they faced this summer, Coady was left on the bench as Lage favoured Max Kilman and Nathan Collins.
Supporters have long questioned whether Coady would fit into a four-man defence, considering he was transformed into a centre-back by Nuno Espirito Santo as the central defender in a back three – a very specialist role. Wolves have exclusively trained and played in a back four throughout the whole of pre-season and it looks like they will make that leap against Leeds tomorrow.
With that, Lage must make an enormous and difficult decision.
Having lost some experienced players this summer, the squad is not blessed with an abundance of natural leaders and leaving Coady out is a gamble.
Equally, the player himself will be unhappy on the bench, particularly as we approach the World Cup this November.
What may save Coady, is that Lage is understood to be ready to use several different formations with a back four or a back five, meaning Coady may get more opportunities than first thought.
However, playing Kilman and Collins together against Sporting – and then playing Coady and Willy Boly together against Farense – implies that the skipper will be among the substitutes tomorrow. Wolves supporters have been crying out for a four-at-the-back formation for some time, and the signs have been positive in pre-season as Wolves have flowed in attack.
The loss of Raul Jimenez to injury – and with no natural striker in the squad – means Daniel Podence is likely to start as the number nine, but with a licence to roam and interchange with Pedro Neto and Morgan Gibbs-White.
Facing Leeds at Elland Road is no easy task, as their side matches the intense atmosphere with aggressive pressing.
If Wolves can avoid individual errors and not panic when pressed, they will have plenty of counter-attacking opportunities.
And with the quick and slick front three they are likely to play, that is where Wolves can hurt Leeds, who are often exposed at the back.
If Ruben Neves or Joao Moutinho can pick the right pass, with Leander Dendoncker racing forward to join the attack, Wolves can have some joy by absorbing pressure and springing quick attacks on the break.
Leeds boss Jesse Marsch is expecting a ‘big challenge’ from Wolves on the opening day of the Premier League season but hopes to hurt them with set pieces.
Wolves are likely to arrive at Elland Road in a new-look back four and Marsch is expecting a stern test from the club’s attacking talents.
However, Wolves have notably fallen short with set pieces in recent years and the Leeds boss hopes to exploit that weakness tomorrow.
“They’ve played Podence a little bit more in the striker position, and we’ll see, he’ll be on the pitch but whether he plays in that role or a different kind of role,” he said.
“But I think that their manager is very intelligent has a lot of good tactical ideas, and they have an incredible player pool.
“Their players are good in tight spaces, are really intelligent. They fit well together. They defend really well, one of the best defending teams, if not the best defending team, last year in the Premier League and then they still can unbalance you with the way they move the ball. So it challenges you in every phase of the
“I think we can really get an edge on set pieces and we have to be really strong and clear with what our goals are in that phase of the game come Saturday but a big challenge, one that we’re excited for and let’s go. Let’s get started.”
Leeds will be without Dan James, who is serving a one-match ban, while Liam Cooper, Junior Firpo, Adam Forshaw, Luke Ayling, Luis Sinisterra, Stuart Dallas, Mateusz Bogusz and Dani van den Heuvel are all absent with injuries.
Back-up goalkeeper Kristoffer Klaesson has suffered a knock to his ankle but could return in time to make the squad.