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Matt Maher: Wolves' lack of firepower may well leave Lage in the firing line

These days it doesn’t take much for a rumour to catch fire.

Bruno Lage
Bruno Lage

Sometime on Monday afternoon someone, somewhere claimed Wolves had sacked Bruno Lage and within hours social media was ablaze.

It was, of course, complete nonsense. Lage remains very much in post. Yet the instant reaction of many Wolves supporters to the falsehood said plenty about the uncomfortable position the head coach currently finds himself.

Using social media to judge the mood of a fanbase can be dangerous. It is a small sample size, a forum where views often shift rapidly between extremes. Even so, anecdotal discussions with supporters this week confirmed the impression goodwill toward Lage has dwindled considerably.

In that regard, he is far from alone. Collectively, the past few weeks must rank among the gloomiest ever starts to a season for Midlands’ football.

Brendan Rodgers is on the brink at Leicester and may not even survive the international break while, closer to home, Steven Gerrard and Steve Bruce have both felt the heat. On occasion it has felt as though the region’s managers are trapped in a game of Russian roulette, scrutiny shifting from one to the next. Odds are at some point someone will get the bullet.

At the start of the month it was Gerrard who appeared under most pressure, before a draw against Manchester City and last Friday’s win over Southampton bought some breathing space.

A week ago, Bruce looked in major trouble after the sometimes chaotic 3-2 derby defeat to Blues. Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Norwich at least felt a step in the right direction.

That moved Lage into the hotseat, Wolves going down to a rather limp 3-0 home defeat to Manchester City which left them sitting 17th in the Premier League table.

Any assessment of Lage’s position must first note the fact he is represented by Jorge Mendes, the agent upon which Wolves lean for much of their recruitment.

Since Fosun’s 2016 takeover, Mendes has sourced three of their four managerial appointments.

That is not to suggest his influence makes Lage immune from the axe. Nuno Espirito Santo was also a Mendes client but still got the sack after four mostly very successful years in charge.

But Fosun’s relationship with his agency, Gestifute, does make the situation slightly unusual and must always be factored in.

It was Mendes who helped line Lage up to replace Nuno in May last year and one of the chief issues now for the head coach is he has so far failed to restore some excitement to the team.

Football is an entertainment business and the final season under Nuno was mostly drab; Wolves scoring just 36 goals in 38 Premier League matches.

Yet under Lage, who was supposed to deliver a more attacking, expansive style, the scoring rate has got worse.

In 45 league matches, Wolves have found the net just 41 times, including a return of just three in seven games this season.

Only once in the last 14 top flight matches have they scored more than once; May’s 2-2 draw at Chelsea. The scorers that day, Conor Coady and Trincao, are no longer at the club.

Perhaps most eye-opening statistic of all is the fact that, since April 3, Manchester City have scored twice as many goals at Molineux as Wolves. Kevin De Bruyne, who netted four in their 5-1 victory on May 11, was joint top scorer on the ground last season.

Lage might argue he was working with an inherited squad last term and his approach compromised to some extent.

While the recent transfer window regarded by many to be the club’s best since 2018, their big business was done relatively late.

Even so, the early returns have been underwhelming and just as it is fair Lage is given time to work with the new pieces and get things right, so it is also reasonable to say the next six weeks prior to the World Cup are likely to be pivotal to the success or otherwise of his reign, just as they may well be for his near-neighbours, Gerrard and Bruce.

Villa have their own issues in attack. They and Bournemouth are the only two Premier League teams to be averaging fewer than 10 shots on goal a game and Gerrard last week admitted to having deliberately shifted back to a more pragmatic approach.

The difference for him is that, if Villa are successful in keeping a clean sheet, they have players capable of conjuring a goal or two from somewhere, even if it is Douglas Luiz scoring direct from a corner.

For all Wolves’ exciting recent recruitment, Lage could still argue he lacks goalscorers after the serious injury to new signing Sasa Kalajdzic and the continuing struggles of Raul Jimenez, a man who contributed so much in the heyday under Nuno.

The signing of Diego Costa, increasingly, feels like one which needs to pay dividends.

Daniel Podence, who started the defeat to City up front, has a career average of one goal once every eight matches and he is far from the only player in Wolves’ attack to be technically gifted yet far from prolific.

The challenge for Lage remains moulding those components into a collective which carries a greater threat. A big few weeks lie ahead.

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