Wolves v Cardiff: who has the staying power?

Neves hits a belter at Hull

Two of the three remaining teams with a 100% Championship record this season, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City meet to give us an early indication as to who might last the distance.

Wolves’ success underlines the modernization of the division. They have recruited their coaching team and lots of players from overseas, largely through the influence of Jorge Mendes. Much of their squad, especially Ruben Neves, who scored a wonderful long-range strike in the midweek win at Hull, could play at a higher level.

Neves dictates play in the middle of the park alongside Romain Saiss. Between them, they have made 51 accurate long passes (WhoScored), both completing more than any non-Wolves central midfielder in the Championship.

Their best player from last season, Helder Costa, is currently out injured but wide forward Bright Enobakhare has stepped up in his absence. The academy graduate has made four successful dribbles per game, more than any other player in the division so far as Wolves attack with flair and craft.

In the other corner, Cardiff City and Neil Warnock represent traditional values. They have recruited British players largely from the lower leagues, basing their winning run on good organization whilst attacking with pace and power.

Those qualities are closely associated with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who has started the season in sumptuous form. The winger, signed from Rochdale in the summer, netted from the bench in the cup win over Portsmouth and has since made a huge contribution in the two subsequent league victories

The pace of him, fellow wide man Junior Hoilett and striker Kenneth Zahore worked a treat in last Saturday’s 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa. Cardiff are joint-top with the lowest pass completion ratio in the division (62.6%) and the second-lowest amount of possession (44.3%).

They are also proficient at set pieces. That trait led to 21 of their 60 goals last season and another from Sean Morrison on Tuesday, in the 2-0 victory over Sheffield United. Wolves looked shaky dealing with set pieces and crosses at Hull, conceding two soft goals in their win on Humberside. Nuno Espirito Santo will therefore be wary of Morrison, who had 57 headed efforts in the Championship last season, 12 more than any other centre-back.

Exploiting set pieces and counter-attacks will be the plan for Cardiff, who may not play with as high a line as other teams Wolves have faced. In much of open play, we can expect midfielders Joe Ralls and Aron Gunnarsson to let Neves and Saiss see a lot of the ball in the middle third. Such is the quality in this Wolves team though, that could bring it’s own dangers.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1