After five and a half years since his one and only Premier League appearance for Liverpool, Conor Coady has established himself as a Premier League regular. On Monday night his Wolves side travel to face one of Europe’s elite sides, Manchester City, and having held the Champions to a 1-1 draw earlier on this season, Wolves will be confident of picking up a result at the Etihad.
Today, we take a look at how the current Wolves captain is the key if his side are to take anything from Pep Guardiola’s men.
Everyone knows that City play a possession-based game; despite losing against Crystal Palace and Leicester in December, the Citizens dominated the ball in both games (78% vs Palace & 66% vs Leicester). Their work on the ball is perhaps the best the Premier League has ever seen, but it’s their work off the ball that at times goes under the radar.
Guardiola’s insistence on his team winning the ball back straight after losing it make them a nightmare to play against; City suffocate sides before they get the chance to string two passes together. This is seen through the players who have made the most tackles and have committed the most fouls this season for City.
Unsurprisingly Fernandinho (41) leads the way on tackles, however, it’s the diminutive attacking playmaker Bernardo Silva (30) who leads the rest of the pack. Even more surprisingly, Raheem Sterling (joint 5th) has made the same number of successful tackles as Aymeric Laporte (17).
With fouls committed, again Fernandinho leads the way (27) with Bernardo Silva (21) and Sterling (18) second and third. The existence of attacking players high on both of these lists highlights Guardiola’s philosophy on winning the ball back in the hope of catching their opponents out of position while they try to counter.
But this form of dominating the game wouldn’t be possible if the opposing team can play through (or in our case ‘over’) the Man City press.
Enter Conor Coady.
Few Premier League defenders possess the same abilities as the 25-year-old. A hard-tackling central midfielder during his time at Liverpool’s academy, it wasn’t until Nuno Espirito Santo took over at Molineux that the former England U20 captain became a regular at the heart of defence.
Once regarded by many at Kirkby as the next Steven Gerrard, Coady has been a revelation at centre back in part to his ability on the ball; his ability no doubt aided by watching footage of both Gerrard and former Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso during his time at Liverpool’s academy. Fewer Premier League defenders have the ability to regularly play long balls as accurately as the former Huddersfield man.
According to whoscored.com, only Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld (7.7) has made more successful long balls than Coady (7) per game this season.
Playing the ball long when given the chance may be the key for Wolves on Monday night. Crystal Palace, the only team to have beaten City at the Etihad in the League this season, played 63 long passes against the Champions, often looking to get Wilfried Zaha up against the City defence before their opponents could put them under pressure. It would not be surprising to see Nuno Espirito Santo go with Adama Traore from the start as he did against Liverpool in December.
We have seen with the Chelsea and Spurs games this season that Wolves are likely to endure a spell of possession against the bigger sides. One feature of their play has been the ability in switching play quickly.
If they do get a spell of even 10-15 minutes of possession against City, then the centre back will be key in getting bombarding wingbacks Jonny and Matt Doherty into the game. The impressive Doherty will certainly fancy his chances against whoever City play on the left of their back four.
The Wolves captain need look no further than David Luiz’s performance against Man City at the start of December for inspiration. Luiz played six accurate long balls against City and attempted a further three.
Only Kepa in goal for Chelsea played more accurate long balls (seven) and no other outfield player for Chelsea made more than two. His ability to pick a pass and switch play gave the attacking players in his side time on the ball in one on one situations, catching City’s midfielders out of position.
Not only will Wolves fans be hoping Coady can lead his side to a result against City, but his former side Liverpool will also be hoping their former U21 captain can do them a massive favour during their pursuit of the title.