Gary O’Neil, Jamie Carragher and David Jones’ guest on MNF, inspired Wolves to a 2-1 win over his former side Bournemouth on Saturday; the 40-year-old also offered in-depth insight on beating Pep Guardiola’s Man City by the same scoreline last month
Wolves head coach Gary O’Neil was a special guest on Monday Night Football and provided unprecedented footage from his training sessions to explain how his tactics helped beat his former club Bournemouth and Manchester City.
His Wolves side made it four games unbeaten in the Premier League at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday as they came from behind to beat the Cherries, who sit 19th in the table under his successor Andoni Iraola, eight points behind O’Neil’s new side.
Their latest victory came only weeks after O’Neil masterminded a stunning 2-1 win over champions City and, in his appearance on Monday Night Football, the 40-year-old offered a fascinating insight into the tactics that helped them achieve the results.
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The 4v3 and when to press
Using training-ground footage, O’Neil explained the preparation that allowed Wolves to get in behind Bournemouth’s midfield at the Vitality Stadium, with players in bibs representing their opponents.
“Obviously a lot of the boys were away, but we had been doing this for a couple of weeks during the international break,” he explained.
“The opposition, dressed up as Bournemouth, are generally all in orange, but because of how Bournemouth press, I highlighted this four-v-three diagonally across the pitch, early in the two-week prep, and how we could cause them some problems through this.
“So, we bibbed up the three who we are trying to target in yellow, to make it really clear for our players to understand where we’re trying to get to.”
O’Neil then showed how the movements of his central midfielders caused a dilemma for the player at the base of Bournemouth’s midfield, who had to close down Wolves’ spare man but, in doing so, left space for Wolves to exploit behind him.
“As we play the clip, we see our first pivot starts to move outside, freeing up the second pivot, and now this guy has got a real problem because if he goes to fix it and make it a three-v-three, we’ve got our 10s there in this pocket.
“That’s how we prepped the lads and how we started to build stuff on, and you can see we got some real success through this four-v-three in the game and actually got a goal through it.”
O’Neil then showed a clip in the first few minutes of the game which mirrored his side’s training-ground routine.
“That is important as well, that the lads get some success from it early in the game,” he said, “because then they begin to feel it, they begin to see the pictures that we prepped for.
“As we work across to Tote Gomes here, you can see the exact pictures from training.
“Bouba (Boubacar Traore) begins to move Philip Billing across the pitch, to shift him.
“Joao Gomes recognises that’s the trigger to come down, and then Alex Scott will appear late, trying to fix it, to get there to give them their spare man.
“It’s (Matheus) Cunha in this clip who has rotated with Pedro (Neto). He arrives to complete the four-v-three.
“The centre-back doesn’t want to come in with him, and we’re out, and the lads start to see, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve worked on this for a couple of weeks and it’s definitely on.’
“We don’t have any success from this one but there are probably 15 clips like this one, where we manage to progress the ball up the pitch through the work we managed to do in a couple of weeks.”
“Then, every manager’s dream, we score a goal from that exact four-v-three.”
O’Neil then highlighted the passage of play which led to Cunha’s 47th-minute equaliser, praising the role of substitute Tommy Doyle, whose pass found Neto to feed the goalscorer.
“The way I coach the boys is extremely detailed and I’m sure, if you spoke to them, it would be a shift from what they are used to. But the importance for them is understanding the detail that I give can help.
“We’re one-nil down at this point and you see the exact same picture. Philip Billing stuck in this diagonal four-v-three. We find the spare one. Alex Scott doesn’t know whether to come in on him or stay, because he’s got Pedro Neto behind him.
“The sub, I’ve got to credit Tommy Doyle because he brought us some unbelievable quality with his passing, and we managed to maximise this four-v-three in this instance.
“Ball through to Pedro, we’re in on the backline again, for maybe the 15th or 16th time, and then when you’ve got players of Pedro, Cunha and Channy’s (Hee-Chan Hwang’s) ability arriving, it’s a fantastic team goal.
“To see it come off and get us back in the game was a real good moment for us.”
O’Neil also explained that Wolves’ winning goal, scored by Sasa Kalajdzic in the 88th minute after Bournemouth goalkeeper Neto opted to release an early pass and Wolves robbed possession, was also a consequence of training-ground preparation.
“You’re down to 10 men at this point, so you probably want your goalkeeper to take his time if you’re Bournemouth,” said O’Neil, before explaining the decision to press Bournemouth high.
“Do we like the match-ups on the backline this week? Yeah, they’re not bad for us this week.
“Let’s go then. Let’s get after Bournemouth. They turn the ball over a little bit in this area, one of the highest in the league for turnovers in that area. Can we get after them? Can we win the ball back?
“Obviously, it’s an error on their part. And then this is nothing to do with me, it’s the quality we have. Unbelievable vision, a delicate touch from Channy and then Sasa Kalajdzic, who is a fantastic finisher when he gets through on goal.
“I know most people will see him for his height, as a target, but I promise you, when he gets in on goal he’s so calm and his finishing is very good.”
Contain and counter Man City
Manchester City of course offered a very different level of threat to Bournemouth and, as O’Neil explained, they required an altogether different tactical plan, with a focus on reinforcing one side of the pitch, staying compact, and using the counter-attack.
“You can see we keep an extra man on the right side of the pitch for Craig Dawson,” O’Neil explained. “Three on that side because (Erling) Haaland likes to operate on this side, whereas we’ve only got two on this side, so Tote has to be slightly more aggressive.
“There are two reasons. Like I say, Haaland likes to run this way more often, so we keep Max (Kilman) down as some cover, and also, (Jeremy) Doku is incredible one-v-one, so we’re able to get Nelson (Semedo) some cover with Joao Gomes.
“We are man-for-man on the left side only. We were comfortable for Rayan Ait-Nouri to be one-v-one with Kyle Walker, and Tote Gomes is really good at coming in on things, so coming in on Phil Foden.
“Always keep Max Kilman in place, because Haaland likes to drift that way and that makes it difficult for Daws. So, the right-sided centre-back stays in, the other one comes out.
“Reduce the spaces and then, can we regain the ball when they try to play through us and launch counter-attacks? Obviously it helps when you’ve got a player like (Pedro Neto) who can take you up the pitch on his own.
“That was the basis of the plan, and it was about trying to get Matheus Cunha to give his most disciplined performance ever out of possession and look after the pivot as much as he could.”
The idea with Cunha, O’Neil explained, was to pressurise Mateo Kovacic and and Matheus Nunes aggressively, and instead ensure centre-back Ruben Dias was the one tasked with bringing City forward.
“You let Ruben Dias step in and Matheus Cunha knows that, when he starts to come too far, he needs to engage him, but it’s about trying to reduce these spaces behind Cunha because that’s where they are going to try to find the spare man.
“We need to be close enough together that we are going to have a chance of winning the ball back.”
O’Neil used a clip which showed Cunha winning the ball back from Kovacic, allowing Wolves to launch a three-on-three counter-attack.
“Cunha does an unbelievable job around Kovacic. As soon as they try and find him, can we swarm him and regain the ball? It was an unbelievably disciplined performance from Cunha.
“We win the ball back and now we’re three-v-three. So let’s use the pace and quality that we’ve got.
“And although we only had three shots on the day, we had some real big moments like this where we managed to counter-attack and it doesn’t lead to a shot but creates a dangerous situation.”
O’Neil also highlighted a defensive sequence in the second half which showed the advantage of using an extra man on Doku’s side of the pitch, while allowing the 33-year-old Dawson to go man-for-man on Haaland in his own box, rather than further away from goal, where his lack of pace could be exposed.
“This is the advantage of the extra man on this side,” he said as the clip showed Nelson and Joao Gomes closing down Doku. “Doku is really good one-v-one, so we’re able to get him some extra support from the midfielder. Don’t leave Nelson one-v-one for too long, Joao Gomes gets across.”
When asked by Jamie Carragher about Dawson’s positioning up against Haaland in the box, O’Neil added: “If I said to Daws, ‘You need to mark Haaland man-for-man here (on the halfway line)’, I’m sure he would have a sleepless night.
“If I said to him, ‘We’re going to put you in your strongest part of the pitch (in the box) and put you up against Haaland’, he would be like, ‘Yes, no problem.’
“We do some work on this as well in terms of how we mark in the penalty area. Once you’ve got the No 9, just stay locked on with him, if you have to cross over, don’t try to hand him over to anybody.”
O’Neil’s approach ensured Haaland finished the game without a goal and having only attempted a solitary shot. “He was incredible at that all afternoon,” added O’Neil of Dawson.
“Then there’s this from the forward players,” added O’Neil as he analysed another clip of Wolves winning the ball back and breaking. “Cunha back down trying to win the ball. Now we’re compact again. Can you win it back and can you find enough quality now to get the ball to our main counter threat, Pedro Neto?”
The Wolves boss also outlined the importance of using their full-backs at other moments.
“We spoke a lot about getting to the wing-backs. We might have to go over, but if we can get to the wing-backs, it spreads the back four of Man City a lot.
“We only had a couple of spells with the ball, as you would expect with a team this good. But we managed to use the gameplan really well to get the wing-back on.
“Obviously we got a little bit of good fortune for this goal, which you need to beat Man City, but I actually celebrated it. I think I’ve only celebrated two goals in my coaching career.
“The tactics is one part of it but the group, the work-rate and what the lads put in, is the real reason you’re able to cause these upsets. You could tell the lads understood the gameplan really well.”
O’Neil must now prepare his side’s tactics to host in-form Newcastle at Molineux this weekend. You can watch Wolves vs Newcastle live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm.