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Conor Coady is the key figure for Wolves at the heart of their defence
Last Updated: 07/03/18 10:47am
The Portuguese players at Wolves have taken the headlines for the Championship leaders but Conor Coady has been in superb form for much of the campaign. His recent dip only highlights the fact that he has become such a key figure at Molineux, writes Adam Bate.
It was clear soon into last summer that the changes at Wolves would be major. After Nuno Espirito Santo was appointed in May, record signing Ruben Neves arrived in July and Diogo Jota followed before the month was out. Champions League players in the Championship. What was less clear at the time was which of the existing squad would survive the overhaul.
Certainly, few would have predicted Conor Coady's reinvention. He had been used as a central midfielder during his first season at Molineux before filling in at right-back for much of the following campaign. But Coady now finds himself at the heart of defence for Nuno's Wolves. For much of the campaign, he has been nothing short of a revelation.
With the game now in front of him, everything suddenly seems so straightforward. In possession, he is bringing the ball out of defence and springing counter-attacks with his passing ability. Out of possession, his improved reading of the game has been a major reason why no team in the division has kept more clean sheets than Wolves.
Speaking to Coady earlier this year, it was apparent how much he is enjoying his new role. "I love it," he told Sky Sports. "I have got some fantastic players around me. It is a pleasure to play with them. The manager has helped me massively with my positioning. It is something I'm really grateful for because I really wanted to be part of what was happening."
Coady deserves credit for recognising the opportunity he had been given from the outset. Instead of fearing the worst, he embraced the challenge of retaining his place and soon made himself indispensable. Although Danny Batth remains Wolves' club captain, it is Coady, a vocal presence on and off the pitch, who is the one who has led the side to the top.
"When I saw the type of players who were coming in and the manager and staff who had been at Porto and Valencia, I realised quickly that the club wanted to improve and I wanted to be a part of that," he explained. "You know that guys like Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Leo Bonatini are going to improve the football club."
The distribution of Neves in midfield has been an essential element of Wolves' success, setting the tempo for the team's play. The Portugal international is capable of slowing down or speeding up the game at will, but he is not the only one with an exceptional passing range in this Wolves side. He has a worthy accomplice right behind him in the defence.
Coady, who recently turned 25, also has the ability to ping passes out to both flanks. Indeed, that was the catalyst for the opening goal against Sheffield United last month and the stats show that only Neves and Tom Huddlestone have hit more accurate long balls than him this season. Among the top 30 long passers, only Neves has a better success rate.
There will be even more of an onus on Coady's passing from deep against Leeds on Wednesday night as Neves completes a two-game suspension. Wolves certainly missed the midfielder last time out against Fulham. In fact, the 2-0 defeat at Craven Cottage put the spotlight back on the fact that Coady has spent much of his career in midfield himself.
Despite being untroubled for much of the season, he allowed Aleksandar Mitrovic too much space to turn for both goals. After an uncharacteristically nervy display at home to Norwich prior to that, and with the gap at the top down to six points, suddenly there are those wondering whether Coady's inexperience in defence could become an issue.
The trips to Leeds and Aston Villa this week could prove decisive in that debate. Will Wolves' wobble continue? Have weaknesses been belatedly exposed? Or will they reassert their dominance after a brief blip? Expect Nuno to retain faith in what has worked. It is not just that Coady's passing has become pivotal to the team's style. His leadership is vital too.
Perhaps that pedigree should not be too much of a surprise. The former Liverpool player captained England's Under-17 side to victory in the 2010 European Championships back when winning such tournaments was still a rarity for the country - it was their first triumph in 17 years. He subsequently led England's Under-20 side at the 2013 World Cup as well.
Even in this dream of a season for Coady, a senior call is highly unlikely, although the list of players impressing in the centre of the back-three formation that Gareth Southgate now favours is far from long. What does seem more plausible is that Coady could soon get the chance to add to the one Premier League appearance that he made for Liverpool in 2013.
It has been a long journey since then. There have been the seasons at Sheffield United and Huddersfield. There have been those spells at right-back and in midfield before finding his niche. He has had to battle his way back the hard way, but right now Wolves fans will be hoping that Conor Coady can get back to making it all look so easy.
Don't miss the Sky Bet Championship clash between Leeds and Wolves on Wednesday night, live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event from 7.30pm
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