The devastating injury Jonny Castro Otto suffered in April came as a blow to Wolverhampton Wanderers in more ways than one.
Not only did Wolves lose one of the most dependable left-sided defenders in the Premier League, but it also threatened to change their summer transfer plans.
Jonny had only just returned from a serious knee injury, but the Spaniard only played eight games before succumbing to an almost identical injury.
Once it became apparent that he faced months on the sidelines again, it presented Wolves with a significant problem.
Rayan Ait-Nouri was always likely to be signed permanently from Angers, but the French youngster needed a more experienced head to learn from.
In an ideal world, that would have been Jonny, and in the not-too-distant future, hopefully, it will be.
This is where Marcal comes in. The Brazilian was signed by Nuno Espirito Santo as a direct replacement for Jonny in the summer of 2020.
However, the 32-year-old’s injury record in his first season at Molineux was cause for concern.
Marcal suffered multiple muscular injuries, including a groin complaint which kept him out for six weeks at the turn of the year and couldn’t find any kind of rhythm as a result.
In total, Marcal played just 622 minutes of Premier League football last season. Jonny, despite being available for under two months of the campaign, racked up 501 minutes of action.
Wolves could have been forgiven for signing two left-backs – Ait-Nouri plus one – to cover the loss of Jonny, but new head coach Bruno Lage decided to place his trust in Marcal.
Right from minute one of pre-season it was clear that Marcal would be Lage’s first-choice left-back, not £10 million signing Ait-Nouri.
Marcal started five of Wolves’ six pre-season friendlies to prove his fitness – no player featured in more.
He’s given Wolves the defensive balance they lacked at times last season. While Nelson Semedo is given licence to overlap Francisco Trincao on the other side, left-back Marcal more often than not leaves Adama Traore to his own devices.
That isn’t to say he doesn’t get forward, because he does. There have been occasions this season where Marcal has delivered delicious balls into the penalty area that haven’t been gobbled up.
But they were at Watford on Saturday as the Brazilian had a hand in both of Wolves’ goals in the 2-0 win.
Marcal is a far more complete left-back at this moment in time than Ait-Nouri, which is why Lage prefers him.
The stats make for nice reading too. Marcal is winning a healthy percentage of his defensive duels (57.4%) and averages 8.29 ball recoveries per game – only Romain Saiss (12.52) has made more for Wolves in the opening four Premier League games.
Going forward, Marcal is creating chances – with three in addition to his two ‘assists’ at Watford. His crossing is important in Lage’s system, and the fact he’s already attempted 24 – nine more than he managed in the entirety of last season – shows the difference in philosophies between Wolves’ new and former head coaches.
Marcal is finally showing Wolves fans what he’s capable of, so touch wood, he stays injury-free and continues in this impressive vein of form.
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