Wolves have restarted the season in spectacular fashion with two wins in a row and two clean sheets. Their next challenge will be against local rivals Aston Villa on Saturday as they travel to Villa Park. The game will be aired at lunchtime on BT Sport and the result could prove to be crucial at both ends of the table, with Villa looking to pull themselves out of the relegation zone and Wolves fighting for a place in the Champions League.
Wolves go into the game on Saturday unbeaten in seven league games (W4, D3), thanks to their midweek victory over Bournemouth. I have been really impressed with Wolves’ form against bottom-six teams this season, as last season those were the teams that they really struggled to beat. Last season Wolves only picked up 14 points against teams in the bottom six, whereas so far this season they have picked up 26 points against teams in the bottom six. Being able to grind out a win against these teams is really important, in my opinion, as it shows how much the team have grown and that they are now finding solutions to highly defensive formations.
This time out Nuno started with a 3-4-3, bringing Adama Traore in, in place of Leander Dendoncker. Again, Traore proved to be the key player for Wolves as even though he seemed stifled at times in the first half by the number of men surrounding him, he still found gaps to exploit and burst through. His passing accuracy was 92.3% and he delivered eight crosses from open play, twice as many as any other player. He also linked up nicely with Raul Jimenez for almost a carbon copy of the opening goal against West Ham United.
I think the main thing that Wolves need to improve on is their first-half performance. Speaking after the Bournemouth game, as reported by BBC Sport, Nuno said:
“The first half, for both teams it was tough and both teams were not able to play. The defensive organisation was very tight and space was not there.”
The defence have done an amazing job in keeping six clean sheets in the past seven league games but by starting slow out of the blocks with less intensity, it puts added pressure on the defence and when they come up against better teams this could be a problem.
Aston Villa Form
Aston Villa haven’t won a game since the restart, drawing twice and losing once, and have failed to take advantage when the teams around them have dropped points. They currently sit in 19th place in the table on 27 points, remaining in the relegation zone on goal difference. With some very tough fixtures to come against Liverpool and Manchester United, they may see the next match at home to Wolves as the prime opportunity to pick up three points.
Their last match was against Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Wednesday where they managed to draw 1-1. They went behind thanks to some poor defending which allowed Dwight Gayle plenty of space to tuck away an Andy Carrol cross, but Ahmed Elmohamady managed to head them back level from a corner in the 83rd minute. Villa had played well in the first half and showed a lot of promise. The main problem for them is that they seem to only show fight once they go behind and they haven’t been too clinical in front of goal.
Their key man to look out for is midfielder Douglas Luiz. The 22-year-old is brilliant on the ball and has a great understanding of where he needs to be on the pitch. In his appearances for Villa this season he has scored three goals and provided two assists but what is more impressive are his defensive stats. He has blocked 14 shots, made 37 clearances and 14 headed clearances. Since the restart, in particular, he has been praised by Villa fans for stifling opposition counter-attacks and making several key blocks, this is something Wolves will need to watch out for as they are most threatening on the counter-attack.
Aston Villa v Wolves Team News
Wolves have no injury concerns and with how well Traore has been playing lately I could see Nuno starting him again on Saturday ahead of Dendoncker. I’m predicting a 3-4-3 line-up of:
Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Neves, Moutinho, Johnny, Traore, Jimenez, Jota.
There are a couple of injury concerns for Dean Smith with Bjorn Engels looking like a doubt for the weekend and John McGinn struggling. Speaking on McGinn, as reported by Aston Villa, Smith said:
“We are having to manage him, he’s trying to recapture the form that he had previously but it’s difficult because he needs his match fitness. He’s getting better, certainly fitness-wise.”
Aston Villa v Wolves Head to Head
In the last five games between Wolves and Villa, Wolves have won twice, lost twice and drawn once, with one of those losses coming when the teams met in the Carabao Cup earlier this season. Looking at the overall record, Villa have won 55 games, Wolves have won 40 and there have been 32 draws.
In the reverse fixture in November, Wolves ran out 2-1 winners in front of a packed-out home crowd. The opening goal came through Joao Moutinho, whose deceptive free-kick allowed Ruben Neves to strike the ball on the edge of the box and add another stunning goal to his collection. Traore terrorised the Villa defence and linked up beautifully with Jimenez to score the second and, in the end, Trezeguet’s goal in injury time was nothing more than a consolation.
Aston Villa v Wolves Prediction
Considering that Villa haven’t been playing too badly, I think this has the potential to be the toughest game of the restart for Wolves. The crowd is usually one of the biggest factors in a local derby and, as we saw with Everton v Liverpool, without them there, the game doesn’t have the same intense feeling. This could play to Wolves advantage, as Villa won’t have the home crowd to spur them on.
I think the key battles will be in the midfield, with Douglas Luiz putting in some solid defensive performances for Villa, Wolves’ forwards will need to be at the top of their game to find gaps and ways through. It’s also worth noting that Wolves’ midfielders have been playing key roles as of late, with Bournemouth loading the midfield on Wednesday, Neves and Moutinho did well not to get overrun.
I could see Villa getting a goal but I still think Wolves will come out on top and win 2-1.