Wolves will look to bounce back from their first defeat in six games as they face Europe-chasing Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday.
Nuno’s side’s unbeaten run was ended at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday as they lost 4-1 to Manchester City. Conor Coady’s second-half equaliser was a rare high point for Wolves, who were dominated by their visitors throughout.
While Villa are enjoying a much better season than their West Midlands rivals, they too suffered defeat in midweek as they lost 1-0 to bottom side Sheffield United.
Kick off at Villa Park is at 5.30pm and the game will be broadcast on Sky Sports.
Although Wolves headed to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday on their best unbeaten run of the season, it was widely accepted that the run would end at the hands of Manchester City.
And so it proved. The champions-elect beat Wolves 4-1 with three late goals, although it could, and perhaps should, have been more. Rui Patricio made six saves for the second game in a row, while City managed to muster ten shots on target with their 72 per cent of the ball.
While Patricio impressed, Nuno’s tactics left plenty to be desired, again. While ‘parking the bus’ is a game plan understandably employed by plenty of managers at the Etihad, Wolves had picked up seven points from their four league games against Manchester City in the previous two Premier League seasons by holding firm at the back while looking menacing on the counter. Conor Coady’s equaliser, which came from a set-piece in the 61st minute, was the first touch Wolves had in City’s penalty area, and their makeshift defence couldn’t hold on in the closing stages to give Wolves what would have been an undeserved point.
With nothing left to play for in the league, more exciting football is a must from Nuno in the closing stages of the season.
Aston Villa form
Having scraped to survival last season, many predicted a similar tale of struggle this campaign for Villa. Despite this, Dean Smith’s side have already bettered last season’s points total, and look set to push for a European spot in the final two months of the year.
However, Villa suffered a setback in midweek as they suffered an embarrassing 1-0 loss against ten-man Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. David McGoldrick’s 30th-minute strike proved to be enough for the struggling Blades, who had to play 33 minutes with a man less after Phil Jagielka’s tackle on Anwar El Ghazi was deemed the denial of a goalscoring opportunity.
Despite their lofty position, Villa have become one of the league’s most inconsistent sides in recent months. Dean Smith’s side have won five, drawn one and lost four of their last 10 league games, and have not had two consecutive wins, draws or defeats since losing to Manchester United and Manchester City consecutively in January.
As always, Villa’s dangerman is Jack Grealish. The Villa captain has picked up six goals and 10 assists in his 22 league games this season, but has missed the last three through injury.
Former Wolves loanee Emi Martinez has emerged as one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers since joining Villa in September. The Argentinian is only behind Ederson in the Golden Glove race, and has made 93 saves in his 25 games this campaign.
Aston Villa v Wolves team news
Wolves were boosted by the return of Willy Boly at the Etihad on Tuesday, as the 30-year-old was named amongst the substitutes for his first appearance in a matchday squad since the 2-1 win against Arsenal a month ago. With Leander Dendoncker failing to impress in defence yet again, Boly should be reintroduced to the starting XI.
Daniel Podence is believed to be close to a return but will likely miss out at Villa Park, while Marcal has undergone another operation on a groin injury.
Villa are sweating over the fitness of Jack Grealish, who has missed their last three games with a leg issue. The England international is touch and go to return on Saturday.
Matty Cash, Wesley and former Wolves centre-back Kortney Hause are out.
Wolves line up prediction: Patricio; Boly, Coady, Saiss; Semedo, Dendoncker, Neves, Jonny; Traore, Silva, Neto.
Aston Villa v Wolves head to head
The sides’ previous meeting this campaign ended with a Villa win at Molineux in December, as Anwar El Ghazi tucked away a stoppage time penalty after Nelson Semedo had brought down John McGinn.
Although Wanderers won at Villa Park last June, it marked just their second win against Villa in Birmingham since 1980. In fact, Wolves have won just five of the last 28 league and cup meetings with Villa, home or away.
Aston Villa v Wolves prediction
This prediction is entirely reliant on if Villa have their talisman fit and available. As seen with recent defeats to Leicester and Sheffield United, two sides that Villa beat in the reverse fixtures with Jack Grealish in the side, Villa are a completely different proposition without the England international as they are with him.
However, even if Grealish isn’t available, Wolves will have to be so much better than they were against Newcastle and Manchester City. Nuno’s side have gained a deserved tag for being boring, negative and safety-first, which they have to shake if they’re to produce positive results between now and the end of the season.
Villa, on the other hand, have gained plenty of plaudits for their football this season, and even produced a brilliant win at Elland Road last week without Grealish. It seems as though these two sides have swapped from this time last year given how their respective campaigns have gone, and there is plenty of optimism around Villa Park that a European place is achievable.
It could be a close game, but Villa have to be the favorites against a side who’ve completely lost their identity.
Prediction: Aston Villa 1-0 Wolves