Wolves continued their 100% start to the season since its resumption with yet another confident and comfortable 1-0 win, this time on derby day at Villa Park in Saturday’s early kick-off. It was a tightly contested game which followed the pattern of the trip to West Ham and the game against Bournemouth at Molineux on Wednesday, meaning Wolves keep the pressure on those in the top 4 and are firmly in contention for Champions League football while completing a first league double over their West Midlands rivals since 1963.
Aston Villa v Wolves Reaction
Aston Villa (4-1-2-1-2): Nyland, Konsa, Hause, Mings, Targett, Nkamba, Hourihane, Luiz, Grealish, Samatta, Davis (Subs Used: Taylor, McGinn, Elmohamady, Trezeguet, El Ghazi)
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Jonny, Jota, Jimenez (Subs Used: Traore, Neto)
It was a game of very few clear-cut chances, a common theme of games that Wolves have been involved in since the resumption of the league season, but Wolves again displayed their impressive ability to find a way to win without creating too much going forward. It was an edgy start to the game at an eerie Villa Park, in what was a huge game for both sides at both ends of the table. Wolves most certainly benefited from the absence of the Villa Park crowd as they began to assert their dominance in the game. On paper, Wolves are most certainly a better team than Aston Villa, this is evident from both the league table but also the game at Molineux earlier in the season where, despite the 2-1 score-line, Wolves were simply head and shoulders above their opponents in every department. However, Wolves have struggled at Villa Park in recent years, and have not won since a 1-0 win under Mick McCarthy in 2011. This is due to the added intensity the Villa Park crowd bring to their team in such games.
Nuno reverted to the 3-5-2 formation last used in the trip to West Ham last Saturday with Leander Dendoncker replacing Adama Traore. There were mixed views among the Wolves faithful prior to the game as to which formation Nuno should go with. Some believed that allowing Adama Traore to run at the Villa backline from the off would prove too much to cope with, while others thought it would be best to play 3 in the middle and not allow Villa to gain any strong foothold in the game which they may be able to hang onto. Ultimately Nuno opted for the latter and it proved to be the correct decision with Villa failing to trouble Rui Patricio all afternoon as Wolves left with the three points. Dean Smith was bold in his team selection, with both Davis and Samatta supported by Grealish in a central attacking role, but this was no trouble for the Wolves backline as they continued their extremely impressive form since the restart.
The most interesting battle was certainly in the midfield area, with Douglas Luiz and Conor Hourihane keen to get on the ball and try to play Grealish in behind the Wolves midfield and run at the back three, but the excellent work rate and ability to win the ball of Wolves’ three central midfielders meant that Villa’s game plan was nullified and their attacking threat was almost non-existent.
Wolves almost went ahead as Raul Jimenez flicked on Joao Moutinho’s free-kick, but his header was saved unconvincingly from Nyland. And Villa’s shaky goalkeeper almost cost his side as he aimed to throw to ball out to full-back Neil Taylor but the ball fell straight to the feet of out of form forward Diogo Jota. This had clearly come as somewhat a surprise to him as he took one touch and snatched at his shot which blazed over the bar into the empty stand behind the goal. Villa offered little in the first half, with Jack Grealish’s limited to long-range shots, none of which troubled Rui Patricio.
The second half had a similar story as Nuno stuck with the 3-5-2 formation as Adama Traore replaced Diogo Jota. Having combined twice in successive games in wins at West Ham and at home to Bournemouth, Traore and Jimenez once again combined in the Wolves opener which ultimately brought about the three points. Much was owed to the excellent run from Jonny Otto from deep inside the Wolves half to ultimately set up Dendoncker on the edge of the area. The remaining half an hour was cagey as Wolves aimed to see out the win and move up into 5th place before their competitors have a chance to catch up in midweek.
Nuno used his substitutions sparingly in the closing stages, with just Pedro Neto entering the action replacing Raul Jimenez with just five minutes remaining without any real chance to make an impact. This means that after three games, Nuno is yet to make full use of the new five substitution limit, making a maximum of four (at home to Bournemouth). This allows for the consistency and control that Nuno craves of his players and is not particularly surprising as the games Wolves have been involved in have been tight score lines where one misjudgement caused by a lack of match sharpness could have resulted in dropped points.
Aston Villa v Wolves Key Moments
It was the talking point of the first half as Aston Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland completely misjudged his throw as it landed straight at the feet of Diogo Jota who snatched at the shot and blazed over with only the keeper to beat. It was a great chance for Wolves go take the lead before the break, had Dendoncker not struck mid-way through the first half, Wolves would look back at this moment with great regret.
The moment that won the game for Wolves as mid-way through the second half as Jonny Castro Otto brought the ball forward before an exchange between the deadly duo of late Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez. Jonny continues his intelligent run to receive the ball on the edge of the area before teeing up Leander Dendoncker who finished smartly with his left foot into the bottom corner to win the game for Wolves.
Aston Villa v Wolves Man of the Match
Jonny Castro Otto
It was a fantastic afternoon’s work for one of Wolves’ unsung heroes! Jonny Castro Otto provided yet another safe and solid performance while also creating the winning goal with an excellent turn and give and go before teeing up Leander Dendoncker on the edge of the area to win the game for Wolves. With Wolves reverting to a 3-5-2 formation, there was a greater emphasis on their wing-backs to provide support in attack which is exactly what Jonny did throughout with his tireless running and support to the front two. A fantastic contribution from Jonny who rightly received praise from the Wolves faithful in their reaction post-match.
Things to improve on
Creating clear cut chances
A common theme of the previous week and of the season as a whole. Since the re-start, Wolves have been excellent in winning games that have been tight and have had little in the way of chances. This is an important quality to any team chasing European competitions and has been demonstrated superbly by Liverpool this season. However, if they are to sustain this push, Wolves simply have to be more creative in the final third. Throughout the game at Villa Park Wolves registered just 2 shots on target, one of which was Leander Dendoncker’s winner. As has been the case in previous games, there was certainly a feeling that if Wolves had created chances early on they would have won the game comfortably, as would have been the case in the numerous draws this season which could have Wolves in an even stronger position than they currently hold.
With the lack of chances created, being clinical is key to Wolves winning games. Wolves had 11 shots in the game with just two on target, with Diogo Jota’s guilt edge chance being wasted as he blazed over. As previously mentioned, Wolves have been excellent in seeing through wins in games of few clear cut chances since the re-start, however, if they are to maintain this run and realise their dream of Champions League football next season, they must become more clinical to avoid any unnecessary slip-ups along the way which would be catastrophic with the impressive current form of Chelsea and Man Utd.
Overall, a very satisfying afternoon’s work in the West Midlands from Nuno’s side, three points ahead of the rest of the pack’s fixtures, as well as the bragging rights in a West Midlands derby, onto Arsenal at Molineux next week.
Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.