It was an afternoon to forget for Wolves as they fell to defeat in the West Midlands derby against Aston Villa at Molineux. It was a tightly contested game for the most part, with the home side having numerous chances to go ahead. However, the decisive moment came in stoppage time when Nelson Semedo gave away a penalty which substitute El Ghazi dispatched to send all three points back to Birmingham.
Wolves (4-2-3-1): Patricio, Semedo Coady, Saiss, Marcal, Moutinho, Dendoncker, Traore, Podence, Neto, Silva (Subs: Neves)
Aston Villa: (4-3-3): Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey, Traore, Watkins, Grealish (Subs: El Ghazi, Nakamba)
Nuno stuck with the four at the back formation despite a hammering at Anfield last Sunday. There was an element of surprise to see Willy Boly dropped from the starting XI, replaced by Romain Saiss. Boly had produced a number of poor performances in recent weeks and with Saiss having a full week of training after recovering from COVID-19, Nuno saw this as an ideal opportunity to freshen the defensive line up once more. Ruben Neves also dropped to the bench as Fabio Silva was handed his first Premier League start. The exciting trio of Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence and Adama Traore all kept their place, playing behind Silva. A much-improved Aston Villa side stuck with the 4-3-3 formation which has served them well this season, currently sitting in the top half with half the number of points they had achieved during the entirety of last season.
The first half produced little in the way of quality and resembled a familiar local derby game despite the absence of fans at Molineux. Both sides struggled to create an opening, with the best chance falling to Leander Dendoncker whose effort from the edge of the area was straight at former Wolves goalkeeper Emi Martinez. Adama Traore had some joy down the right-hand side up against Matt Targett but could produce nothing to note. Daniel Podence also fashioned space on the edge of the area, but his powerful strike was also too close to the Villa keeper as the two sides went in level at the break.
The second half saw the game open up with both sides having joy running at the defence but once again with little in the way of clear-cut chances. Referee Mike Dean brandished cards for almost every foul committed which disrupted the flow of the game somewhat. After a sustained spell of Wolves pressure in which Dendoncker spurned a good chance and Fabio Silva hit the post, the game saw its first red card as Douglas Luiz was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence. This gave Wolves fans watching on the belief that they could take advantage of this and win the game however the reality was far from it. For the closing stages of the game, it was the away side that was in possession and after a number of corners, they finally got their chance after yet more poor defending from Nelson Semedo who did not look comfortable all afternoon. Joao Moutinho was also sent off for a soft challenge late on as Wolves failed to fashion a chance to salvage a point. Nuno used just once substitution, introducing Ruben Neves for Leander Dendoncker, emphasising the lack of offensive options Wolves now have within the squad while playing this new formation.
Silva Hits Post
Wolves came closest mid-way through the second half when Daniel Podence found space behind the Aston Villa midfield and drove at the defence. He played in Fabio Silva whose effort from the edge of the area struck the inside of the post. Martinez had no chance in what was a desperately unlucky attempt from the young Portuguese wonderkid who could not have done much more.
Penalty Incident/El Ghazi Goal
Deep into stoppage time the ten men of Aston Villa were on the front foot. Joe McGinn managed to out-do Nelson Semedo who was the wrong side of the Villa man. He made contact with McGinn who went down for the penalty with little complaints afterwards. Having missed a penalty at West Ham two weeks previous, Ollie Watkins handed the ball to Anwar El Ghazi who stuck a clean penalty beyond Patricio to win the game for Villa.
Man of the Match – Daniel Podence
It was a hugely frustrating game going forward for Nuno’s men who created numerous chances only to find Emi Martinez in the way. Numerous other situations were often wasted by poor decision making in the final third too. At the heart of almost everything Wolves did going forward was Daniel Podence. Having set up Silva’s chance which struck the post, the Portuguese international had every intention of forcing the break-through for the home side but those around him were unfortunately not singing from the same hymn sheet.
Things to Improve
Wolves’ performance was far from perfect, but they could quite easily have had the game wrapped up well before Villa’s late winner. Leander Dendoncker twice spurned good opportunities with efforts straight at Emi Martinez. There were also numerous other situations where Wolves found themselves in promising positions going forward, including set pieces in and around the area, none of which came to fruition. Wolves’ fluidity and decision making must improve if they are to have any chance of claiming a European spot this season, and it must improve quickly.
This is certainly not something you would associate with Nuno’s Wolves, but it has become somewhat of a familiar trait this season. Semedo’s lapse in concentration (not his first this season) is the obvious mistake to pinpoint however there were numerous others throughout the game at both ends of the pitch which ultimately could have changed the outcome of the match. Having built on such solid foundations in previous seasons, Wolves must eradicate such mistakes and almost go ‘back to basics’ to put a run of results together.
Back-to-back defeats leave Wolves rooted in the bottom half of the table and losing valuable ground to rivals in the race for a European space this season. There is still plenty of time to bounce back and make this season a successful one. However, there are glaringly obvious and worrying weaknesses that this is not going to be an easy fix after multiple changes this season. On a different day, Wolves could easily have taken all three points at Molineux, but they cannot feel sorry for themselves when performances are below-par and in dire need of improvement.