By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Wolves
The next round of the League Cup sees Villa face Wolves for the first time this season. It will be the first time the two sides have met since the Championship, when Villa won with a somewhat surprising 4-1 scoreline against the eventual champions, much to the surprise of some punters, who choose to compare bets on betting lounge.
Since then both sides have strengthened and are beginning to establish themselves in the Premier League. In the meantime, a good cup run would be a morale booster for both sides – with a couple of lower league teams awaiting in the next round, the winner could be 90 minutes away from a League Cup semi-final.
The question here is, who wants it more?
Aston Villa – L D W W L
Wolves – D W W D D
Dean Smith on Grealish
“I wanted to get him off before that. He was on a caution and it was the last 10 minutes. He’s just got a whack off the calf so it’s too early to see. We’ll see on Monday.
“He carried the ball to them. He showed some really good bits of play, defensively as well as offensively. Probably got frustrated going 2-0 down like a few of them did but, the hardest part to have in the game is emotional control when we’ve made a couple of mistakes and, for five minutes, wanted to get on the ball too much but, all in all, a decent performance from him.”
Nuno Espirito Santo on Newcastle result
“First half we were not so good, second half we were very good. We played good, dominated, created chances. We have to be more clinical and that’s something we have to improve. I’m happy with how we did it – it was not easy.
“Second half was well played – good football, good combinations, chances. We didn’t allow Newcastle to do what they do best, transitions with Almiron and Saint-Maximin. We controlled them and were really good in that aspect.”
“We were not poor. We had an opponent in front of us. Sometimes you try to do things and your opponent won’t let you. Credit to Newcastle for the first half.
“There are many things (behind slow starts). For example, if you think about how we conceded the goal. Sometimes you have to give credit to the opponent… We recovered the ball, lost the first pass and allowed them to cross into the box.
“It’s difficult to control. But why? If I knew why it would not happen today so I’m going to work out why this evening.
“We have 20 games already this season and to show this character, this stamina, this energy throughout the game shows how the boys prepare themselves. The team is prepared to deal with all these games.”
In their last League Cup outing, Wolves advanced by winning 4-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw against a plucky Reading side. They fielded a mostly second string side in a 3-4-3 formation, managing 46.8% possession culminating in 6 shots to Reading’s 13. Statistically, the best player on the pitch that day was Wolves defender Ryan Bennett with an overall rating of 7.5.
If Wolves really do want to claim the League Cup silverware this season, they will have to try harder than that. Their two wins this season have come against the hapless Watford and champions Man City. In each game they have seen the least possession (39.1% and 24% respectively), relying on a devastating counter attack to see them through.
They are very comfortable sitting back and soaking up the pressure. Against Watford, they made 21 successful tackles, 17 interceptions and 27 clearances to keep their opponent’s pressure from paying off.
When they did have the ball, they made seven total shots, two of which were on target and both of which went in. They managed this against Man City, too; they don’t get many chances using this tactic, but when they do, they make the most of it.
It is hard to say whether they will approach a cup game in the same manner, but given how lucky they were not to crash out against Reading, it is fair to assume they will consider the tactics that have brought them the most success in the Premier League.
One to Watch
When Adama Traore was at Villa, he was the most exciting player in a uniquely awful team. He did somewhat resemble a headless chicken when he had the ball, but he was young and raw, yet we all saw his potential.
He wasn’t much better at Middlesborough, but since moving to Wolves he’s started to grow as a player. He still likes to dribble, executing 3.1 dribbles per match, but he now supplies a key pass per game to boot. He will only get better with time.
Aston Villa 1-0 Wolves – 10th January 1996
Their last League Cup meeting was back in 1996 in the quarter-finals. Tommy Johnson scored the winner for Villa, and they would go on to claim the trophy.
How it could play out
As always with cup matches, the result will come down to who values a good cup run more in terms of their starting line-ups. It is one of the only realistic shots either team has at winning silverware this season, so it is fair to assume both teams will give it a go.
That said, Wolves have their Europa League campaign to consider. Considering the better start to that competition compared to how they’ve faired in the Premier League this season, it looks as though they have put most of their eggs in that basket. They sit second on Group K, having won two and lost one of the three matches they have played so far.
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On the flip side, Villa can consider simply staying in the Premier League a success this season considering the scale of the overhaul they underwent in the summer. The influx of players had the side effect of leaving Villa capable of fielding two almost totally different, competent starting 11s, which is ideal for the earlier stages of cup competitions.
This match has the additional dimension of being a derby of sorts. Ever since Wolves learned how to play football and got pretty good at it they have decided there is a rivalry between the two sides. Wolves may not be interested in the League Cup at all, but they will see considerable value in getting one over on Villa.
A big boost is the potential return of Kodjia and Chester. They have both made an appearance for the U23 side, Jimmy Danger sporting a protective mask, and could have a role to play against Wolves. Grealish is out injured, and touch and go for the Liverpool game at the weekend.
While both teams will make mass changes, whether Villa’s strength in-depth can give them an advantage over Wolves’ young guns, will perhaps be the deciding factor.
Aston Villa 2-0 Wolves
The derby effect means this match could go either way, but the League Cup will likely mean more for Villa than Wolves, and that could get them over the line.