Aston Villa vs Wolves
By Dean Gregory
A dismal performance against bottom of the table Sheffield Utd continued Villa’s trend of patchy form, leaving them in ninth place with a mid-table finish the most likely outcome for the season.
Wolves are currently sitting in 12th at the time of writing, four points behind Villa. Nuno Espirito Santo’s team have started to improve on their early season form, so will fancy taking points off a Villa team who have been stuttering in recent weeks to get any edge in their attacking play.
Aston Villa – W D L W L
Wolves – D W W D L
Dean Smith on team news
“Jack Grealish is doing better. He’s unlikely to play. I’ve not sat down with the medical staff yet, but he was on the AlterG running yesterday. He looks pain-free now, so once I sit down with the medical staff we’ll decide what he’s doing today.
“Matty Cash is still recovering. He’s in rehabilitation now and it shouldn’t be too long before he’s back training with us, so that’s good news.
“Welsey’s in full contact training with us now. The problem is arranging some games for Wesley to play. He’ll probably get involved in some Under-23 games, but that’s really good news because he’s been out for 14, 15 months now.
“Kortney Hause should join in training with us next week, as well. That’s really good news.”
Nuno Espirito Santo on Aston Villa derby
“All the matches against Villa are always special. Some of those we had good performances and good results, some with bad performances and bad results. It’s always a special moment for us as Wolves and us as Wolves fans.
“Yes, it’s not the same [without supporters], but yes. Derby games are always special for Wolves. It’s always a big game, a derby is always a big game.
“We are going to face a tough team and it is going to be a competitive and hard game. Aston Villa has a very talented squad with many options. We’re going to face a tough opponent.
“Every game in the Premier League is very tough. Every game you can lose, draw or win against any of the opponents in the Premier League, that is how tough it is.”
Wolves tinker with their formations regularly, but most often use some form of a 3-4-3 with Willian José up front, Adama Traore and Pedro Neto either side of him, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho in midfield, a back three of Leander Dendoncker, Conor Coady and Romain Saiss with Nelson Semedo and Jonny Otto as wingbacks. Players are occasionally moved around, with Dendoncker appearing in midfield and Semedo operating as a winger at times.
They are a caution-first side that is happy to spend periods without the ball, but can be very effective on the break and in possession. 48.3% average possession and 82.9% pass success shows a team comfortable in both situations, depending on the opponent. They primarily utilise their pacey wingers in attack, particularly favouring the right flank with 41% of their attacks heading down that side.
Wolves are not afraid to take shots from outside the box, with 42% of all attempts being from long range. This can be a symptom of struggling to break down teams that sit back and defend, something which has been a problem for Wolves this season.
They have scored 28 goals from 27.58 xG, demonstrating their struggles at breaking teams down. 14 of their goals have been from open play, from 228 attempts. They shoot often, but are held back by their speculative attempts rather than them trying to get into the box more.
Defensively they have conceded 37 goals from 41.68 xGA. Their defence is competent at dealing with problems, but they allow far too many opportunities for their opponents. Allowing so many chances is likely in a passive system that absorbs pressure, but it is a problem they will need to address if they wish to progress as a team. They have given away seven penalties (conceding six), which always shows how rash a team can be under pressure defensively.
Wolves are a tactically astute team capable of adapting to whatever situation they face, and can be a handful for anyone on their day. It may not be coming off for them as well this season as it has before, but that is not to say they should be underestimated.
One to Watch
Their star player this season has been Pedro Neto, who has made a team-high 10 goal contributions (five goals, five assists). He is a tricky winger who averages two shots per game, as well as two key passes and 2.6 dribbles. He even manages an interception per game, showing he is capable of defending from the front although this is not his usual remit.
A skilful flair player with a knack for beating players and testing keepers, he will undoubtedly cause issues for Villa’s comparatively vulnerable right hand side.
Aston Villa 3-2 Wolves – 14-12-2003
One from Gareth Barry and a brace from Juan Pablo Angel saw off Wolves the last time Villa beat them at Villa Park.
Wolves 0-1 Aston Villa – 12-12-2020
A late, late penalty from Anwar El-Ghazi scraped the three points from a match that will mostly be remembered for some very card-happy refereeing, in which 11 yellow cards were handed out along with a red for each team. It may also, in time, be remembered as the game where Jacob Ramsey was handed his first Premier League start, a show of faith from Dean Smith in Villa’s prospering academy.
How it could play out
The stark reality of where Villa currently are in their development has set in over the last few weeks; the absence of Matty Cash has demonstrated they still lack true depth in key areas while the absence of Grealish has exactly helped their faltering attacking impetus. It begs the question – are Villa only good going forward when Jack is around? Or are they still a good attacking side without him, but his quality is so high in comparison that it raises the levels of expectations beyond anything reasonable?
The reality is though teams were starting to effectively neutralise Grealish’s threat in the games before his injury, so a rethink in attacking approach was needed anyway.
Whether or not Grealish is available for this match is information Smith will not reveal until the last possible moment, and for good reason. If the answer is no, then the way they approach the game must change in accordance – Villa are primarily a counter-attacking side, so without the outlet of Jack, and with loanee Barkley flattering to deceive, they may have to be content with bedding in and relying on the pace of the forwards to cause problems for Wolves.
They are not ideal tactics, and they don’t fit Smith’s intended style of attacking impetus, but needs must. Without the team’s main driving force, Villa have to adapt to the situation they find themselves in.
Villa are still a team in transition, one that might take a a transfer window or two to fully build a squad that is resistant to the affect of injuries. Progress has been brilliant since the takeover by NSWE, and it would be prudent to keep this in mind going forward.
Aston Villa 1-1 Wolves
This has a cagey score-draw written all over it. Keeping the likes of Neto and Traore quiet all game seems unlikely at the moment, while Wolves continue to allow opponents far too much joy in front of goal. Both teams could nick one, but it looks unlikely there will be an outright winner here.