Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Aston Villa
Referee: Mike Dean
TV: BT Sport
It’s the first Midlands derby of this Premier League season, as Wolverhampton Wanderers host rivals Aston Villa.
The two highest-performing sides in the West Midlands clash this weekend, with Wolverhampton Wanderers hosting Aston Villa. In a fixture that has more recently been one that has favoured Wolves, Aston Villa poses a serious threat this season after their improved form compared to last. The Villans find themselves in 12th position, two points and two places below neighbours Wolves, with two games in hand. The fixtures between these two clubs last season saw Wolves come out on top both home and away. However, the Villans scored a comfortable victory in the Carabao Cup, as they went all the way to the final.
This time around, the playing field is much more even. Despite being ahead of their rivals, this season hasn’t been Wolves’ finest, with injuries and costly errors stunting any progression they may have seen from their impressive last two campaigns. The Midlands side comes into the fixture off the back of their heaviest defeat this season, a 4-0 thrashing against Liverpool. Despite missing key players, Wolves failed to provide a fight to the reigning Champions, who put them to the sword in a ruthless fashion.
Defeats against Leicester, Manchester City and West Ham have seen Wolves slip from their regular league position, challenging for Europe, to one of mid-table obscurity. However, with the league as wide open as it is, we know Wolves have the quality to recover with plenty of games still to play.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s fixture, Wolves will be without key striker Raul Jiminez, after his scary clash of heads with David Luiz two weeks ago. Thankfully, the Mexican is recovering well and appears to have no long-lasting injury; however, the collision does bring in to question whether the Premier League should reconsider headers and aerial challenges on the grounds of safety.
With Jiminez unavailable, Wolves will most likely look to 18-year-old Fabio Silva to lead the line, following his £35m arrival in the summer. There may be no better opportunity for the Portuguese youngster to get the fans on side, scoring against their local rivals this weekend.
A short distance away, Villa’s season has started to take a downwards direction, after such a promising start. The Villans reached the heights of second place in the early weeks, winning their first four games, including a 7-2 thrashing of reigning Champions Liverpool. Since then, Villa have gone on to lose four of their last five, despite playing some great football along the way. Dean Smith has a conundrum to figure out with his Villa side, as they have been topping the XG charts week after week, and still to find ways to lose.
Although XG can be a promising sign, it doesn’t win you football matches, and Smith urgently needs results. Sloppy defeats to the likes of Brighton, West Ham and Southampton, have sincerely hampered Villa’s European charge. With tough fixtures on the horizon, they need to turn their form around quickly to avoid another relegation battle.
The Villans will be coming into the local derby fresh off of a two-week break, as their Friday fixture against Newcastle was suspended due to an outbreak of COVID-19 on Tyneside. Smith will recognise the importance of this rest & preparation and will look to use it to his advantage against a possibly more run down Wolves outfit.
Villa head into the tie still missing a key creative outlet in Ross Barkley. The Englishman has offered Villa a direct and commanding attacking presence which they desperately lacked last season, relying solely on Jack Grealish to produce the goods to keep their Premier League hopes alive. Barkley and Grealish were pivotal in Aston villa’s early success, and without Barkley, Grealish has declined in productivity, as his team’s results have suffered. With Barkley again unavailable, a potential formation change could be to unlock the potential of Villa’s other attacking assets, while providing Grealish with space and support he needs to play his dazzling brand of attacking football.
Wolves’ main absentees are Raul Jiminez and Jonny, both with long term injuries.
Smith will be without Ross Barkley, who is expected to return following the weekend fixture.
Predicted starting XIs
Wolves (4-3-3): Patricio; Semedo, Boly, Coady, Marcal; Dendonker, Moutinho, Neves; Traore, Podence, Silva
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; Luiz, McGinn, Hourihane; Grealish, Watkins, Trezeguet
Predicted Score: Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 Aston Villa
Wolves should have the edge against a Villa side struggling for form. With key injuries on both sides, overall squad quality should be a determining factor; however, with a local derby, anything can happen.