Aston Villa vs Wolves – Pre-game Assessment

While our Villans will feel some comfort in having taken four points from Wolves last season and from finding themselves two spots ahead in the standings going into this weekend’s game, there is no danger of them slipping into over-confidence.  Derby games are notorious for being odds-upsetters.  It seems that geographic proximity has the perverse effect of helping the visiting team (certainly the visiting fans may be outnumbered, but they are rarely outshouted).  Consistent with that, the Villa managed their win last year at Molyneux and were lucky to gain a 0-0 point at Villa Park.

The other intriguing factor is the Nuno Esperito Santo happenstance.  To be playing Nuno’s previous employer in the next game after facing his current one, is a reminder of the loss they want to forget.  On the other hand, today’s professionals are a more disciplined group who are paid well to perform at a high level despite distractions.

On the positive side, Kortney Hause may be slightly more motivated to play against the team he started with and perhaps John McGinn will have more spring in his step after his goal for Scotland against Israel.  Most important, however, is whether Emi Martinez arrives back from international duty in time for the game.

Meanwhile, Wolves have struggled without Nuno and the long wait for Raul Jimenez to regain his form and goal scoring touch after an eight-month recovery from a horrific head injury.  Losing their Portuguese international goalkeeper, Rui Patricio, did not help.  Replacing Nuno is Bruno Lage, another Portuguese manager, who comes with a limited CV but one that includes winning the Portuguese title with Benfica, no small accomplishment.

While Villa Manager Dean Smith has a stronger squad on paper, he has the same selection quandary he had prior to the Spurs game, who to leave out.  With the preseason acquisitions of Emi Buendia, Ashley Young, Danny Ings, Leon Bailey, and Axel Tuanzebe, plus a handful of great Academy graduates ready to shine, only one has seen significant time on the field.  That is Danny Ings, who has started every game.

That may change this Saturday.  There again, it may not.  Smith appears very comfortable with his current formation.  Certainly, the back three with Hause and Tuanzebe interchangeable in the middle has been very effective against some high-powered forward lines while freeing up Cash and Targett to support the team’s offense.

Cash was a major factor against Everton and Man U, while Targett was instrumental in Watkins’ goal against Spurs.  Similarly, McGinn, Luiz, and Ramsey have more than held their own and appear to be improving as a unit.  All three are due to get on the score sheet in games against lesser teams.

If there is disappointment, it’s with the duo of Watkins and Ings who have failed, so far, to gel.  That has much to do with Ollie’s early season injury followed by the caliber of the teams they have faced. Buendia has come off the bench a couple of times, but he is lacking minutes and these substitutions are not long enough.

Bailey’s insertion against Everton (for Targett) made more sense and it worked.  Emi Buendia will likely have to wait for an injury to one of Villa’s current midfield trio or the FA Cup games.  For now, I am guessing that Smith will stick with his Spurs squad if he can and sub as needed.

My prediction, Aston Villa 2, Wolves 1.

Aston Villa likely starting XI

Martinez; Mings, Hause, Konsa; Cash, Luiz, McGinn, Ramsey, Targett, Ings, Watkins.

Wolves likely starting XI

Sa, Kilman, Coady, Saiss, Semedo, Neves, Moutinho, Marcal, Trincao, Jimenez, Hwang

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