Dean Smith Looks to Exploit Nuno Espirito Santo’s Striker Concerns

Wolves vs Aston Villa

The postponement of the Newcastle game means that Villa’s Rainbow Laces fixture will be against Wolves.

Wolves currently sit in 10th place on 17 points, two ahead of Villa after having played two additional games. A win here for Villa will place them back in the top half and in a good position to take advantage of their two games in hand. A loss, then Dean Smith’s men are suddenly left staring at a run of five losses from their last six league fixtures.

League Form

Wolves – W L D W L

Aston Villa – L L W L L

Manager Quotes

Nuno Espirito Santo on coping without Jiminez

“We miss Raul, there is no doubt about what he means to us, but we have to find solutions. We have to occupy the space with different players, so we have to work on it and be fast – starting this week – because we cannot repeat this performance.”

“The focus is always the same when a player comes, it’s up to us to help him and make him better. Fabio is in the process, no doubt about it, and now he has give faster and better answers.

“But we are here to support him, and that’s what we are going to do.”

Dean Smith on recent performances

“Football’s based on performances and if you perform, you’ve got more chance of winning. We’ve performed very well this season, with the exception of Leeds.

“All the other games that we’ve played and been beaten in, our performance levels have been good. We’ve had some freak goals against us.

“In the last two games against Brighton and West Ham, we certainly deserved more with the performances we produced. Three games ago we beat Arsenal 3-0, so we’re not doing a lot wrong at the moment.”

Aston Villa Lime Green training tops

Tactical Analysis

Wolves make use of a multitude of formations, but their most used one this season has been a 3-4-3 with Raúl Jiminez up front with Adama Traoré and Pedro Neto, a midfield duo of Leander Dendoncker and Joao Moutinho, a back three of Willy Boly, Conor Coady and Romain Saiss, with Nelson Semedo and Marcal playing wing back.

They average 48% possession and 82.9% successful passes. This shows they are very comfortable with the ball when they have it, but they don’t necessarily feel the need to control games in order to do well. 13% of all of their passes are played long and 4% are crosses – they like to utilise the wings in attack and will regularly switch the play or try to ping a ball in behind the defense.

A total of six different formations used so far shows tactical nous from manager Nuno. They are also known to switch formations mid-game with some regularity, demonstrating their ability to both plan for their opponents and adjust to their alterations on the fly.

So far they have scored 11 goals from 11.25 xG, while averaging 12 shots per game. They are clinical in front of goal, and will make use of the chances they are presented with. Defensively, they have conceded 15 goals from 17.08 xG – they are competent at the back, but they are currently offering the opposition too many chances.

They are a typically pragmatic side, as evidenced by their current goals to games ratio of 1:1. Their attacking players, particularly on the flanks, have terrifying pace and are a handful for any full-backs in the league. They will certainly be a challenging opponent.

One to Watch

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Winger Pedro Neto currently leads the team for goal contributions with five (three goals, two assists). He shoots 1.6 times per game and has an exceptional pass success rate of 90.3% – a stat made more impressive considering he offers 1.5 crosses per game. 

It will be tempting to identify his opposite winger Adam Traoré as the bigger threat, but underestimating Neto could be damaging.

Memory Match

Wolves 2-3 Aston Villa – 21-01-2012

A Robbie Keane brace and a Darren Bent penalty sealed the three points for Villa, in a rare highlight of Alex McLeish’s time at the club.

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How it could play out

Villa will once again be without Ross Barkley for this game. Last time out Conor Hourihane stepped in for him and put in an admirable performance, nearly scoring with a sweetly struck free kick. He will likely be given the nod again – given Wolves’ typical defensive play style, his set piece deliveries could prove to be pivotal.

Meanwhile, Wolves face a considerably bigger problem: Raul Jiminez’s nasty head injury means they will be without a key part of their squad for a considerable amount of time. As their top scorer and a notorious menace in the box his presence will be sorely missed by them.

From Villa’s perspective, this poses the issue of uncertainty. Nuno is a smart man, and he will almost certainly have a contingency plan in place for this scenario, and it could even mean a complete overhaul of the way Wolves approach the game. If this is the case, how will Smith respond? Villa’s line-up and tactics practically pick themselves these days even without Barkley in the team.

Villa’s tumultuous last season saw them lose both this fixture and the return. As arguably their biggest and baddest current local rival, it will be extra important for them to show how much they have improved since then and prove they can re-cement themselves as the jewel of the West Midlands. In a season where a relegation battle is unlikely and a top six finish is very unlikely, this could be the most achievable goal for them in the short-term.

Wolves with Jota gone and Jiminez sidelined looked toothless recently against Liverpool, suggesting they are perhaps not the side they were last season.


Wolves 1-1 Aston Villa

This is always a tricky one, especially the way things are now. Both teams are without key players, and both teams will see the other as an opponent it is crucial they beat. Both teams will go for the throat. Also, Villa are due a draw by now and this seems potentially the kind of tight game to provide it.