The Pride vs. The Pack: Wolves-Villa Preview

This Sunday sees the first Premier League derby between Wolves and Villa for nearly 8 years, and a first league meeting since our 4-1 victory at Villa Park in 2018. Glossing over the recent Carabao Cup victory in what was a glorified reserves clash, this has been the fixture both sets of fans have been anticipating.

It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, however it would seem that the opposite is true for our derby, at least if social media interactions are anything to go by. Last season Wolves were missing a local derby to enjoy, and in the absence of Albion, they’ll happily take us as foes.

So far it’s been a season of mixed fortunes for both teams. Villa have been lively, entertaining and full of goals, but with a tendency to fade and concede too often to negate some of those positives. Wolves meanwhile, have sought to build on last season’s impressive Premier League return, but have found themselves scuppered by a few too many draws this time around. Subsequently, both teams are looking at a “what could have been” start to the campaign, with a litany of dropped points for both.

In advance of Sunday’s clash, we asked David from @WWFCFancast for the lowdown on our neighbours from the Black Country as well as his thoughts on how the game will go.

1. The last couple of seasons have seen a fairly meteoric rise for Wolves, leading to European football for the first time in nearly 40 years. How do you feel this new challenge has changed your expectations going forwards & how do you feel you’ve adapted to the additional competition?

Everyone supporting Wolves are still in dreamland that we’re playing European football. I think most fans are just enjoying the experience of travelling to far flung destinations and welcoming sides we wouldn’t have thought we would have played, rather than be too concerned about the overall result of our progress in the cup. 

We have to be realistic to how these additional games affect our workload. If you were to ask a fan for a realistic expectation this season, with all cup competitions, they would say a mid-table finish in the league with a decent run into the knockout stages of the Europa League.

Despite having a small squad, having a majority of the team either used to the congested schedule of Championship football and those who have played in Europe previously has worked well for us. Despite the fears from some fans that we may struggle, our rigorous and detailed recovery plan as detailed in The Athletic recently shows how the club are not just prepared for the challenge, but welcome it.

2. This season has seen you draw quite a few games whilst often seeming to play better in the second half of games in particular, what do you put this down to or is more of an anomaly?

A bit of both I think. You have to take a bit of game management into perspective, trying to ease into the game rather than burn out after only playing another 90 minute game three days earlier. However, this is no different to last season. Wolves are a team that never stop, and build better as the game goes on. Like the pack, they’re always on the hunt (apologies for that lame analogy).

3. You’ll be without Willy Boly for the foreseeable future, just how much of a blow is that to your set up and the way you play?

It is a big blow. Looking at the spine of the team with Patricio, Moutinho and Jiménez, he is part of that golden quartet. 

Boly is a calm, commanding but towering bruiser who stamps his authority on opponents from the get go. His control of the ball, as well as his finishing (Thierry Henry-esque finish against Beşiktaş a few weeks ago) have been a great asset to our defence.

However, a loss of Jiménez or Moutinho would be far greater, given how they’re key to our general play.

4. How do you expect Wolves to set up for this game and what are the main threats Villa should be aware of?

Wolves have recently reverted back to 3-4-3 after a successful 3-5-2 last season. Once again Wolves went into a rut and Nuno tweaked the system. 

Raúl Jiménez is the driving force of the team. Holds the ball up well, links up play and finds the net. He’s just recorded 100 club career goals. João Moutinho is the engine of the side. He will dictate the game in midfield and start Wolves’ attacking play. 

And finally, Adama Traoré. Your former boy. A different beast this season compared to last. He has ironed out his crazy runs into something more assured. Putting 4 men on him won’t work anymore. Fear the counter, FIFA 20’s fastest player will get to the ball first.

5. Given that our rivalry has seemingly escalated in recent seasons has your perception of Villa changed? What areas of Villa’s game do you think you can best exploit & which Villa players do you think could cause you problems?

Villa’s defence will still be the point of attack for Wolves, and our front three, hopefully on form could have a field day.

Villa wise, McGinn is a real standout player. Presuming Grealish is out for Sunday, their battle in midfield with Neves and Moutinho would be fascinating to see. Also Wesley is a unknown commodity and could cause us some problems. 

6. Finally, what is your prediction for how the game will go?

This will be a typical tight derby affair. Without a league derby for a couple of seasons, this will have all the edge and tension you would expect. However, Wolves will edge this and get their first win in four with a 1-0 victory.

Whilst David’s optimism is admirable, and I agree that this game will undoubtedly be a pretty tense affair, certainly in the stands at least, it does also have the potential to be quite entertaining on the pitch in spite of that. Both teams like to attack and are capable of scoring goals so I can’t see it ending goalless. Villa will be keen to bounce back from back to back defeats and the heartbreak of the Liverpool loss, but Wolves will have a demanding fanbase getting right behind them for us to contend with. I would obviously love to see a Villa victory (since I live in Wolverhampton, it would make my life easier), but this will be a very tough task and in truth, a point would be very welcome too. Having lost on our last two visits to the Molineux, this would be an ideal time to break that trend.

by Jamie Yapp

UTV

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