Aston Villa will aim to consolidate their position in the top half of the table when they travel to take on Wolves in the Premier League on Saturday.

Premier League football returns to action this weekend after a two-week hiatus due to the international break, and 14 of the 20 teams will be in action on Saturday. In one of the more exciting match-ups of the matchweek, Aston Villa will lock horns with local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in a derby encounter at the Molineux Stadium.

After mounting a solid run, Wolves have had a mixed bag of results of late. But Bruno Lage’s men are still in with an outside chance to secure a top-six finish as they sit in the eighth spot, just four points shy of sixth-placed Manchester United, albeit having played a game more. Their most recent match ended in a 3-2 defeat to Wolves after picking up back-to-back wins against Watford and Everton.

Aston Villa, meanwhile, do not have much left to play this season, other than a finish in the top ten. Steven Gerrard’s side are currently ninth on the standings but have the likes of Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Southampton hot on their heels. They head into Saturday’s clash on the back of successive defeats to West Ham United and Arsenal, having won their previous three games.

The reverse fixture saw Wolves secure a remarkable 3-2 comeback victory over Aston Villa, with each of their three strikes coming after the 80th minute. Ahead of the latest derby meeting between the two clubs, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Wolves

Wolves will be without their main man Ruben Neves, who was the match-winner in the reverse fixture. The midfielder will be out until next month, while star striker Raul Jimenez misses out due to suspension. Ki-Jana Hoever is another who will not be ready in time for the weekend clash for the home team. But, Pedro Neto is set to return from a foot injury, handing Bruno Lage a boost.

Wolves will set up in a 3-4-2-1 shape in front of goalkeeper Jose Sa, who has been a top addition to the squad. He will be shielded by a three-man defensive unit of Willy Boly, Conor Coady and Romain Saiss. Jonny Castro and Rayan Ait-Nouri will occupy the wing-back slots on the right and left sides, respectively, and provide attacking width to the team.

Neves’ absence in the middle of the park will come as a blow for Wolves. They will look up to Joao Moutinho to provide that bit of creative spark from the centre with his range of distribution, while Leander Dendoncker will be the workhorse for the hosts.

Daniel Podence and Francisco Trincao, who looked good in the loss to Wolves, should slot in as the two attacking midfielders for Wolves and provide support to the main striker, who ought to be Hwang Hee-chan. The returning Neto could be used as a substitute in the latter stages of the game by Lage.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Sa; Boly, Coady, Saiss; Jonny, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Ait-Nouri; Trincao, Podence; Hwang Hee-chan

Aston Villa

Marvelous Nakamba is back in training for Aston Villa but will be involved in reserves’ action this week to build up his fitness. Apart from the midfield enforcer, Steven Gerrard has no other injury/fitness concerns for the trip to the Molineux.

Steven Gerrard has recently resorted to using a 4-3-2-1 formation to accommodate his two playmakers, Philippe Coutinho and Emiliano Buendia, into the starting XI together. And that is likely to be the shape that Villa line up in on Saturday afternoon against their local rivals.

Emiliano Martinez will hold the fort between the sticks. He will be protected by a traditional four-person defensive line of Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings and Lucas Digne. The Frenchman playing a full game and coming out unscathed during the international match will be a huge positive for the Villans heading into the derby. He and Cash will be on the prowl to push forward and provide width.

Douglas Luiz ought to operate in the No. 6 role for Villa and look to curtail the influence of someone like Moutinho. He will have support from John McGinn, who has been operating in a slightly more reserved role of late. Finally, Jacob Ramsey will likely be the third midfielder for the visitors and will have the licence to push forward and join in the attackers to add more numbers in the final third.

As iterated earlier, Coutinho and Buendia will line up as the two attacking midfielders and carry most of the creative burden. They will not only act as a supply line for striker Ollie Watkins but also provide a goal threat themselves.

Probable Lineup (4-3-2-1): Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Digne; Ramsey, Luiz, McGinn; Buendia, Coutinho; Watkins

Key Stats

  • Wolves have won three of their last five Premier League games against Aston Villa (D1, L1), as many as they had in the previous 26 top-flight meetings.
  • Aston Villa have lost consecutive Premier League matches for the third time under Steven Gerrard – they are not lost three in a row since his appointment in November. 
  • Wolves have earned 21 Premier League points this calendar year – only Liverpool, with 28 points, have a better record.
  • Aston Villa have lost 15 of their 29 league matches in 2021-22, equalling their total number of defeats last season. 
  • This season, Wolves have failed to score in eight top-flight home matches, a joint high with Brighton.

Player to Watch

Philippe Coutinho

Not very long ago, he was a persona non-grata at Barcelona. But Coutinho is now the beating heart of this Aston Villa side, having made a stunning impact since his loan move during the January transfer window. Since his return to English shores, the playmaker has been in sublime touch, scoring four goals and setting up three more in just ten Premier League matches.

Coutinho’s form is seemingly set to spark a transfer war for his services in the summer. For now, though, Coutinho will look to continue in his recent upturn of form and help Aston Villa return to winning ways so that they can end the campaign in the top half of the standings.

Prediction

Wolves 1-2 Aston Villa

Wolves head into the game on the back of a disappointing defeat to Leeds United, where they lost after taking a two-goal lead and have now lost four of their last six games in the Premier League. As for Aston Villa, they have lost back-to-back matches and will need to turn things around. But the form Philippe Coutinho has shown holds them in good stead, while Lucas Digne’s return to full fitness will also be a huge boost.

Wolves are always a tough team to beat, especially at home, but the absence of both Ruben Neves and Raul Jimenez will come as a blow for the home team. It could tip the scales in favour of their visitors on Saturday, considering that their balance in midfield goes missing without Neves. The Hard Tackle predicts a narrow win for the Villans at the Molineux.

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