Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Southampton: Pre-match analysis
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: A general view ahead of the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton at Molineux on November 23, 2020 in Wolverhampton, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images)

Thursday evening will see Wolverhampton Wanderers host Southampton in the fifth round of the FA Cup. With both clubs seemingly settling for mid-table finishes in the Premier League, this will be the last opportunity both sides have to keep their seasons alive.

VAVEL provides a pre-match analysis ahead of the game for both sides, focusing on their exploits in the cup competition so far.

  • A very brief cup history between the sides

The first three fixtures between the two teams all took place in the FA Cup with the first in 1905, the second in 1908 and the third in 1914. Since then, the sides have faced each other in the League Cup and in the top two flights of English football. 

Yet they have only played each other one more time in the FA Cup in 2003, nearly a century after their last meeting in the competition in 1914. 

This means that analysing the history between the two sides in the competition does not give an accurate overview, with both sides winning two times out the four games played. 

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Wolves have lifted the competition more times than Southampton, with the Midlanders being crowned winners on four occasions, with the Saints' only lifting it once. 

  • A tale of two ties for Wolves

Wolves kicked off their cup campaign against Crystal Palace at the Molineux in the third round, with a 1-0 win thanks to a thunderous strike from Adama Traore. The win gave boss Nuno Espirito Santo some much-needed positivity in the midst of struggling form in the league.

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The team in old gold dominated the affair, with the Eagles not able to register one shot on target throughout the whole game. Wolves went with a 4-3-2-1 formation at the time, choosing to continue with the back four experiment.

The fourth round took Wolves back to 1986, as they took on non-league side Chorley FC once again in the competition. The Molineux side dominated possession with 77% in their favour, but only produced one shot on target, with the switch to a back three clearly impacting their attacking prowess this time around. 

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Fortunately, the shot was a spectacular strike from the on-loan Portuguese youngster Vitinha. Yet, Chorley were very dangerous throughout and managed five shots on target. The non-league side walked away from the game most likely disappointed that they did not push the Premier League side even more than they did.

  • Saints show that they can attack and defend

The Saints overwhelmed Shrewsbury Town in their third-round 2-0 victory, with a plethora of chances created and with 74% possession. Captain James Ward-Prowse was amongst the scorers, with the side lining up in a familiar 4-4-2 formation. 

Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl opted to give some of his more fringe players a chance in that game, showing that the Saints have strength-in-depth in their squad.

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A completely different game was in store for the fourth round though, as the Saints faced an Arsenal side who absolutely adore a good cup run. The Gunners dominated the ball with 62% possession, forcing Southampton to play most of the game without the ball.

Both sides still registered the same amount of shots though, but it was an own goal that proved to be difference between the two teams, as Southampton scrambled away with a 1-0 win.

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Interestingly, the Saints played a similar 4-4-2 again, but utilised it differently to how they did against Shrewsbury. This shows that they can switch between attacking and defending seamlessly, which will prove invaluable against Wolves.

  • Back four or back three for Wolves?

John Ruddy will be expected to start as the designated cup keeper for Wolves. With Rui Patricio not in the best of form of late, Ruddy could easily begin to ask the question to Nuno by putting in a solid performance here.

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Fabio Silva has started both ties in the cup, but with new loan-signing Willian Jose now in the ranks, it will be interesting to see who Nuno chooses to go with. Both players badly need a goal, but only one of them will most likely start.

A lot will depend on whether Wolves go with a back four or back three. With Southampton a little out of form in the league, Wolves may choose to use a more attacking formation, meaning a back four. 

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This will allow the likes of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves or even Vitinha again to try and dictate the game from the middle of the park. It will be on the wings that Wolves will look most dangerous though, with both Pedro Neto and Traore in good form ahead of the fixture.

  • Clinical strikers and a set-piece magician for the Saints

Hasenhuttl will most likely stick to his usual formation, relying on the partnership of Jan Bednerak and Jack Stephens at the back in front of Fraser Forster in goal.

Southampton will also be looking to dictate the middle of the park with Ward-Prowse, but they may be without Ibrahima Diallo due to a hamstring injury. Wolves will have to ensure that they do not give any silly fouls away near their box, as Ward-Prowse's quality with set pieces will no doubt be utilised by the Saints.

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The side from Hampshire will be hoping that their main two strikers Danny Ings and Che Adams will produce the goods to get them through the tie. They will be looking at Wolves' performance against Chorley to know that they can get at the Wanderers, with both men very capable in front of goal. 

  • In summary

It should be a very close game between the two sides who are in dire need of a good cup run to keep their seasons going. Optimistically, both teams will come out of the blocks raring to go, looking to bag plenty of goals to make this tie a classic.

Pessimistically however, both sides may be too worried about losing the game. This will mean that both teams will sit back and play  too overly-cautious, with one goal being the difference between the two.

Neither side have been prolific in previous rounds in terms of scoring, so a considered approach from both sides is more likely to happen. They will both aim to not give much away early on, with the game opening up more and more as time goes on. 

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Ultimately though, one team will move onto the quarter-finals, leaving the other with essentially nothing left to play for.