Aston Villa vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Tactical preview and predicted line-ups
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Tyrone Mings of Aston Villa in action during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa at Molineux on December 12, 2020 in Wolverhampton, England. The match will be played without fans, behind closed doors as a Covid-19 precaution. (Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images)

Wolverhampton Wanderers will be looking to bounce back from their recent 4-1 defeat against Manchester City, when they face an Aston Villa side who are still chasing the European qualification places in the Premier League.

VAVEL UK predicts the line-ups for Saturday evening's league clash, with both fan-bases eager to put one over their local rivals.

  • The Opposition

When the sides met last season in the league at Villa Park, Wolves were able to sneak away with a 0-1 win. Dean Smith and his side were fighting relegation back then, with the Claret & Blue Army just about surviving by the skin of their teeth.

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The tables have most definitely turned approaching the fixture this time around, with Villa fans no doubt smugly teasing 'Mind the gap' to their West Midlands rival. Villa bested Wolves earlier in the season and are now sitting three places above them in 9th, with two games in hand, with eyes on slotting into one of the European qualification places before the seasons ends.

The return of Ross Barkley to the side should also mean a return to a 4-2-3-1 formation for Villa. This would put Barkley in the centre of the attacking three midfielders, allowing him to operate in between Wolves' midfield and defence.

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It is still touch and go as to whether captain Jack Grealish will be available for the clash, with the 25-year-old having been indispensable for his side over the past few seasons. This does mean that Anwar El-Ghazi will get another opportunity on the left of that attacking midfield three, with the Dutchman already doing a good job in his skipper's absence.

On the opposite wing should see Bertrand Traoré, who has also been in fine form this season. Top goalscorer Ollie Watkins should be picked to lead the line, with the former Exeter City graduate causing Wolves' defence all kinds of trouble last time out.

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Saturday's game should see another appearance in goal for Emiliano Martínez. The Argentine has been incredible between the sticks since arrival at the start of the season and has been a huge part in their solid defensive displays, which currently sees Villa with the second-best defensive record in the league

Villa are still without Matty Cash, so will be going with a familiar back four to previous games. Down the middle should see the familiar pairing of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa, who have been ever so consistent and reliable for the Lions.

In place of Cash should see another start for Ahmed Elmohamady at right back, with Matt Targett in his usual place on the opposite side. In midfield sitting in front of the defence should be Marvelous Nakamba and John McGinn, who will be responsible for preventing Wolves' midfield from clicking.

  • Tactics and Formations

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo will most likely opt to go with a familiar 3-4-3 formation, which has seen the team bounce back after a torrid couple of months of results.

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The Black Country side are still without Raúl Jiménez, with the striker only now back in training, with Nuno confident that the Mexican will feature again before the season finishes. The role left up top has been an arduous position to fill, with teenager Fabio Silva initially promoted to lead the attack.

The Portuguese did relatively well considering that he was not expected to be in the starting eleven so early in his Wolves career. However, the expectancy and pressure governed by leading a Premier League team was too tall an order to ask of Silva alone, with the side bringing in Willian Jose to bolster the attack.

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The Brazilian though has also struggled to make an impact. With Silva looking impressive coming off the bench in the past few games, there is a big call to let the youngster have another crack at leading the line from the start.

Silva will be relying on the supply line of both Pedro Neto and Adama Traore, who will no doubt have a major influence on the game if they arrive at Villa Park in the mood to play. They will be asking big questions of Elmohamady and Targett at full backs, but Villa are not a team that concede many goals, so this will be an interesting battle.

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There is no doubt that Rui Patricio will start in goal for the Wanderers, with the 33-year-old being one of the best players in their 4-1 loss to Manchester City, which could easily have been a cricket score if not for the heroics of the Portuguese international on the night. 

Wolves are still without Willy Boly in defence, who is close to getting back to full fitness, but will probably just miss out on getting an appearance on Saturday. This will probably mean that Nuno will go with his captain Conor Coady in the middle of the three, with Leander Dendoncker and Romain Saiss to feature alongside.

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Yet, Saturday's fixture could see Maximilian Kilman being given the nod over Saiss or Dendoncker, with Nuno also with the choice of Ki-Jana Hoever. It is though more likely that it will be a job for the more experienced players to keep Villa at bay.

With Grealish not set to feature, Nélson Semedo can breath a sigh of relief at right wing-back. El-Ghazi will still look to cause the 27-year-old trouble though, so he will still have to be on his toes come kick-off.

Wolves will continue to aid the recovery of Jonny Castro Otto at left wing back, with the Spaniard beginning to feel and play like his old self with every minute he gets on the pitch. Loan signing Rayan Ait-Nouri has not featured in the side for a while now, so it would not be a surprise if Nuno did give the young Frenchman the nod instead over Jonny for this one.

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It was the late game appearance of a nightmare for Owen Otasowie against City, with the American giving the ball away in his own box, which ultimately ended up in the back of the net. It may be harsh, but it would be surprising to see Nuno start the 20-year-old after such a bad outing.

This means that Wolves will be relying on the midfield Portuguese partnership of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho. When their side are playing well, it is because they are playing well, which means that Villa will need to nullify them in order to control the game. With Villa playing three down the middle, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

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  • Predicted Line-Ups

With Grealish and Cash still not able to feature, Villa should line-up as follows:

Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Targett, Elmohamady Konsa, Mings; McGinn, Nakamba; B. Traore, El Ghazi; Watkins.

If Boly is still deemed not ready to feature, the Wolves line-up should be:

Wolves (3-4-3): Patricio; Dendoncker, Saiss, Coady; Semedo, Otto, Moutinho, Neto; Neto, Traore, Silva.