Saturday, December 16
 

Preview: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Aston Villa

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Championship clash between Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa at Molineux.

Two in-form teams will meet on Saturday evening with the added spice of a Midlands derby when high-flying Wolverhampton Wanderers host Aston Villa at Molineux.

Four points separate the two sides in the Championship table after 11 games, and this weekend's contest could see either team deal a damaging blow to the promotion hopes of one of their biggest rivals.


Wolves

So far, so good for Wolverhampton Wanderers in their bid to return to the Premier League following a five-year absence.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side have reached October while occupying an automatic qualifying spot in the Championship, losing just two of their 11 matches so far this season with those coming against the two teams directly above and below them in the standings.

Just a one-point gap separates Wolves from leaders Cardiff City heading into this weekend, but so tight are things at the top of the table that Wolves could slip down as far as sixth by the time they kick off against Villa on Saturday evening should Sheffield United, Bristol City, Leeds United and Preston North End all win too.

Such competition amongst the leading pack only raises the stakes heading into this derby match, but Wolves will be confident of ending the weekend back in the top two having won four of their last five outings and lost just one of their last nine.

A 4-0 triumph at Burton Albion last month sent Nuno's side into the international break on a high, and they will be keen to keep up that momentum with a third consecutive home victory - something they have achieved just once since April 2015.

Wolves have actually been better on the road so far this season, boasting the Championship's best away record with 13 points, while if only home form counted the promotion chasers would find themselves in the bottom half of the table.

Table-topping Cardiff are the only visiting team to have come away with a win from Molineux in any competition this season, though, and Wolves will need to find their form at home with four of the current top 10 coming up in a row in front of their own fans.

Indeed, it promises to be a telling month for Nuno and his men with promotion hopefuls Preston and Norwich City to come after Villa, in addition to a daunting trip to face Manchester City in the last 16 of the EFL Cup.

Recent Championship form: WDWWLW
Recent form (all competitions): DWWWLW


Aston Villa

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce was forced to field questions over his future during the last international break, with just one win and five points from their opening five games leaving the Villans languishing at the wrong end of the table.

There are plenty who thought the Villa boss may be sacked as a result of that poor start - including Bruce himself according to Harry Redknapp - but the board opted to keep faith with the experienced manager and they have reaped the rewards since.

Villa head into the latest matchday sitting seventh in the table and just one point off the playoff places, and while the landscape of the Championship is likely to have shifted again by the time they are underway at Molineux, victory would take them to within one point of Wolves regardless of what happens elsewhere.

Bruce's side are unbeaten in their last eight Championship matches stretching back to mid-August, including four consecutive wins heading into Saturday's derby.

It is a major upturn in form compared to just one win in seven at the start of the campaign, and Villa have now won as many games in their last four Championship outings as they had in their previous 15.

Not since 1998 have Villa won five league matches on the bounce, so confidence will be as high in their camp ahead of the short trip to Molineux as at any point in their recent history.

Both of Villa's league defeats this season came on the road, but they seem to have addressed that problem and have scored seven goals without reply in their two most recent away matches, beating Barnsley 3-0 and matching Wolves' 4-0 triumph at Burton.

You have to go back to 2010 for the last time Villa won three away league games in a row, and with another trip to a local rival next up when they visit Birmingham, extending that run would give them bragging rights in addition to strengthening their promotion credentials.

Recent Championship form: DDWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): DWLWWW


Team News

Jack Grealish is nearing a return for Aston Villa having missed the entire season so far due to a freak injury sustained in pre-season, but Saturday's match may still come too soon for him.

Andre Green is also a doubt for the visitors, while Mile Jedinak, Keinan Davis and Henri Lansbury will face late fitness test to determine their availability.

Neil Taylor will definitely miss the game through suspension having seen his appeal against the red card from last month's win over Bolton Wanderers turned down.

Wolves, meanwhile, are able to welcome someone back from suspension as Conor Coady returns having missed the 4-0 win at Burton before the international break.

Willy Boly and Ryan Bennett are struggling with injury and are unlikely to recover in time for this weekend, but Romain Saiss, Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota all came through the international break unscathed.

Wolves possible starting lineup:
Ruddy; Batth, Coady, Roderick; Doherty, Neves, saiss, Vinagre; Costa, Jota, Cavaleiro

Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, De Laet; Snodgrass, Whelan, Hourihane, Adomah; Hogan, Kodjia


Head To Head

These two sides have met just five times since 2010, and it is Wolves who boast the bragging rights from those contests with two victories and just one defeat.

However, looking further back it is Villa who have traditionally dominated this fixture, and those two Wolves wins in the past seven years are the only triumphs they have managed in the last 22 meetings between the two sides - a run which stretches back to 1980 and includes 14 Villa wins.

The corresponding fixture last season saw Joe Mason score the only goal of the game to hand Wolves a 1-0 win, whereas the reverse saw both sides score from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw.


We say: Wolves 1-1 Aston Villa

Form often goes out of the window for derby fixtures, but with both sides full of confidence coming into this match it should be an even contest. Wolves may have the home advantage, but Villa have improved on the road of late and we are backing them to come away with a point from Molineux.


Read Next:
Nuno hails contribution of Wolves squad
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