5 things to know | Wolves vs Villa

Aiming to bounce back from their defeat to Liverpool last time out, Wolves will be as prepared as they can be when they take on West Midlands rivals Aston Villa at Molineux, but here are five things to know before Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.

1. LOOKING FOR A HAT-TRICK

Recent history has looked kindly on Wolves in their West Midlands fixtures with Aston Villa, after Nuno Espirito Santo’s men did the double over the claret and blue last season, winning 1-0 at Villa Park following a 2-1 victory in the corresponding clash at Molineux. If Wolves were to make it a hat-trick of victories on Saturday, it will be the first time a gold and black side have achieved the feat since 1960, when Wolves win a run of seven matches against Villa between that year and 1957.

Wolves have already completed a Molineux hat-trick, winning their last three home matches against Villa, which comes as part of a run of just one loss in the last six league meetings between the two sides, but the old gold faithful will be hoping their team can make it four Molineux victories in a row on Saturday.

2. AN EMPTY MOLINEUX

Having experienced a Premier League match with supporters inside the stadium for the first time since March at Anfield last weekend, Wolves will go back to playing in front of an empty Molineux on Saturday due to Wolverhampton being under the tier three of local Covid-19 restrictions. However, all that could change on Wednesday as the tier system is due to be reviewed by the government. If Wolverhampton becomes tier two or below, Molineux could see supporters back inside the stadium by the Christmas clash with Tottenham Hotspur.

Despite only having 2,000 supporters sat in the Kop at Anfield last Sunday, the difference created by having the backing of a home crowd had a huge impact on proceedings, according to both Nuno and Leander Dendoncker, who spoke about the crowd in their post-match interviews.

I think it’s a huge difference. It felt like there were at least 15,000 people in here when you heard the noise they made. They managed to push their team forward. Obviously, it’s way better with the fans and if the situation allows it, then I hope all the stadiums can be full sometime soon.
Leander Dendoncker

3. BOUNCING BACK

Both Wolves and Villa are coming into Saturday’s game with a point to prove following disappointing results. Dean Smith’s side have had a long wait since their 2-1 loss to West Ham United at the end of November, after their match against Newcastle United was postponed last weekend due to a Covid outbreak amongst the Magpies’ squad. The visitors to Molineux have lost four of their past five league matches, however, they have won three of their four away games in the Premier League this season, keeping a clean sheet in all three victories.

Despite Wolves’ 4-0 loss to the reigning Premier League champions Liverpool, they come into Saturday’s game with 17 points – their highest tally after 11 matches of a top-flight season since 1979. Although Nuno’s side have gone through stages since their return to the division three years ago in struggling to beat the teams towards the bottom of the table, Wolves are currently unbeaten in all six games they have played against teams below them this season, as well as being on a four-match home league run without defeat.

#WOLAVL

4. RAUL RETURNS TO COMPTON

Ahead of Saturday’s 12.30pm kick-off, Wolves’ squad were handed an enormous boost at training on Wednesday when they were surprised by a visit from injured striker Raul Jimenez. The Mexican paid a visit to his teammates at the Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground for the first time since the serious head injury he sustained during November’s win at Arsenal.

Jimenez was greeted with hugs and smiles by the squad, who broke momentarily from training to welcome their friend back to Compton Park, before the forward watched a portion of the session alongside head coach Nuno, before returning home. Following the defeat to Liverpool, Nuno admitted that the loss of Raul was a huge blow to his team, but being able to see their teammate for the first time following his sickening injury would have put them in a more positive frame of mind for the visit of Villa.

5. DECISIONS TO BE MADE

In the past three matches, Wolves have started their games playing four at the back, following three years of persisting with a back five, but with four goals conceded at Anfield, Nuno has a decision to make, whether to stick with the current set-up or switch back. Since playing with four in defence, Wolves have conceded seven goals in three matches, while with a back five, the old gold had the division’s best defensive record at home this season, conceding just five goals, while keeping eight clean sheets in their past 11 league games at Molineux.

Villa have had more than a week to prepare for their trip to Molineux, but the long break between games has not allowed Smith to recover any of his key players for Saturday, with Ross Barkley remaining absent for the match. One change the Villa boss could make is bringing in Bertrand Traore for Trezeguet, after the Egyptian – who scored in this fixture last season – has attempted 22 shots on goal without scoring in the Premier League so far this campaign.