You never quite know what you have until it’s gone.
It’s one of the most honest phrases human beings have. The absence of something is only really generally heightened when you know deep down that is was good to you.
Alright, alright…I’m talking football and the dreaded international break. For Aston Villa, this is the second break this season that came at a very inopportune time. With the mighty Villa on an 8 game unbeaten run and in decent form, a break in the action isn’t ideal for anyone with the lion crest over their heart. Especially with the fixture list coming up. Wolves, then Fulham, then the six-fingered neighbours whose name shall not be spoken. Taking it one step at a time is usually a good idea in any facet. Let’s take a dive into what to expect from Wolves coming off of the international break, shall we?
One thing that Villa fans cannot run away from is the fact that Wolves are pretty damn good these days. Manager Espírito Santo arrived from Porto FC in May of this year and hasn’t looked back since taking the lead for Wolves. In 14 total games played under Santo, Wolves have won 10 games while only losing two and drawing two. This type of managerial statistic does hold some weight, even before looking at any of the players that Santo has at his disposal. The Portuguese coach has won exactly 100 games throughout his managerial career, and be certain he is going to try his hardest to make it 101 after Saturdays contest against Villa at Molineux.
With Aston Villa seemingly banishing their away woes of the past, this specific trip to Molineux will not be an easy one for Steve Bruce or his players. With Bruce being a forward thinking manager, and with his team having to stomp on the brakes for the past two weeks, there are not a lot of experts giving the Villa a chance of winning this game. When those opinions are thrown around it seems that Bruce feeds off of that negative talk. Make no mistake, this is a massive test for Steve Bruce. After being booed off the pitch after back-to-back goal-less draws to Middlesborough and Brentford at the start of September, Bruce turned it around to see Villa shoot up the table and currently placed in 7th. If Bruce is to make a serious push for promotion this season, playoffs or automatic, he needs to ensure he is winning or at least nicking points from the ‘big boys’ in the Championship.
That’s right. Believe it or not, Wolves are one of the bigger teams in this division and their place in the table solidifies that. Sitting 2nd on the table with 23 points from 11 games, this is definitely not the Wolves team we remember from the past. Full of attacking intent and pace, this new look Wolves squad definitely has the skills and panache to take the game to any opponent in the division. There is definitely a clash of styles on the cards for this contest. as Aston Villa are set-up to absorb pressure and then employ a direct passing style with their own pace.
Jonathan Kodjia must be a focal point to the Villans end-product on the pitch. Even with emergence of fellow young striker Keinan Davis, this just feels like a game that “King Kodjia” will have a thing or two to say about the result. While Villa has not had to rely on Kodjia for goals like they did during last years campaign, a few goals in the Black Country could get him right back into his scoring ways. Conor Hourihane will also be a Villa player who needs to have a very sound game. Sure, we all love it when Conor finds the back of the net. But this unique match up needs a proper engine man in the middle of the park. If Steve Bruce keeps to his starting eleven as of late, Hourihane will be among the first names on the team sheet. Hourihane has been critical for Villa all over the park, especially with his 82% passing accuracy this season. While not the best accuracy percentage in the league, Hourihane has a undeniable quality of finding the right man at the right time and makes sure his pass is calculated. Hourihane also has an average of 65 touches per game, making him one of the players in the Villa squad who loves to find open space to find a more attacking option.
Wolves main striking threat is Léo Bonatini, and you can be certain you will hear his name a lot during this game. He is not the only name you will hear at length. Midfielder Diogo Jota has scored 6 goals in 11 matches so far this season, and has the entire Championship talking about him. The Atletico Madrid loanee has been tearing the league apart so far, and his statistics show just how good he is. The Portugese man has a 42% shooting accuracy and has scored all but one of his goals from his right foot. A 78% passing accuracy on 392 total passes also points towards Jota not always being forward thinking for the sake of scoring goals. But, if Villa can find a way to get him going in the wrong direction and get under his skin a bit while doing so, the Lions may just see Jota become a moot point. Again, this will come down to intelligent midfield play and taking opportunities as they come to Villa. Jota has personally committed 21 fouls and has found himself in the referees book on two separate occasions. This is something Steve Bruce should be mindful of, and should tell his players to attempt to keep Jota off of his game.
Aston Villa comes into this contest with a laundry list of injuries that seems ever present. Unavailable for the Wolves clash are Gabriel Agbonlahor, Mile Jedinak, Henri Lansbury, Jack Grealish and Andre Green. As we all know Grealish and Green are out long term, it would have been mighty fine to have the bearded Jedinak on the bench for such an important contest. Being such a vital member of the first team selection last season, one has to wonder if the Aussie will ever get over his niggling injury after surgery in the summer. While the team selection has been water-tight in the past few games with Steve Bruce picking identical sides, Joshua Onomah may be a nice attacking option from the bench after a wonderful showing on the international break. With his confidence as high as ever, the young Tottenham starlet may just have that little bit extra that Aston Villa need during the latter stages of the game.
You never quite know what you have until it’s gone.