As Dean Smith prepares his Aston Villa side for the visit of Wolves on Saturday, there will be five mini-battles that will be important to the outcome.
Villa were disappointingly flat against Tottenham last time out prior to the international break, and so despite the gap between games, a reaction is certainly expected to produce a much-improved performance.
While we were generally quite lacklustre, it was a display devoid of any real quality or fluidity, and so whether it’s a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3 that Smith goes with, it’s hoped that we play to our level and give the Wolves defence a serious test.
Mings, Konsa & Hause vs Jimenez
Raul Jimenez is going to be a handful this weekend, with his physicality and threat in the box no doubt set to be a real test for the Villa backline.
If we go with three at the back, it will be down to Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause to all limit his influence and isolate him up front, and it remains to be seen if they do that by committee or opt for it to be the task of one individual.
Either way, keeping Jimenez quiet could help to break Wolves’ rhythm and starve them of any threatening openings.
Traore vs Targett
Matt Targett has already had one nightmare outing this season in our opener at Watford against Ismaila Sarr, and so the sight of Adama Traore lining up opposite him will be a concern.
The Wolves winger’s pace, directness and skill will test the Villa left wing-back, and he has to be on his game to avoid being caught out in behind, while Mings coming across to help him out will be vital too.
If Villa can nullify the threat on the wings, we’ll stand a good chance of keeping a clean sheet.
Hee-Chan vs Cash
Similarly on the opposite flank, Matty Cash will need to be switched on throughout.
Hee-Chan Hwang has three goals in four Premier League games so far this season, and so he’ll come into this one as the visitors’ in-form attacker.
Cash has been excellent thus far, both in his defensive duties and going forward. We’ll need him to put in another top shift this weekend.
One thing Villa can’t allow to happen is for Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho, if that’s the double act Wolves go with, to settle and control the tempo of the game with possession.
If they are allowed that freedom to get comfortable, such is their quality on the ball, it will lead to problems for our defensive unit.
In turn, Marvelous Nakamba and John McGinn have to be dominant in midfield, applying pressure and hurrying them into mistakes while also breaking up play in front of our defence to offer a line of protection. Emiliano Buendia or Jacob Ramsey, depending on who gets the nod, will also be crucial in this scrap with their pressing in Wolves’ half of the pitch.
Watkins, Ings vs back three
We’ve yet to see the best of the Ollie Watkins-Danny Ings partnership, and it’s hoped that we see more positive signs on Saturday.
Watkins was on the mark against Spurs to get his first goal of the season, while Ings was more influential when his teammate was sidelined by injury.
Neither can be faulted in terms of work ethic as they press from the front and track back to apply pressure. However, while Watkins has been wasteful in recent games, Ings has struggled to offer a real threat in the final third. It’s hoped that they link up to both cause Wolves problems, with Bruno Lage potentially going with three at the back too.