Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 Aston Villa
- Goals: Ruben Neves (£5.3m), Raul Jimenez (£7.3m) | Trezeguet (£5.2m)
- Assists: Joao Moutinho (£5.3m), Adama Traore (£5.2m) | None
- Bonus: Jimenez, Neves x3, Trezeguet x1
Nuno Espirito Santo’s return to a 3-4-3 has helped unlock Wolverhampton Wanderers’ attacking potential in the past few months.
Since the Wolves head coach revisited the formation in earnest in Gameweek 6, the West Midlands club have shown steady improvement.
Santo’s troops are indeed unbeaten in the top flight since that 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, a run that stretches back seven league games.
They have also scored in every match over that period.
It’s not quite as simplistic as basic formation choices, of course: Wolves’ fixture schedule from Gameweeks 1 to 5 was tricky and they faced some of the division’s meanest defences during that run.
Since then, they have encountered rather more obliging backlines in the form of Aston Villa, Arsenal and Watford.
Still, there has been more than just circumstantial evidence to back up the increased goal threat.
Take the fixture against Newcastle in Gameweek 10: three shots on goal in a 3-5-2 in the opening 45 minutes and then ten attempts after the break when a 3-4-3 was deployed.
There were similar second-half improvements in matches against Southampton and Slovan Bratislava in October, with Santo again turning to a 3-4-3 at the interval.
Sunday’s victory over Aston Villa continued the trend, with the hosts racking up 17 shots at Molineux, taking their total to 51 since the second half kicked off at St. James’ Park a fortnight ago.
Yes, Villa were without key figures such as Tom Heaton (£4.5m), Bjorn Engels (£4.5m) and Jack Grealish (£5.9m).
And yes, Dean Smith’s side have made a habit of conceding a lot of chances this season.
But this was one of Wolves’ best offensive performances of 2019/20, with the narrow scoreline not reflecting their total dominance.
It had looked like being a frustrating afternoon for the increasing number of Fantasy managers who own Raul Jimenez (£7.3m), who had sliced wide on four occasions before latching onto Adama Traore‘s (£5.2m) cut-back on 83 minutes to put Wolves 2-0 up and effectively kill the game.
Diogo Jota‘s (£6.1m) owners didn’t experience such late-in-the-day joy.
The Portuguese striker blanked for the ninth time in ten appearances and collected a yellow card to boot but there were a handful of decent openings for the mid-price FPL forward, who nodded straight at Orjan Nyland (£4.3m) from close range and saw the substitute Villa keeper smother another effort from inside the six-yard box.
The man who replaced Jota late on, Pedro Neto (£5.0m), also fired wide when well-placed in stoppage time.
Santo hailed his side’s display but also bemoaned the profligacy in front of goal, saying:
We played very, very good – very, very well. We dominated the game, especially in the first half. We created a lot of problems for Villa, a lot of chances.
When you produce so many things, you must finish the actions. This what we’re going to analyse now as we broke a lot of times and we had chances, but some we didn’t finish.
Part of the reason why a 3-4-3 has been so successful has been the pairing of Traore with Matt Doherty (£6.0m) down the right flank.
The pair again wreaked havoc down the wing against Villa, with Traore crashing a shot against the bar in the second half and Doherty repeatedly getting into promising positions in the opposition area on the ‘underlap’ – much as he did in 2018/19.
Santo said of Traore’s performance:
He’s playing very well. He’s sticking to his tasks and helping the team. He’s unique, he gives you these moments that only he can produce.
One of the by-products of this move to a 3-4-3 has been the slightly more advanced role that Ruben Neves (£5.3m) is now occupying.
Previously the anchoring midfielder of a 3-5-2, Neves is now playing further forward alongside Joao Moutinho (£5.3m) and the two compatriots combined for Wolves’ opening goal – albeit from a free-kick, rather than from open play.
Santo said ahead of Sunday’s game:
This is a competition in which we have to adapt and find solutions and one of those was to start playing a different way. We need solutions in this situation and one of them is Ruben (more advanced) alongside Joao.
Some perspective has to be provided here, however: Neves and Moutinho still only had one penalty box touch between them this weekend.
Neves, like teammate Romain Saiss (£4.4m) is also now just one booking away from a one-match ban.
The international break now gives some Wolves’ assets a welcome breather following their brutal schedule of the past three months.
Traore will be one of the ones staying at home but – apparently – only because of injury.
The pacy winger is at the centre of a tussle between Mali and Spain on the international stage and received his maiden call-up by the latter this weekend, only to subsequently pull out.
Traore said yesterday:
Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the call of the national team because of an injury in the game we played this Sunday against Aston Villa.
I am sorry I cannot be in this call-up, but I will continue working to be in the best possible way for the next list, God willing.
I want to thank for the confidence that the coach has placed in me. I will have medical tests at my club, Wolverhampton, to know the extent of the injury.
It remains to be seen if Jimenez is also spared international duty after the Mexican striker limped from the pitch on Sunday, with an ice pack swiftly applied to his leg on the home bench.
Santo said after full-time:
We have to assess Raul now, the medical department will assess him.
Villa were also blighted by injury on Sunday, with Heaton (who has now pulled out of the England squad), Engels and Grealish failing to recover ahead of kick-off.
Jed Steer‘s (£4.4m) Premier League debut then lasted all of eight minutes before he was substituted with an Achilles injury, while Matt Targett (£4.4m) suffered a blow to the head and was also replaced after complaining of blurred vision.
Smith said after full-time:
Tom Heaton’s been struggling with a calf so I knew he was going to pull out of the game. Jack was always 50/50. Bjorn (hip) came to see me yesterday morning so I always knew we were struggling with that.
In the game, you get Jed Steer going down after three minutes on his first Premier League start with an Achilles injury.
What the international period will do will enable them to be fit for the Newcastle game. I’m not too sure about Jed Steer, I’ll wait for the prognosis on his Achilles injury.
Smith was critical of his players’ first-half performance especially and refused to blame injuries, saying:
It still doesn’t affect your desire to go and win a header, a tackle, a second ball and just help your teammates out and I didn’t think we did that first half.
That’s as bad a first 45 minutes I’ve had since Wigan away last year. Very poor, didn’t start.
It appeared the game was bigger for them than it was for us, we didn’t win any balls, duels, didn’t pass it well. The best thing I got out of the first half was it was only 1-0 at half-time.
Indeed, Ezri Konsa (£4.3m) performed well enough in Engels’ stead and Nyland didn’t do a lot wrong between the sticks.
Instead, there were off-days from some of Villa’s regulars, with the three central midfielders – including John McGinn (£5.8m) – ineffective and hot-and-cold wide players Trezeguet (£5.2m) and Anwar El Ghazi (£5.5m) very much towards the chilly end of the scale at Molineux.
It was Trezeguet who snatched Villa’s consolation in stoppage time from a corner-kick situation.
After their excellent display against Liverpool, we can probably forgive Villa’s assets for this one below-par performance – although Fantasy interest may be lukewarm until the fixtures really turn favourable in mid-December.
Wolves XI (3-4-3): Rui Patricio; Dendoncker, Coady, Saiss; Doherty, Neves (Bennett 85′) Moutinho, Jonny; Traore, Jimenez (Cutrone 90′), Jota (Pedro Neto 83′).
Aston Villa XI (4-3-3): Steer (Nyland 8′); Guilbert, Konsa, Mings, Targett (Taylor 45′); McGinn, Nakamba (Lansbury 69′), Douglas Luiz; El Ghazi, Wesley, Trezeguet.
GAMEWEEK 12 – FPL MATCH REPORTS
- Norwich City 0-2 Watford
- Chelsea 2-0 Crystal Palace
- Burnley 3-0 West Ham United
- Newcastle United 2-1 Bournemouth
- Southampton 1-2 Everton
- Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Everton
- Leicester City 2-0 Arsenal
- Manchester United 3-1 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Wolves 2-1 Aston Villa
- Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City
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