Having beaten two relegation candidates since the restart, Wolves travel to Villa Park on Saturday to take on a third. Is there any hope for Dean Smith's strugglers? Steve Rawlings previews the game
“With no fans present, games have been starting slowly across Europe and of the 22 Premier League matches we’ve had to date, 13 have still been 0-0 at the break. Both Wolves games so far have been 0-0 at halftime and two of Villa’s three, suggesting odds of almost 2/1 about a 0-0 score line at halftime is well worth taking.”
Aston Villa v Wolves
Saturday June 27, 12:30
Live on BT Sports
Hope for the Villa after bright restart
Following their 1-0 home defeat to Everton on Wednesday night, Norwich are now six points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table and seemingly destined for a swift return to the Championship but it's tight above the Canaries.
Watford's 1-0 defeat at Burnley on Thursday evening has resulted in four teams separated by just a solitary point, with West Ham, Bournemouth and Villa all on 27 points, one behind the Hornets.
Watford's defeat to the Clarets was a blow but they displayed their fighting spirit under Nigel Pearson in their penultimate game against Leicester, when equalising deep into extra time and of the four, they look the most likely to survive.
West Ham have been really poor since the restart, losing tamely 2-0 to both Wolves (H) and Spurs (A) and Bournemouth haven't been any better. They were well beaten by Crystal Palace at home, going 2-0 down inside the first 23 minutes, and while they did improve on that performance at Molineux on Wednesday evening, it was no surprise when the home side took the lead. The Cherries have now conceded in each of their last 14 Premier League games.
In contrast to West Ham and Bournemouth, Villa have been promising since the resumption. They were very lucky to have Sheffield United's perfectly legitimate goal ruled out in their opening match at Villa Park, when the goal-line technology failed (finished 0-0), and although they eventually lost 2-1 at home to Chelsea, they were leading at half time. And they were the slightly better team at St James' Park on Wednesday evening, where Ahmed Elmohamady's late headed equaliser earnt them a point against Newcastle.
Villa have won just two of the last 21 points available but it's two more than their closest relegation rivals since the restart and they've had a higher xG rate than their opponents in each of their three games since the Premier League resumed. They had an xG of 1.01 to Sheffield United's 0.24, 1.54 to Chelsea's 1.14 and their xG on Wednesday night was 1.23. Newcastle's was only 0.66. Dean Smith's men are rallying and given the stalemate with the Blades was only the second time they've failed to score at home this season, they might just push Wolves harder than their relegation rivals have done recently.
After Norwich, the market considers Villa the next most likely club to be relegated but I'm not convinced that's correct on recent form.
In-form Wolves looking for their fifth win in six
This will be Wolves' third fixture since the restart and their third in-a-row against a team battling for survival. They ran out comfortable 2-0 winners away at West Ham before beating Bournemouth 1-0 at home on Wednesday evening, with their deadly duo of Adama Traoré and Raúl Jiménez combining for the tenth time this season. In fact, the Mexican's headed goal against the Cherries was almost a carbon copy to their opener at the London Stadium, after another pinpoint Traoré cross.
Nuno Espírito Santo's charges have now conceded in just one of their last seven Premier League encounters, they've won four of their last five games and since losing to Watford on New Year's Day, the champions, Liverpool, are the only team to have beaten them in the Premier League this year. Wolves are currently sitting sixth in the table - level on points with Manchester United in fifth, with Spurs four points adrift in seventh place.
Chelsea's 2-1 win against Manchester City on Thursday night has seen the Blues put six points between them and fifth place but with a UEFA Champions League ban still looming over City, a place in the competition next season is a distinct possibility for Wolves.
A fifth placed finish would be enough if City's CAS appeal fails but even if they don't finish fifth or City are successful, a Champions League place is still possible via the Europa League. Wolves drew away at Olympiacos 1-1 in the first leg of the Round of 16 in the final game before the break and they're trading at just a shade over 6/1 to win it.
Wolves the warm favourites
Although clearly a very smart outfit, Wolves have had it easy since the restart and while, on paper, they're up against yet more relegation fodder, local derbies, with or without fans, are often keenly contested. They have a very decent record away from home and they're currently fifth in the Away Form table but I'm in no rush to take the odds-on about them in the outright market.
Villa have won twice as many points at home as they have on the road and more often than not, they've picked up at least a point at Villa Park - winning five, drawing three and losing seven - although they're yet to beat any of the big teams at home. Their five victories have come against Everton, Brighton, Newcastle, Norwich and Watford and other than their win against the Toffees, their 0-0 draw with the Blades in their first game back is their best result at home against any club inside the top half of the table all season. The absence of fans is a sizable handicap too and given they've not won in seven, it's very hard to make a case for them.
Given Villa have drawn two of their last three and that Wolves have drawn as many as they've won away from home this season (six), the draw is arguably the best bet in the outright market but I prefer to steer towards the side markets, where there looks to be a number of opportunities.
Another slow start can produce more profit
Villa's 0-0 draw against the Blades was the first occasion that they've failed to find the net at Villa Park since they drew 0-0 with West Ham back in September and they're creating a few chances if their recent XG figures are anything to go by, suggesting Yes in the Both Teams to Score market looks a fair bet at just a shade under even money but it's not that simple. Wolves are very tight at the back - conceding in just one of their last seven in the Premier League.
Under 2.5 is the odds-on favourite in the Over/Under 2.5 Goals market and that isn't a surprise. That bet would have paid out in four of the five games contested by these two sides since the restart and another low scoring game could well be on the cards but I prefer to concentrate on the trend emerging for low scoring first halves since the restart...
With no fans present, games have been starting slowly across Europe and of the 22 Premier League matches we've had to date, 13 have still been 0-0 at the break. Both Wolves games so far have been 0-0 at half time and two of Villa's three, suggesting odds of almost 2/1 about a 0-0 score line at half time is well worth taking.
Wolves have already won away from home six times so far this season but they've only actually led at half time once, whereas they've been drawing at half time on six occasions on the road. They were drawing their last two matches at the break before going on to win and taking odds of in excess of 4/1 about Draw/Wolves in the Half Time/Full Time market makes far more appeal than 2/1 for Wolves/Wolves or taking the odds-on in the win market But it's still worth placing a small saver on Aston Villa/Wolves.
Prior to their away win at West Ham last weekend, Wolves were trailing at the break in each of their three previous away victories - at Norwich, Southampton and Spurs - and they also beat Manchester City at home after trailing 1-0 at the break. Add in the fact that Villa have been beaten five times already this season having taken the lead (more than any other team in the Premier League) and that Wolves have won more points from losing positions than any other team (21) and 36.035/1 looks huge.
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Staked: 61.25 pts
Returned: 77.5 pts
P/L: +16.25 pts
1.5 pts 0-0 Half Time score @ 2.9215/8
1 pt Draw - Wolves @ 5.24/1 in the Half Time/Full Time market
0.25 pt Aston Villa – Wolves @ 36.035/1 in the Half Time/Full Time market