Aston Villa vs. Norwich City, Match Preview: These Are The Games We Have To Win

NORWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Norwich players congratulate Steve Morison of Norwich after scoring their second goal with a header during the Barclay's premier league match between Norwich and Sunderland at Carrow Road on August 21, 2011 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

That Villa are going to draw a lot this season shouldn't be too controversial a statement. Points are what move you up the table and the only way to not get points is to lose, and Alex McLeish managed teams do their best to make sure they don't lose. It isn't always the most thrilling strategy but it's defensible in a lot of circumstances and it's a lot easier to feel good about a team's effort if they aren't dropping points. Still, a team that draws every single game isn't going to be especially successful; 38 points wouldn't have been enough to escape the drop last season and most years it would put a team firmly in the bottom half of the table. A team that wants to avoid a relegation fight is going to need to end the season with more points than games played.

As it stands, Villa have taken 12 from 10. That's good enough for 9th right now but it's difficult to see that sort of pace keeping them there over the long haul and that's without taking into consideration the relative softness of Villa's schedule so far. I hate to sound like a broken record, but things are going to get quite a bit more difficult here fairly soon and unless Villa start taking care of things now it may well be a fairly unpleasant winter. Villa saved themselves picking up some points they should have expected to take last season (Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal away, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool at home spring immediately to mind) but that's not something it's especially realistic to expect this season.

Even with Villa in a bit of a down period there aren't all that many home games where three points are an unrealistic expectation. That's not to say Villa should be expected to go win every home game, but for the most part three points ought to be the target nearly every time they take the pitch at Villa Park. And while Norwich City has played far better to this point than you might expect from a newly promoted side (and the general feeling seems to be that they're simply a better team than your average newly promoted side) there's nothing to suggest that Villa shouldn't expect to beat them on their home pitch.

There were a lot of positives to take from last week's 2-2 draw with Sunderland. If Villa can play at that level consistently, they're going to win games like this one more often than not. Charles N'Zogbia was, for the first time, the player we all thought we were getting this summer. Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent had some fantastic chemistry and link-up play, a sign that they're starting to gel as a striker pairing. Stiliyan Petrov had his best game in as long as I can remember. If there was a letdown it was on the defensive side of things, and though set pieces have been an issue for quite some time the back line isn't especially high on anyone's list of concerns. The key for Villa as it always is will be in the play of the midfield; there's quality at the back and quality up top, but if the play in the middle isn't up to par nothing quite works as it should. Chris Herd has done quite well in the destroyer role, and there's not much reason to think that's not something that can continue. The bigger key is going to be Petrov; games like last week's aren't going to be the norm but if he can manage to perform at a level within shouting difference things may actually work out quite well. There's good news in that Barry Bannan will be available, and though it's probably a bit much to expect him to start straight away it's nice to know that he's there if he's needed. Jermaine Jenas is also available, which is a thing that I suppose isn't terrible.

Norwich has a few injury concerns but they're mostly at full strength. The Canaries don't sport an elite defense or a high-flying attack but they're a well-balanced side that play solid and well-organized football. They've earned some pretty impressive results so far this season and have the feel of a club that are going to be sticking around for a bit. Paul Lambert is a highly regarded young manager and Norwich have some very good players Villa are going to need to deal with. Captain Grant Holt is the most well known and likely most difficult to handle, but young winger Anthony Pilkington is having an excellent season in his own right. The Canaries are strong at the back and aren't going to give up a lot of cheap goals, so Villa are going to have to be creative rather than purely opportunistic.

Still, as respectable a side as the Canaries are there's just no reason not the expect three points from this game. Norwich is a very good team considering they were playing in the Championship last season, but they're not as good (on paper at least) as Villa. It likely won't be an easy win, but it needs to be a win. Encouraging performances are wonderful, but if they're not getting you the points you need they start to lose their luster pretty quickly. It's been over a month since Villa won a game. That's got to turn around quickly and they need to start doing so at a pace of more than once per month. I wasn't especially happy with the McLeish appointment but I recognize the need to give him time to put his stamp on the club. Unfortunately at a certain point one has to come to the conclusion that perhaps he already has.

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