With just three games remaining in Aston Villa's 2012-13 season, it's beginning to feel as though this season is going to end up having been worth it. Not to get too far ahead of the game, but last week's 6-1 demolition of Sunderland certainly felt like a statement; for a few months now, Aston Villa has looked like a significantly more dangerous team, but things never fully clicked until Monday. No team can play that well every week, but the potential that this team has was on full display. But despite the positive signs, one unpleasant fact remains; Aston Villa hasn't secured safety yet. They can't quite get there against Norwich City, but with a win they can put all of the pressure on the teams below.
And by the look of things, this isn't a terrible time to head to Carrow Road. Norwich has won just two of their past ten games, slipping all the way to 14th from a season high of 7th reached on December 15th. The 2-1 victory over Wigan which propelled them there would be there last for quite some time, with a four game losing streak turning into a nine game winless run and for a time putting the Canaries into the relegation discussion. Norwich has won just two games since December 15th, and though they did enough earlier in the season that they'll almost certainly survive this season, they've been a fairly poor squad for quite some time. Norwich is good at keeping things close--no team in the league has managed more draws, and the Canaries haven't made a habit of losing to sides of Villa's caliber (in the league play, at least) in a lopsided fashion--but as of late they haven't been especially good as doing much of anything else.
These clubs have met twice before this season, the first a 1-1 league draw at Villa Park which Norwich earned in the 79th minute against a ten-man Villa squad, the other a 4-1 win for Villa in the League Cup at Carrow Road. But both of those games were so long ago that there isn't much sense in dwelling on them. What we know is that Aston Villa is as good on the counter as any team in the league, and if what is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous front-lines in England outside of the top four or five teams is clicking, they're going to score goals or at least keep the opposition from committing fully to the attack. Villa's become comfortable enough going forward that failed attacks don't leave as much of a disorganized mess in the midfield and at the back as they have in the past, which leads to the kind of sustained pressure that we saw against Sunderland and Stoke. When the final product isn't there we see games like the 1-1 draw against Fulham, where Villa dominated but only came away with a point. What's important is that against teams that aren't in the league's elite class, a pattern of Villa managing to dictate the game has begun to emerge.
But a pattern is only a pattern until it isn't. That goes for Norwich's recent struggles just as much as Villa's recent success. Some of this team's best moments--the 2-0 win over Swansea, the 3-1 win over Liverpool, the strong performance in a losing effort against Manchester United at Villa Park--have come immediately before some of their worst. (The answers are the 4-1 loss to Southampton, the 8-0 loss to Chelsea and the ensuing meltdown, and the 5-0 loss to City, in case you were wondering.) Last Monday was pretty damned special, but it would be quite nice to see this team put together strong performances back-to-back. And given how close they are to beating the drop, this would be a pretty excellent time for that to happen.