Aston Villa's resurgence ran into a bit of a roadblock last weekend, with Newcastle coming to Birmingham and winning a fairly convincing 2-1 victory. Paul Lambert's side looked listless and severely lacking in sharpness against a Newcastle side that didn't need to do much to impress in order to mostly dominate the proceedings. It wasn't disastrous result by any means-none of them are at this stage-but it was a splash of cold water in the face after what had been relatively promising start, shifting the narrative from "three strong performances to open the season" to three straight Premier League losses.
Against Norwich City, Villa find themselves with a decent opportunity to stop the slide. The Canaries have edged Villa's point total through the first four games, opening the season with an impressive point against Everton and besting Southampton 1-0 on the last day of August. Their two losses have come at the hands of Hull City-against whom they enjoyed a man advantage for over an hour-and Tottenham Hotspur, in a game that didn't see them put up much of a fight. Norwich is tricky side to get a handle on, which is a trend that's been somewhat in evidence since their return to the Premier League. After finishing 11th last season despite a winter dip in form that saw them very briefly enter into the relegation picture, Chris Hughton augmented his side with one of the better summer transfer windows in the Premier League. Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper, Nathan Redmond, Javier Garrido and Leroy Fer all joined during the off-season, with Grant Holt the only departure of real significance.
In a sense, it's probably one of the better times to be facing the Norwich City. It's clear that the new recruits haven't quite had the opportunity to fully gel just yet, but in the moments they've appeared most cohesive they've looked a very imposing side. The Canaries aren't likely to make too much noise in the race for Europe just yet, but if they're able to continue growing and adding similar talent in the future they could very well be knocking on the door in the next few years. At this point in the process, it would probably be fair to say they're ahead of Villa in terms of the construction of their squad.
But it's important to keep in mind that they aren't all that far ahead, and at the very top end Villa's the more talented side. Hooper and van Wolfswinkel look to be a promising pairing, but Hooper is yet to see the pitch for the Canaries thanks to injury and van Wolfswinkel has just one goal and not many more chances through the first four games. It's quite easy to see the side fully coming together at some point in the near future, and once they do they'll likely be a rather good team. But as of now, the consistency and cutting edge hasn't fully emerged. That's good news for a Villa backline that's looked to have regressed since the end of last season.
If Villa hopes to earn a result in this game, they'll need to do a much better job of both creating and finishing chances than they have over their past two games. They'll have some help in that regard playing against a Norwich defense that hasn't looked all that robust early on, and if Villa's able to find the room they need in order to threaten on the counter it's easy to see them having some luck going forward. They'll need it, because it's exceedingly difficult seeing them keep the home side off the board entirely.
Villa doesn't need a win from this game, but they could really do with a result. A loss here means a full month for Villa without a point, and it makes it significantly harder to take heart in the solid showings against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. It's still far too early for the season to get away from anyone, but for confidence of a young side-not to mention the sanity of the fanbase-it's important that Villa doesn't fall too far behind the pack early on in the season. Last year, survival and growth of a young squad was the only real objective. This year, Villa needs to show genuine improvement for the season to be considered a success. Nothing that happens at Carrow Road today is going to make that impossible, but it's certainly not going to make it any easier.