We’re in must-win territory already. Seemingly. After Villa dropped points against Burnley, the pressure is on as Villa head to Norwich, with the Canaries in ‘must-win’ position themselves.
The story so far
Villa stepped away from Villa Park on Saturday knowing they had been in a scrap. 2-2 with Burnley, with the Lancashire side going toe-to-toe with the Villans. Bloody hell, Villa couldn’t breathe much either side of their own goals. Burnley responded to everything Villa gave, and both sides left it all on the pitch.
Now, they head down to Carrow Road to play a battle-scarred Norwich team.
Who are ya?
All nice ain’t it down Norwich? Famous figures in the boardroom, a likeable Head Coach, fine players, a gifted Director of Football and not far from the sea either.
Norwich might be just a bit too nice, though. They have stuck to their guns and committed to the front-foot approach that defined their Championship title-winning season in 18/19. Lovely football that has seen them beat Manchester City, while getting trashed by Burnley, Crystal Palace and Liverpool.
A slight injury crisis has eased, but the current issues won’t help Norwich out a great deal, but there’s still a few playmakers about in this side.
More? This preview podcast with Michael Bailey (The Athletic’s Norwich City) hosted by Cole Pettem has a lot more to say:
Daniel Farke endured a bit of stick from outsiders during his first season at Norwich, but his swashbuckling sequel gained all the plaudits - and awards. Farke led Norwich to silverware and promotion last season and has pretty much vindicated his board’s decision to stick with him through thick-and-thin.
But now the real challenge has started. Norwich come into this season outgunned, outspent and now outmanned. His forward-thinking football will win hearts and minds - but he’ll face the same question as Villa’s Dean Smith: can it win points on a regular basis?
It remains to be seen, and Farke will have to weather the storm once more.
One to watch
The goalscoring threat of Teemu Pukki is going to be a worry - but he is far more isolated now than in than his Golden Boot season. The supply line is harder to find, and the pitches seem smaller and more of an enclosure compared to last season. Pukki has kept pace with his doubters - and competitors - so far, but he might not be able to drag the weight of Norwich around all season. As a lone striker, there’s an awful lot on his shoulders. Both he and Todd Cantwell boast good xG, but the real question is if they can carry on for thirty-or-so more games. Not many can!
Has Pukki got the quality to damage Villa? Absolutely. Will he? Only time will tell. It’s not as much of a sure thing as it was last year.
What about the Villa?
It’s been tough for Villa so far. Valiant performances have been met with a sound retort - and Villa lack a win in this chapter of the season. That can all change on Saturday before it closes for another international break.
A new/old role for Jack Grealish brought Conor Hourihane into the side for a decent amount of success. Hourihane and Grealish combine well, but more importantly - Grealish is effective on the flank and will cut inwards. It’s the best thing for Aston Villa that this continues, so they can better utilise Douglas Luiz and Hourihane in the team, while losing their worries on the wing.
Grealish will operate in a free-role, and will drift to the areas of his choosing as per his last game. He is already developing an effective partnership with debutant Matt Targett on the left-side of the pitch, and Targett’s forward ability will ensure Villa don’t miss an out-and-out winger on that side of the pitch.
Trezeguet may see a start, and that’s not because of a lack of production from El Ghazi, but because the wingers have rotated all season. They both offer threat and speed - and hopefully it can turn into constant production.
Wesley will start - and will be offered a chance to shine against Norwich. Keinan Davis is waiting in the wings though, and Jonathan Kodjia is set to return from injury soon. It won’t be long before Villa start to rotate up front.
Reflecting on Norwich vs Burnley, with the Clarets succeeding thanks to a suffocating press - If the wingers and Wesley can lead an effective press away from home, it may win them the game. Burnley’s second goal against Norwich came moments after a full-back lost the ball on a targeted press:
Wesley has been a bit of a worry for Aston Villa fans, but losing aerial duels to a high line is what strikers usually do in this league. The real worry is how out of sorts the striker can look at times. He’s scored the goals, but Wesley seems to be operating on a different plane during certain phases of the game. Expect a fired up Wesley to step up against Norwich.
Norwich will be looking to prove something themselves though - and that means that Marvelous Nakamba will have to make himself know. The Zimbabwean has enjoyed a good few games, and that must continue. The Canaries will want to deal Villa a loss here - and Nakamba mustn’t allow that to happen on his watch. He has provided plenty of energy and might so far, and long may it carry on.
At the back, Tyrone Mings and Björn Engels will look to be slightly more effective. Burnley opened them up twice to score - and that can’t happen too often. The strongest part of Villa’s first chapter has made way for John McGinn and Villa’s attacking creativity in this second phase of the Premier League. It needs to come back to the forefront - or Villa will keep conceding.
Norwich are lacking strength due to injuries and are under pressure - while Villa have performed well in a number of games up to now. 3-2 to Aston Villa.