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Villama Preview: Aston Villa v Norwich City

Having broken a four match losing streak, Steven Gerrard’s Villans host Norwich City and Dean Smith. With the specter of relegation still mathematically possible, will Aston Villa blow past the competition or will a Norwich win be the canary in the coal mine?

There are times when dull is something a little more than the some of its parts. The Triscuit is a good example — it’s bone dry and arguably dangerous to eat without a drink handy, but it’s also surprisingly good. That’s how the Leicester City match felt last week. After four weeks of loses, we have a 0-0 draw, and a remarkably dull one at that — it was glorious. Moving on to this week, we have a Dean Smith lead Norwich City coming to town. Smith should receive a warm welcome from the Villa faithful, he deserves as much. The Canaries he leads into action, on the other hand, are less praise-worthy, but still capable of pulling off a win. Among the last three matches, they’ve bested fellow relegation candidate Burnley 2-0 at home, lost at Manchester United 3-2, and lost at home to Newcastle United 3-0. Players to watch for include midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou, left midfielder and former Villa target Milot Rashica, forward Teemu Pukki, and defensive midfielder Mathias Normann.

FLASHBACK: It was a joyous Boxing Day for Villa fans in the last fixture between these two sides in 2019, with Conor Hourihane firing the home side to a valuable 1-0 win at Villa Park.

With a nearly full squad (Morgan Sanson and Kortney Hause are notable names that will be missing), there are a handful of ways Aston Villa could line up. The main question seems to be whether the team will line up with two strikers in a 4-4-2 diamond setup, or if we’ll see Emi Buendia and the 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation. The presumption is that we’ll see a similar setup to last week, with one or two possible tweeks to the lineup. Emi Martinez will start in goal, with Ashley Young and Matty Cash flanking his left and right while Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konza partner at center-back. In the midfield, there’s a chance we’ll see Marvelous Nakamba anchoring, but the assumption is that Gerrard sticks with Douglas Luiz and brings Nakamba off the bench. Playing Nakamba in the number six role, with Douglas Luiz playing box-to-box could offer the best lineup, but I wouldn’t tempt fate given the lack of depth in the defensive midfield position. Given all of that, expect to see a trio of Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, and John McGinn. Up front, Ollie Watkins should start at striker, with Philippe Coutinho to his left and Emi Buendia to his right.

PREDICTION: This is a game that Aston Villa have absolutely no business losing despite the offensive dry spell. The losing streak has been snapped and Norwich City are, without trying to sound mean, a very bad football team. A 2-1 Aston Villa win seems like a realistic result.