I don’t like Norwich City Football Club. That’s probably not the best way to start but it’s true and it’s hard to put my finger on the exact reason. My first trip to Carrow Road was in May 2012 – the Alex McLeish season – and apart from the night out before when I was technically underage, the game was awful.
Paul Lambert was in focus of that game – leading the Canaries to a 2-0 win while the away end continually bayed for McLeish’s head while cheering in support of Lambert’s arrival at Villa Park.
Maybe it’s the dooming seasons that would follow that inform my dislike; maybe. Maybe it’s the yellow and green attire. Maybe it’s the faux rivalry those donning those yellow and green sought to make this fixture after Lambert’s switch from East Anglia to the West Midlands.
Back onto this weekend’s fixture, both teams come into the game on the back of some relatively disappointing results. Norwich have previously shown their ability to slice teams open with a shock victory over Man City whereas Villa season can be summed up by the phrase ‘so close, yet so far’.
Norwich’s commitment to a philosophy has been nothing short of admirable; a team seemingly ready to lay it all on the line to uphold principle’s rather than be the cliché newly promoted side willing to be dictated to. In my opinion, Dean Smith has slightly veered off course from the principles that saw the Villans promoted; we were a side that would seek to punish rather than take pity and that element of our nature has gone amiss; but don’t be fooled, should we find that ruthlessness, many a team will leave with their tail between their legs.
City manager Daniel Farke will face a tough test with numerous players injured and other facing late fitness tests. Quite unlike Villa, Dean Smith will be relishing a near full squad to choose from.
Nrowich will still remain a potent threat through the dynamic outlets of Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia but I expect Villa to be looking to exploit Norwich’s defensive struggles – with the Canaries conceding 16 goals to Villa’s 11 so far.
Matt Targett will be a key man for Aston Villa should he start with the ex-Southampton full-back showing his attacking capabilities prior to his injury in last weekend’s draw with Burnley.
I also expect Dean Smith to field the same team which gave the resolute Burnley plenty of trouble in the first half. The task for Villa and Smith will be game management and maintaining a performance for the full 90 minutes.
Norwich City trump Aston Villa by a point in the table with Norwich on 6 and Villa on 5 and sitting a place behind the Canaries in 18th position.
City have lost their last two games – both 2-0 – since their famous 3-2 victory over Man City and whilst they have shown they can play on the front foot and win challenging games, it’s either sh** or bust for them.
Daniel Farke’s side are yet to record a draw; winning two games while losing five. Farke’s gun-ho approach is admirable but slightly naïve, especially considering their recent bout of injuries sweeping the dressing room.
On the flip side, Villa have been arguably the better team for the majority of their last three games against West Ham, Arsenal and Burnley but are yet to win in their last four games.
While Norwich have failed to score in their last two games after scoring 9 in their opening five, Villa’s lack of end product has been shunned, scoring 4 goals in our last two games.
The worrying aspect for Villa though will be our defence, conceding 5 in our last two.
Head to Head
Aston Villa won the first ever fixture between the sides when Villa hosted a Division Two game in 1936 with the hosts winning 3-0.
Fortunes were reversed when the teams met in the inaugural Premier League season in 1992/93 as the Canaries ran out 3-2 victors at Villa Park before winning the return fixture 1-0.
Villa were once again on top winning 5 of the 8 Premier League games between 2011 and 2016 when we were both relegated.
In another swing of form, Norwich won 4 of 6 ties in the EFL Championship, including the last 3 meetings of the sides.
Overall, Aston Villa have won 32 of the 70 meetings with Norwich taking 22 victories with 16 draws.
An Opposition’s View with Michael Bailey (@michaeljbailey – The Athletic’s NCFC correspondant)
Q – You’ve won many plaudits so far this season, with your attacking philosophy and your open style of play. How do you feel it’s been working for you so far this season? Would you be okay with relegation, if it meant sticking with your style and keeping your manager?
I think there’s a definite aim for Norwich to build up what they have, and not pin everything on survival. The club has been stung by that before. But relegation would still hurt – there’s never any hiding that. I think what I want to see is the style evolve so City are doing things better, such as the precision on their passing and variety in their attacks. Then they will have made the most of the season, any will have given themselves the best chance of staying up.
Q – Who should be attributed with your success from last season more: Daniel Farke or Stuart Webber?
Not sure it is about apportioning the success. Quite simply neither one could’ve done it without the other.
Q – Players like Todd Cantwell, Ben Godfrey and Emi Buendia have all been key players for Norwich so far this season. Is it enjoyable for Norwich fans, seeing such a youthful and promising side?
Hugely, especially when things go well – it’s almost an added layer of satisfaction. That said, the atmosphere has to be right, and the fans have to appreciate that mistakes may well come – and react to those appropriately. That will be key given this season is going to be far harder than the last one.
Q – What would you consider to be the biggest strengths in your team this year? Who will pose Villa the biggest threat?
Norwich’s biggest strength is that when they get it right, they can beat anyone. They’ve already shown it against Manchester City. Clinical finishing, slick counters, robust defending and unshakable belief. It’s finding that level consistently that Norwich need to discover. Easing the injuries would be helpful too.
Q – What formation do you think you’ll employ against us and what is your predicted starting lineup? Is there an area of weakness that Villa should look to exploit?
A 4-2-3-1 as a base shape but it’s fluid in attack, and levers into a 4141 at times too. If Norwich start chasing things, they’ll switch to 352. Norwich have looked open in transition away from home, so Villa will have to decide whether to press Norwich high or sit in and wait. Norwich have so far been a far tougher prospect at home compared to away.
Q – What is your opinion on Villa and how do you expect the match to go, including a score prediction?
I think Villa recruited well in the summer and clearly have more expectation on them than Norwich – even though City clubs are in the same boat. But sides are still trying to find their feet, and I think home advantage will help City shade it: 2-1.
Jack’s Score Prediction: 2-1 Villa
By JACK CUDWORTH