This time last year Aston Villa were preparing to face Sunderland away and Norwich at home, having only lost two of their opening nine fixtures under Alex McLeish and enjoying a very successful start. This time round, it is Norwich that they must face at home before travelling to Sunderland away, but the tale of this season is one of horror rather than hope.
Having lost five of their opening eight fixtures, against teams arguably easier than those they faced in their opening eight fixtures of last season, Paul Lambert knows he has had a very poor start to his Aston Villa managerial career. With both Manchester clubs and Arsenal to play in their next five league fixtures, Villa will have to vastly improve if they are to get anything from those. Lambert must keep his focus solely on Aston Villa’s next fixture however, which should not be too hard as he faces his former team for the first time since leaving them in the summer.
It may be too early to be talking about “must-win” games as we are yet to reach double figures in games played so far, but with Villa’s tough run of fixtures coming up, it is hard to call the game at home to Norwich anything else. Lambert has not been helped this week by injuries, a major factor that saw the demise of previous manager Alex McLeish at Villa Park.
At one stage last season McLeish had 13 players out injured at once and found it almost impossible to pick a competitive first 11. Although not as many players are out injured currently for Lambert, it is in the area of the pitch that is most concerning, with his defence looking very short on experience. With Ciaran Clark picking up an injury training with the Irish squad and youngster Nathan Baker having to come off in the defeat to Fulham last weekend, it leaves Lambert with just one remaining fit centre back at the club; Ron Vlaar.
Richard Dunne is still a few weeks away from a return to the first team, and with Alan Hutton out of favour and Stephen Warnock out on loan, Lambert’s options are extremely limited. It will most likely be another youngster Matt Lowton who will play alongside Vlaar in central defence, neither player having any experience of the Barclays Premier League before this campaign.
It is not the ideal preparation for Lambert, who can already feel the pressure of failure as Aston Villa currently lie in 17th place, one place above the relegation zone. Their opponents Norwich earned their first victory of the season last weekend with a very impressive victory over Arsenal, the win moving Norwich above Villa into 15th place. Former manager Alex McLeish managed to gain 4 points from his trips away to Sunderland and home to Norwich this time last season, a similar pair of results for Lambert would be a welcome boost for himself and for Aston Villa.
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