A month ago, Aston Villa’s season began perfectly as they produced a fine performance to defeat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. However, in the weeks that have passed since then, the roles have been reversed, with the Gunners scoring three successive wins while Paul Lambert’s side have slipped to three consecutive defeats.
In fairness, two of those games were against Chelsea and Liverpool, and both were tight affairs. Saturday’s home reverse to Newcastle United was a wasted opportunity though, and it was a largely uninspiring display which only served to expose Villa’s defensive weaknesses.
Being just four games into the new season, this is no time to panic. But avoiding a fourth straight Premier League defeat at Lambert’s former club Norwich City on Saturday is essential, as they face Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton in three of their following four league games, all matches that Villa would struggle to win on paper.
Defeat at Carrow Road could raise fears of another season of fighting to preserve their Premier League status, and more worryingly it could bring about a losing mentality similar to the one that dogged them midway through last season, a time where they were beginning to look like certainties for relegation.
Despite that, there appears to be a lot of things that may work in their favour during their trip to East Anglia. Firstly, Villa’s playing style is more effective away from home, where teams come on to them, allowing them to play quick counter-attacking football and create chances. Secondly, the omens are good, with Lambert having won on both of his visits to Norwich as Villa boss.
But the defending will have to improve after proving naive at times against Newcastle. Norwich possess wingers that will be prepared to take players on, and their full-backs are given licence to attack, so there is reason for more support to be given to the likes of Matthew Lowton and Antonio Luna, who are likely to have a busy afternoon.
And Villa’s cause has not been helped by the loss of Jores Okore, with the big defender likely to miss the rest of the season, after sustaining an injury which forced him off against Newcastle. This is the last thing Lambert needs, and it continues a frustrating trend which has existed since he took charge.
Each central defender Lambert has worked with at Villa Park has been struck down at some point during his reign of little over a year. Richard Dunne missed the whole of last season before being released, Ron Vlaar missed much of December and January, while Ciaran Clark and Chris Herd have both suffered from long-term injuries. Indeed, the latter is still recovering.
It is another setback from which Villa have to accept and move on, and they have shown in the past that they can defeat anyone on their day. Norwich are a point better off, but with the likes of Christian Benteke in the team there is always a chance. However, they cannot afford to lose, as with a difficult run to follow the confidence might begin to wane.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Norwich