Melissa Rudd: Why Norwich City v Aston Villa is a must win game for Canaries
PUBLISHED: 12:42 03 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:42 03 October 2019
A ridiculous injury crisis, two and a half hours without scoring an away goal and back-to-back 2-0 defeats.
The phrase 'back to earth with a bang' could hardly be more appropriate in summing up events since Norwich did the unthinkable over Manchester City.
Getting back to Carrow Road will be a relief for both players and fans alike ahead of what looks to be a crucial fixture against Aston Villa.
Games against fellow newly-promoted sides come with a certain level of expectation given they are the only ones that can be compared to the previous season. Daniel Farke's men triumphed both home and away over Villa last campaign.
The two clubs may have been promoted within weeks of each other, but their approach to life in the Premier League could barely be more contrasting.
As Farke and Stuart Webber tied up new contracts for their most valuable assets, 12 members of the Villa squad departed while chief executive Christian Purslow and manager Dean Smith set about bringing in 12 replacements, which averaged more than £10million a signing before lucrative add-ons.
Shelling out a reported total of £145m on shiny new recruits certainly swayed the bookmakers, who traditionally reserve the shortest odds on Premier League relegation for the play-off final winners. Most had Norwich and Sheffield United as favourites for the drop, and some even judged the likes of Burnley, Brighton and Newcastle more likely than Villa to go down.
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Despite a massive overhaul, five of Villa's starting XI in May's play-off final remained in place last weekend when they led twice at home to Burnley, but could only draw. It was the third time this season Smith's side have scored first, but failed to win. They did so against Tottenham on the opening day and, more memorably, at The Emirates when, having led 2-1, they lost 3-2 to an Arsenal side forced to play the entire second half with 10 men.
Like City, Villa haven't won a point on the road yet, while Norwich's best performances and results have come at Carrow Road in the form of wins over Newcastle and Manchester City. The concerning away form does heap even more pressure onto home fixtures, but if Norwich are to stay up that's something they are going to have to handle and somehow use to their advantage.
If Norwich's reputation on the road is that of being an easy touch at the moment, the win over the reigning Premier League champions last time out has elevated their status as a great home side. Of the teams who have played three home fixtures, only Liverpool have won more than two.
With the extent of Jamal Lewis's injury still unknown, Farke may have to again rejig his back line, which is already reeling from the loss of both the first- and second-choice goalkeepers. The City boss would be forgiven for cursing his luck, but that's not a ready-made excuse for not winning on Saturday. His players will no doubt be boosted by the fact they sunk a team littered with world class stars last time they walked out on the Carrow Road turf.
I was speaking to a work colleague and fellow City season ticket holder about the prospect of Villa earlier this week. "It's a must not lose," he told me. "We just need a point to stop the rot."
I couldn't disagree more. Villa may only be a point behind Norwich in the league table, but playing with that kind of mentality seven games into the season against a fellow promoted team seems incredibly cautious.
The result isn't vital just because it's against a relegation rival. It could be so important in the context of this season. Make it three wins from four at Carrow Road with victory on Saturday and Farke's men go into the international break in a far better place before a trip to the south coast, and with enviable home form before the visit of Manchester United.
Of course City have no divine right to turn teams over on their own patch, even ones fans might expect them to beat. Having shown they can defeat the very best, however, there can certainly be no room for fear of losing.