Around £130m of changes will see Villa pose a very different challenge to City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It was only nine league games ago that Norwich City were locking horns with Aston Villa. Much has changed already since those heady Championship days though.
Back on Sunday, May 5, the Canaries pitched up at Villa Park knowing promotion was already in the bag and that a draw would ensure they were champions.
There wasn't quite as much on the line for the hosts as Dean Smith's resurgent side had already made sure of fifth place and play-off qualification. They were yet to discover if it would be Leeds or West Brom they would be facing in the semi-finals but were looking to extend a 12-game unbeaten run to maintain momentum.
By full-time the Champagne was spraying as City made sure of their title success. It wasn't an afternoon without any nerves though.
Things were proceeding to plan with the score at 1-1, after Teemu Pukki's early strike has been cancelled out in just the 14th minute by Jonathan Kodjia.
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Sheffield United equalised at Stoke with 13 minutes remaining though and, with Chris Wilder's team having a superior goal-difference, winners for Villa and the Blades would have seen the trophy celebrations kicking off in Staffordshire instead.
Mario Vrancic was in no mood to let that happen though.
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The in-form midfielder stroked home a typically classy shot from the edge of the box with four minutes remaining to truly kick-off the party in the away end - and ensure Norwich would be lifting the Championship trophy.
It will be exactly five months since that finale when the teams meet again in the Premier League at Carrow Road on Saturday but already things are looking quite different for both clubs.
Villa went on to beat local rivals West Brom, just, after a 2-2 aggregate draw was settled by a 4-3 penalty shoot-out success thanks to former Norwich keeper Jed Steer saving two efforts and Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham scoring the crucial spot-kick.
Then it was on to Wembley, where goals from Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn earned a 2-1 win over Derby in the play-off final, to bring an end to three seasons outside the top flight for Villa.
Traditionally, the play-off final winners have a transfer disadvantage over the fellow promoted teams, due to their season lasting three weeks longer - but the Birmingham club had the financial backing of billionaire owners who had arrived in the summer of 2018.
That allowed them to splash out in the region of a huge £130million as they tried to play catch up, including a club record fee of £22m for Club Brugge striker Wesley and £20m to turn defender Tyrone Mings' loan from Bournemouth into a permanent switch.
So it's little surprise that the only played who started against Norwich back in May, who also started as Villa were held to a 2-2 draw at home by Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday, was midfielder Conor Hourihane.
However, a few players were rested with the play-offs in mind that day so the play-off final is perhaps a better indicator, but still just five of the starting XI at Wembley were starting last weekend: Mings, McGinn, Hourihane, El Ghazi and captain Jack Grealish.
Steer has returned to the bench after the £8m signing of Tom Heaton, Abraham and fellow loanee Axel Tuanzebe have returned to parent clubs Chelsea and Manchester United respectively, while Albert Adomah was released.
Plenty has changed for City too, despite spending hardly anything in comparison as they kept faith much of their title-winning squad.
Seven of the team which started at Villa Park were in Farke's starting XI at Crystal Palace on Saturday, with injury victims Tim Krul, Christoph Zimmermann, Onel Hernandez and Vrancic the four missing players.
Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis were all in action from the start as the title was wrapped up though, as were Emi Buendia, Marco Stiepermann, Kenny McLean and Pukki.
So while it was Norwich winning both of last season's encounters 2-1, thanks to a Jordan Rhodes brace in the home game, Villa will pose a whole new challenge this weekend.
Yet despite those astronomical figures spent by the visitors and the wretched injury crisis which is hampering the hosts, it's Villa in the relegation zone and City sitting above that crucial survival line with a point more after seven matches.
VILLA SIGNINGS (reported fees)
- Wesley - Club Brugge (£22m)
- Tyrone Mings - Bournemouth (£20m)
- Douglas Luiz - Man City (£15m)
- Ezri Konsa - Brentford (£12m)
- Matt Targett - Southampton (£11.5m)
- Marvelous Nakamba- Club Brugge (£11m)
- Trezeguet - Kasimpasa (£8.75m)
- Tom Heaton - Burnley (£8m)
- Anwar El Ghazi - Lille (£8m)
- Bjorn Engels - Reims (£7m)
- Jota - Birmingham (£4m)
- Kortney Hause - Wolves (£3m)