Last week Villa were unfortunate to be on the wrong side of a 1-0 defeat at Craven Cottage. Fulham were able to score on a corner, while Villa’s best chance fell to Christian Benteke who was unable to get his shot on frame. Such is life in close contests where the bounce of a ball so to speak can make a huge difference.
(In baseball, a sport which admittedly doesn’t have draws, it has been statistically proven that a teams’ performance in one run games is inherently random. I don’t have the time, inclination, and admittedly the statistical know-how to run a similar study for football, instinctively I’m willing to hypothesize that football matches decided by a goal or less are subject to a similar degree of randomness. That would help explain how an Alex McLeish lead Blues team managed to finish 9th. Statistically what happened to them next season could be called a regression to the mean).
Seven games into the season while the club is playing better football, some of the same problems from last season are bubbling to the surface. At times the club has been frail at the back, while struggling to create chances.
Norwich looked like the early front runners to sit at the bottom of the table after a very difficult start to the season. Pundits were already creating the narratives about the dreaded “Second season syndrome,” and that the hungry lower league players brought to the club by Paul Lambert were playing to their level with their manager gone. Coming off a win last week against Arsenal, the Canaries have leap-frogged Aston Villa and exited the relegation zone.
Chris Houghton proved to be a quality manager in bringing Newcastle back up to the Premier League with relative comfort. Last season he guided Blues to the promotion playoffs despite financial limitations and a European campaign as credible as any Villa have waged in this century. It was unlikely a team on his watch would pull a Derby County. He has Norwich playing a bit more pragmatically than Paul Lambert did which is reflected in their clean sheet against Arsenal, as well as the fact they have only scored six goals in eight matches.
The current table aside, given the quality of the squads and the fact this match is at Villa Park, Villa does figure to be on the front foot for most of the match. While Grant Holt scored the winner last week, and was one of the revelations of last season, this isn’t a team that should cause havoc for the Villa defense.
Last week I argued for the inclusion of Darren Bent, and it was another game where Bent was starved for service and didn’t do anything else. Christian Benteke did have the best chance of the evening and couldn’t hit the target. Andres Weimann hasn’t seen the pitch in a while and has fallen down the pecking order with the purchase of Benteke and return of Gabby Agbonlahor.
The reality is that everybody on the squad has been given a chance so far, save Richard Dunne who is still weeks away. For me only Matthew Lowton and Ron Vlaar have done enough to be automatic selections. This week, at home against a team Villa probably should beat I’d be inclined to just play the best attacking XI at the manager’s disposal. If there ever was a time where the team needed something from Charles N’Zogbia, Steven Ireland, and Bent this is it. Hosting a team that has allowed the most goals in the league this season, and allowed the most last season, there might not be a better time for these guys to get going. Lord knows the club needs it.