By Richard Wakefield
English football finally returns after a long two week international break. Many of Aston Villa’s players were busy over the period away from club football but they won’t have forgotten the good form Villa are in. Finally it has been safe to bet on Villa again, making a Unibet bonus code useful again. A hard fought 2-0 victory against struggling Wigan was the last result and Steve Bruce will be keen to pick up exactly where he left off.
Saturday’ opponents, managerless Norwich City, are still potentially looking to fuel a late promotion charge. The Canaries were tipped to be one of the favourites for promotion before a ball was kicked, but inconsistent results have plagued their campaign.
Every week the gap between Villa and the play-offs shortens with only 11 points separating them from Sheffield Wednesday. But this only serves as a reminder of the ‘what if’ scenario, if Villa had’t had such dismal form in the winter. As for now, this game will have no severe consequence and will be used to keep Villa at the top of the form table.
Jumping the Gun
The return of club football is easier to adjust to for some than others. Despite being in the Championship, Villa are still blessed to have many players who play international football, but it does have its disadvantages. The fatigue of not only playing matches over the two week period, but having long flights back to England will take their toll on the body as well.
Republic of Ireland player Conor Hourihane and Welsh representative James Chester were fortunate enough to have played within the British Isles, as well as Chester and Taylor having a full week break. Unfortunately, Aussie Mile Jedinak and Ivorian Jonathan Kodjia were not so lucky. Jedinak had to play in a competitive qualifier in Australia on Tuesday whilst Kodjia played a friendly on Monday in Africa.
The biggest concern for this match would be Jedinak, as his age partnered with the 22 hour flight isn’t ideal. It would be unreasonable to expect Jedinak to replicate this season’s form on Saturday as he won’t have enough left in the tank to pull him through an intense match against an energetic Norwich.
It may not be ideal to drop Villa’s best performer, but there is enough quality in the ranks to survive without him; Baker and Chester at back with Hourihane and Lansbury in midfield in a 4-4-2 will serve Villa just fine in ensuring three points stay at Villa Park.
Before the Championship campaign had started, the three teams relegated from the Premier League were all expected to be within the play-offs as a minimum, when this stage of the season came around. Both clubs have fallen short of expectations for various reasons but a common denominator is the poor management.
In hindsight, Di Matteo was a poor appointment and Alex Neil wasn’t worth the loyalty shown by the Norwich board after his relegation. However, in the dugout for this fixture will be the vastly experienced Steve Bruce and the surprisingly green Alan Irvine. The caretaker manager has been part of English football for decades but has had a combined four years in first team management in his 24 years of coaching.
Due to Irvine’s inexperience and Wes Hoolahan missing the game, the Canaries boss will predictably rely on Norwich’s Alex Pritchard to spark the creativity into the team rather than try anything complex. Whether it requires adding an extra man in midfield, making sure Pritchard is man-marked out of the game would stop the majority of the Canaries attacks rendering their ability to pick up three points to a minimum.
It’s no secret that Bruce is still learning the capabilities and flexibility of the squad he has created. With Jedinak at centre-back, Amavi at left-midfield and Hutton and Bree swapping the right-midfield spot between them, it’s hard to predict Bruce’s thoughts when it comes to his team line up.
Another one of Bruce’s strange positional concoctions has been Albert Adomah at striker alongside Kodjia. Whilst this approach has reaped the rewards over the last few games, it hasn’t spawned enjoyable football and has only worked against opponents who are in much worse state than Villa.
Dropping Adomah back in to his preferred position of right-midfield is a no brainer to utilise the Ghanaian to his maximum potential. This will allow Bree and Hutton to push each other to perform better as they create a competitive environment for the right-back position.
Then most pleasing of all, Scott Hogan can finally start up front with his Ivorian team mate in a squad full of confidence and ideas, which could finally give Villa a strike partnership to be feared.
Follow Richard on Twitter at @_RichardAVFC
Check out the latest discussion on Villa’s 2017 so-far and what it will take to turn this team into a promotion team, plus with added claret and blue laughs on the latest episode of the podcast below: