By Richard Wakefield
A cracking effort from Jack Grealish propelled Villa into the holiday season with a slender victory over struggling Wigan. Next up, Steve Bruce travels to East Anglia as Villa prepare to take on pre season title contenders Norwich City.
Although the Canaries started strong in the campaign, a rough patch of form has seen Alex Neil’s men lose six matches out of their last seven league matches. However this poor run could be very deceiving as these matches included tough matches against fellow promotion contenders such as Brighton, Derby, Leeds and even Preston.
Picking up the three points against Wigan may have overshadowed the poor performance at Villa Park, but winning when playing badly is a sign of a good team, and long may such results continue.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
Alan Hutton has garnered a reputation around Villa Park for not exactly being the most gifted footballer to grace the hallow turf, however surprisingly, there may be a full back who could pip him to the award of worst performing full back in this game.
Martin Olsson isn’t a player many would associate with being a liability to the Norwich team but taking a deeper look into the Canary echo chamber reveals some hidden truths. Statistically of the average starting eleven for Norwich, Olsson has the lowest average rating with a measly 6.5 out of ten whilst the rest of the team average around a solid seven out of ten. Although a small margin, in the context of football ratings, that is a worrying drop for Norwich fans.
Proof can also be seen through the reaction of fans on social media to his performances in matches and his recent new contract extension, being met with negativity. The likes of Robbie Brady had to drop to left-back against Barnsley on Saturday as he scored a 6.4 rating making him even more prone to criticism.
Clearly Norwich are going through a confused period in terms of their left-back situation, which is where Villa need to exploit and turn the screw. Albert Adomah has hit a rich vein of form under Steve Bruce playing well against even the best of full-backs. Making sure Adomah is used more frequently in play against Olsson or a makeshift left-back could see Villa reap the rewards of three points on Tuesday.
As great as the goal was from Grealish, he unfortunately wasn’t all that good throughout the game against Wigan and if Steve Bruce allows that type of performance to happen again, Villa could be punished.
Norwich can play the majority of the teams in the Championship off the park when they hit their stride. Intricate passing manoeuvres was common place at Carrow Road earlier in the season and there’s nothing stopping them from rekindling that spark again.
Swapping Grealish out for a more industrious midfielder that can hopefully cut out the possession oriented football Norwich like to play, could be pivotal in ensuring a chance at the top half doesn’t go begging for Villa.
Unfortunately, Villa aren’t gifted with such midfielders in their ranks, so Bruce may go for a midfield three comprising of a mixture of Westwood, Jedinak and Gardner to try and enforce this no nonsense play style.
Looking at those three, I’d be tempted to leave Grealish in and go toe-to-toe with Norwich in an open game, but that’s unlikely to be in Bruce’s approach.
Action Sparks Reaction
Very few people will question Steve Bruce’s man management skills in the game. It has been a crucial part of why he has been so successful for so long in management. But Jordan Ayew has been one of the only players to seemingly regress in terms of confidence since the arrival of Steve Bruce.
A poor performance against Wigan was the boiling point for most fans as they openly criticised the Ghanain for his consistent under-performing in recent weeks and maybe it is time for Ayew to watch from the side-lines.
Not starting Ayew against Leeds didn’t seem to work, as he continued his poor form the following game at Villa Park. What will it take to motivate him?
Maybe it’s time to open the door for McCormack to finally prove to Bruce why he should be the first name on the team sheet. And what a perfect opponent to prove yourself against; the team McCormack rejected to join Villa in the summer, wouldn’t it be sweet?
Follow Richard on Twitter: @
Latest MOMS Podcast