Norwich welcome Aston Villa to Carrow Road on Sunday, hoping to end an incredible season on a high note. The two sides met at Villa Park earlier in the season, with Villa edging it 3-2. As both teams are safe from relegation, the game should be a relatively open affair.
The Villa Season So Far
Part of the reason for Aston Villa being involved in the relegation battle right up until last week is that they draw too many matches. Following last weeks’ draw with Spurs, they have now equalled the record for the most number of draws (17) in a single 38 game Premier League season.
Villa don’t score a great deal of goals, but, for their league position, they don’t concede too many either. They’ve only lost 5 away games all season too, so they’re certainly no pushovers.
Aston Villa play with a lot of width and look to get crosses into the box at every opportunity. Whilst the number of crosses isn’t spectacularly large, this approach is one of their key tactics going forward. They favour the left side primarily, especially in away games where 41% of their attacks are down the left flank.
Over the course of the season, many Villa fans have complained about the brand of football Alex McLeish has installed since arriving last summer. One of the criticisms against them has been their use of the long ball.
However, it’s interesting to learn that during this season, Villa have averaged just 63 long balls per game compared to the league’s highest of 74 for Norwich.
Whereas Norwich are labelled as a team with a ‘direct’ style of play, Villa critics perhaps view the long ball term in a more derogatory way. This is understandable given Villa’s history, their performance this season and the fans’ dislike for McLeish.
So what do Aston Villa do well? Perhaps their biggest strength lays in their ability to win the ball back. They excel in two main areas:
- Tackling – their season average of 20.6 tackles per game is the 3rd highest in the Premier League;
- Interceptions – no other team in the Premier League can better Villa’s stats this season, notching up an average of 19.6 interceptions per game. Incidentally, Norwich have the worst record in the league, with just 12.2.
Aston Villa are also decent in the air, aided by target man Emile Heskey. Even though he’s nearing the end of his career, he still carries a threat with his sheer size alone. His presence (if fit) will no doubt cause the Norwich defence problems, but with only one goal to his name this season, his ability to stick the ball in the net is clearly not what it used to be.
Which leads nicely on to another tactic that Villa appear to be using in recent games: shooting from distance. Villa’s seasonal averages, whether home or away, don’t correlate with the recent trend though. Perhaps this is a sign of how poor they’ve been in the last third recently. As the team struggle to find the net (with only three goals in their last six games), so the team lose confidence and resort to more ambitious shots.
Now they’re safe, Villa may try to get back to a more adventurous style of attacking play, going back to the principles they used earlier in the season. Either way, Norwich should be aware of the potential threat from long shots and look to close down space around the penalty box. Norwich have been guilty of conceding space in this area in recent weeks, so it will be interesting to see how well they deal with this.
Aston Villa are poor when it comes to keeping possession. Over the season, they’ve only managed 41% in away games on average – the second lowest of all the Premier League teams. They don’t control games very often, and it’s hard to tell whether this is a conscious concession by McLeish, or if it’s as a result of their more rugged style of play this season.
Another area Villa are weak at is set-pieces, having only scored three goals in this way all season. No other team in the league fares worse than this. In contrast, Norwich are the fifth best team, scoring fifteen goals.
Goalscoring in general is a problem for Villa. As much as their recent form in front of goal has been poor, their tally for the season has been equally bad, resulting in just 37 goals. A combination of injuries, depleted confidence and shooting from distance have all contributed to this lowly figure. Darren Bent, who is injured for Sunday’s game, has 9 goals this season, while Gabi Agbonlahor has only 5 (1 of which was against Norwich earlier in the season).
Over the last six games, Villa have played a number of formations including 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-4-1-1 and 4-3-3. The formation for Sunday’s game will probably depend on whether Heskey and/or Agbonlahor are fit to start.
If they are, expect a straightforward 4-4-2, as this is McLeish’s favoured formation. It is also the most likely formation because the pressure is off Villa now, enabling them to be more adventurous than in recent games.
Alternatively, McLeish could opt for a 4-4-1-1, with Stephen Ireland playing in the hole. Norwich will have to watch his runs into the box, especially when the ball is crossed in from wide positions.
The match looks sure to be a keenly contested affair even though both teams have little to play for. Villa will probably play a 4-4-2, focussing their attacks down the flanks. Much will depend on the fitness of Heskey and Agbonlahor – if neither are fit, Villa will be faced with a striker crisis.
When looking at all the players now unavailable for Villa at the moment, it’s clear to see how it has contributed to their struggle this season. Despite this, Aston Villa still have good players who will prove a tough test for Norwich in their season finale.