Analysis: Aston Villa flip the narrative with Norwich demolition
One result might not make a season, though ones like this can’t half galvanise them.
Just at the moment Villa needed an afternoon to flip the narrative of a campaign which had contained more promise than points, it duly arrived at Carrow Road and in spectacular fashion too.
It wasn’t just the 5-1 scoreline which made this a bit more than your average away win.
Villa’s first victory on the road in the Premier League for 1,519 days (and their biggest away from home in more than a decade) was a result to soothe fears, raise spirits and reassure everyone at the club – from supporters to players and management – they are on the right track.
Those latter two groups will no doubt insist their faith never wavered during a difficult couple of weeks, which saw Villa fail to capitalise when playing with a man advantage against both West Ham and Arsenal, before twice blowing a lead at home to Burnley.
That may well be true. In the case of head coach Dean Smith, it almost certainly is. Yet for all the positives of Villa’s performances prior to Saturday, it is results which are ultimately the biggest factor in determining the mood. This one should provide a huge jolt of confidence. Its timing could barely have been more perfect.
It is worth remembering Villa entered the game under a fair bit of pressure, after just one win in their opening seven matches back in the top flight found them sitting in the bottom three.
A defeat would have further frayed the nerves and left Smith and his team stewing for two weeks ahead of the visit of Brighton, the final fixture before an unenviable double bill against Manchester City and Liverpool.
With victory, the picture suddenly looks very different. Villa are out of the bottom three and will approach the clash with the Seagulls with a spring in their step. Win that – and the City/Liverpool double bill becomes something of a free hit.
Before we go much further, it must be pointed out Norwich contributed plenty to their own downfall. Daniel Farke’s injury-ravaged Canaries were more than welcoming hosts and to describe their defensive performance as kamikaze might be bordering on understatement.
Villa, however, were relentless, ruthlessly grasping the opportunities which came their way.
In addition to scoring five goals, the visitors also saw a penalty saved and hit the woodwork, while a host of other efforts went whistling past the Norwich goal.
They were led, in the opening half, by Wesley – the striker scoring twice in the first half to deliver the perfect riposte to those who questioned his capability following a below-par showing against the Clarets.
From the first whistle, Villa’s record signing looked a man on a mission, frequently beating Ibrahim Amadou in the air and putting pressure on a home defence weakened by injury.
Team-mates later revealed a greater emphasis on making Wesley a focal point of their attack and he duly put the finishing touches on two fine moves to take his tally to four goals in eight Premier League games.
The only blemish came when he was presented with a golden chance to bag a first-half hat-trick from the spot, after Kenny McLean brought down Conor Hourihane in the box. Wesley struck his penalty too close to Michael McGovern, while the Northern Ireland international also recovered to block the rebound.
That was a shame, yet it could never stop this being a significant day for the Brazilian.
Yet the biggest breakthrough, in terms of Villa’s season, might actually have arrived a week previously.
Such was the scale of change following promotion, things were always going to take time to settle down as Smith found the best way to mould a team out of 12 new signings.
The effectiveness of a tactical switch, first used seen against Burnley, introducing Hourihane to midfield and pushing Grealish further forward was rather lost amid the frustration of the result.
Yet at Carrow Road, Smith did not hesitate to deploy the same tactics and this time there was no collapse to distract from how well they worked.
Hourihane has provided Villa more control in the middle of the park, along with another creative outlet. They have enjoyed greater dominance on the ball in the last two weekends than any others previously.
Grealish, meanwhile, has the chance to find pockets of space further up the field. Villa’s skipper is on record as saying he doesn’t like playing on the left, yet that is only his starting position and he is frequently able to drift inside and get between the lines.
Grealish’s goal was his first in the Premier League since September 2015 and though he may have missed out on the England squad, a call-up will not be far away should he maintain this level of performance.
On most days it would have been good enough to earn man of the match. But this was no normal day and Marvelous Nakamba, stationed in the deepest-lying midfield role, was close to faultless and the platform on which all Villa’s good work was built.
In a match between two teams happy to throw caution to the wind, the Zimbabwe international provided the visitors with the control their hosts lacked.
Early in his Premier League career it may still be, yet Nakamba is improving with each performance and it is quickly becoming apparent Villa have signed a serious talent.
His form means Douglas Luiz, a signing who arrived to much greater fanfare, is currently having to make do with a place on the bench.
Admittedly, Brazil’s under-23 captain did manage to net a spectacular goal during Saturday’s 12-minute substitute cameo. That came after Hourihane had added Villa’s fourth just past the hour mark.
Not even a late mix-up between Tyrone Mings and Tom Heaton, which allowed Josip Drmic to net a late consolation, could stop this being a day to savour.