Norwich City-Aston Villa Preview
Could Aston Villa possibly be favoured this weekend despite being blanked in consecutive matches and not having their top goal scorer?
It's possible since the Canaries of Norwich City have had little to chirp about during a run of four straight defeats in which Alex Neil's men have looked utterly defenseless.
The league's worst attack will face the second-worst defence in Saturday's Premier League clash at Villa Park in which the Villans are targeting three points or bust.
Villa (2-7-15) remain rooted to the bottom on 13 points after Tuesday's 2-0 defeat at West Ham United in which Jordan Ayew was sent off in the 17th minute for a needless elbow to Aaron Cresswell's head. That rules out Ayew, who has a team-high five goals, for Saturday.
Norwich are two points above the drop and 10 in front of Villa on 23, making this contest a must for the home side.
"We have no choice now," manager Remi Garde told the Villans' official website. "We would have liked something at West Ham before the Norwich game. But unfortunately, that's football.
"The spirit the players showed at Upton Park was brilliant - it was the same we showed in the previous games. We will have to keep that."
The spirit at Carrow Road may be in question after Norwich simply were not at the races in Tuesday's 3-0 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Norwich conceded twice within the first half-hour, falling behind after 96 seconds.
"If you're going to have any ambitions of staying in this league and competing well, we're going to have play better than we did in the first half. It's as simple as that," Neil told Norwich's official website.
Norwich (6-5-13) have conceded 14 goals in this four-game losing streak and their 46 shipped better only Sunderland's 47. What made the Spurs performance so galling was it came after a shambolic display in a 5-4 loss to Liverpool on Jan. 23 that caused Neil to intensely focus on his side's defending in training in the build-up.
"After conceding goals last week (against Liverpool), we were working on the back four all week but we just didn't defend our box.
"We managed to clear the first phase but the second phase comes back in, they got a shot at goal and we're three yards inside the player that scores."
Neil made five changes from the Liverpool debacle, handing Swiss international Timm Klose his club debut. Graham Dorrans and Robbie Brady missed out due to sickness and could be in line to return.
The Canaries had only one clean sheet all season until they unsurprisingly notched another in a 2-0 win over Villa on Dec. 28. Jonathan Howson and Dieumerci Mbokani were on target for the hosts.
That chippy match featured seven yellow cards - five by the Villans.
"I hope we will remember the game we had there," Garde said. "It was a tough match there. It will be the time for us to win."
Norwich have conceded in every away match, although Villa will have to replace Ayew, with journeyman Scott Sinclair the likely beneficiary. Sinclair started the first meeting and has logged 12 minutes of Premier League action since, going goalless in his last 14 games.
Villa, last in the league with 18 goals, had won four straight over Norwich before the reverse fixture. Oddly enough, they have yet to be shut out in three straight.