Dean Smith will come up against his former employers as Norwich City play hosts to Aston Villa in the 2021/22 Premier League on Tuesday night.

After back-to-back defeats in the Premier League, Aston Villa will be hoping to bounce back to winning ways when they travel to Carrow Road to take on relegation-battlers Norwich City in the midweek round of fixtures.

Norwich City are currently rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table, with ten points from 16 games. The Canaries sacked Daniel Farke last month and replaced him with ex-Aston Villa boss Dean Smith. While he started his reign with a three-game unbeaten run (W1 D2), Norwich have lost each of their last two games, although they came against big teams in Tottenham and Manchester United.

The performances, however, have improved quite a bit, and it would not be entirely wrong to say that the bottom-feeders deserved to come out with at least a point against Manchester United at the weekend. They will now look to return to winning ways and cut down the gap to 17th-placed Watford.

Meanwhile, Aston Villa have also seen an upturn in form and fortunes since moving on from Smith and replacing him with Steven Gerrard. The ex-Rangers manager led the Villans to two wins in his first two matches, although they have lost their last two fixtures, although they came against title contenders Manchester City and Liverpool.

Currently 13th in the league table, the Midlands outfit could break into the top half of the table with a win on Tuesday night and build momentum ahead of a busy festive period. Ahead of this enticing fixture that sees Dean Smith come up against his former employers, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Norwich City

Norwich City will be without the services of captain Grant Hanley after he injured his shoulder against Manchester United. Christos Tzolis will be unavailable after testing positive for coronavirus. The pair join Christoph Zimmerman, Andrew Omobamidele, Milot Rashica and Mathias Normann on the sidelines. Ben Gibson is back in training and could be involved, though.

Dean Smith will set his Norwich side up in a 4-3-3 formation in front of veteran goalkeeper Tim Krul. Ozan Kabak is a certain starter at the heart of the defence and could be partnered by Jacob Lungi Sorensen in the absence of Hanley, with Gibson unlikely to be rushed back. Max Aarons ought to start at right-back while Brandon Williams, who is back in contention after sitting out at the weekend, returns at left-back.

Billy Gilmour, who made a solid impression in the middle of the park for Norwich against Manchester United, will hold the fort down again and look to cut the influence of John McGinn. He will have support from Kenny McLean, who will also look to push forward at every given opportunity and add numbers in attack. Pierre Lees-Melou could come in for Lukas Rupp in the third slot in midfield.

Top scorer Teemu Pukki is the undisputed starter in the No. 9 role for Norwich. He will have support from summer signing Josh Sargent from the left and Todd Cantwell on the right. The forwards will need to be at their clinical best and take whatever chances that come their way if the Canaries are to come out on top.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Krul; Aarons, Kabak, Sorensen, Williams; Lees-Melou, Gilmour, McLean; Cantwell, Pukki, Sargent

Aston Villa

Bertrand Traore, Leon Bailey and Marvelous Nakamba are all confirmed absentees for Aston Villa. In addition to that, two unnamed players have tested positive for coronavirus and will not be involved at Carrow Road.

Steven Gerrard will also line his team up in a 4-3-3 setup like Norwich. Emiliano Martinez will hold his position in goal while there are unlikely to be any changes in the backline either, with Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings starting as the centre-backs flanked by the full-back duo of Matty Cash and Matt Targett.

With Nakamba ruled out, there will be an enforced change in the middle of the park. Morgan Sanson is expected to replace the injured Zimbabwean midfielder in the starting XI. The Frenchman will slot in as one of the No. 8s along with John McGinn, while Douglas Luiz moves into the holding midfield role for the Villans.

Jacob Ramsey could continue on the right flank again, but there could be a change on the opposite wing, with Ashley Young unlikely to start two games in the space of three days. The veteran star could make way for former Norwich City ace Emiliano Buendia, who will be hoping to make an impression on his return to Carrow Road. Ollie Watkins will be the No. 9 again, with Danny Ings an option from the bench.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz, Sanson; Ramsey, Watkins, Buendia

Key Stats

  • Norwich City have lost six of their previous seven Premier League fixtures against Aston Villa, with the only win coming in December 2015 at Carrow Road (2-0).
  • Aston Villa have kept just one clean sheet in their last 14 Premier League away games.
  • Norwich City have failed to score in ten of their 16 Premier League matches this season, more than any other side.
  • Aston Villa striker Danny Ings has scored in all three of his Premier League appearances against Norwich City in 2015 with Liverpool and both of Southampton’s games against the Canaries in 2019/20.
  • Teemu Pukki has scored 16 of Norwich City’s last 34 Premier League goals, including five of eight in the ongoing campaign.

Player to Watch

Emiliano Buendia

It will be a special occasion for Emiliano Buendia on Tuesday night as he returns to Carrow Road for the first time since leaving Norwich City for Aston Villa in the summer earlier this year. The Argentine played for the Canaries between 2018 and 2021 and was the Canaries’ leading chance creator (83) and assist-giver (7) in his solitary Premier League campaign in that run. 

However, he hasn’t made a similar kind of impact since joining Villa. In 14 league games for the Midlands’ outfit, Buendia has scored just one goal and set up two more. He has not found the back of the net since August and will need to change at the earliest possible if Villa are to turn things around.


Norwich City 1-2 Aston Villa

Both Norwich and Aston Villa have shown improvements in their gameplay under new managers, Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard, respectively. They even showed that they could give bigger teams a run for their money, with the Canaries running Manchester United close while Villa lost to Liverpool due to a penalty.

So, we can expect a closely-fought encounter at Carrow Road on Tuesday night. Norwich have been goal-shy, scoring just eight times in the league this term. Their lack of clinical nature could come to haunt them against the Villans. The Hard Tackle is predicting a victory for the visitors.

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