Fellow promoted side Aston Villa make the trip to Carrow Road this weekend for Saturday’s Premier League game at Norwich City.
Ahead of the game, canaries.co.uk chatted to Ashley Preece, Aston Villa reporter for Birmingham Live, to discuss Villa’s season so far, their expectations for the season ahead, and to get his opinion on the Canaries.
canaries.co.uk: Villa have scored more goals than many of the teams around them but are 18th at the moment. How would you sum up the start to the season?
AP: The one word would be frustration. They’ve been in the lead in a number of games like the Arsenal game. Last week against Burnley, they went ahead twice and were pegged back twice. That seems to be the story this season so far.
The fans aren’t too worried just yet despite the league position. They’ve stayed in every game they’ve played, apart from Crystal Palace away. That’s been the only disappointing one and they struggled on that day. They should have got a result, but Henri Lansbury’s goal was chalked off.
Including the cup, Villa have played nine games this season and took the lead in six of them. They’ve won three, drawn one and lost two of those six.
canaries.co.uk: Why do you think it is that they’ve dropped more points from leading positions than anyone else?
AP: It could just be naivety. It’s a new side together with twelve new signings this year who are still gelling. They’re getting their noses in front but not being streetwise. Instead of going into the corner or trying to slow down the game a bit, they’re being pulled out of position and giving the opposition too many chances.
I think Norwich will look to pounce on that this weekend.
"They've got 30,000 season tickets this year which is unheard of, even during the Martin O'Neill era"
canaries.co.uk: What’s the general consensus on Dean Smith at Villa Park? I’d imagine he can do no wrong given his achievements with the club last season.
AP: He’s a massive Villa fan. He swept the steps as a kid, so Villa is engrained in him. Even in his press conferences, he’s always talking about ‘us’. He knows about the history and ahead of the cup game last week he was rattling off how many times they had won the cup.
He’s brought the good times back to Villa Park. Like Norwich, there is a big fanbase. They’ve got 30,000 season tickets this year with 7,000 on a waiting list, which is unheard of, even during the Martin O’Neill era.
Everyone’s crammed into Villa Park and enjoying what they’re seeing. Okay, they haven’t won as many games as they’d have liked so far, but they’ve stayed in every game and it’s been exciting. Dean’s a really down to earth guy and is one of us. The fans couldn’t be happier with him.
canaries.co.uk: Jack Grealish was a boyhood Villa fan too, so it’s got to help having those people involved on and off the pitch.
AP: Exactly. Last year, he was a couple of hours away from going to Tottenham Hotspur, but he stayed and helped Villa get promoted. He was on fire last year. It’s taken him a little bit of time to get to grips with the Premier League, but he’s coming into his own now.
He played really well at Arsenal the other week. He likes a big stage, but the Premier League hasn’t seen the best of him yet. He’s been playing alongside John McGinn, who had been outdoing him.
McGinn has been Villa’s best player by a mile this year. He’s taken to the Premier League with ease. Jack’s still finding his feet, but it all bodes well.
canaries.co.uk: You mentioned McGinn there. Fantasy Premier League managers across the country have been loving his contributions so far this season. Have you been surprised by how well he’s done?
AP: I think Villa expected it to be honest. They only paid £2.75million for him. His family has links with Sir Alex Ferguson, and Sir Alex had been telling Manchester United to sign him in the summer. In the last game, Burnley players were kicking him all over the place because it’s a team effort to stop him in his tracks.
He’s already got three goals rampaging through midfield this year. He’s a willing runner who is so fit and energetic. The Premier League is fast and furious, and he’s really taken to it, so it suits his style. Get him in your fantasy team!
canaries.co.uk: Is there anyone in the team who you’d describe as the unsung hero?
AP: They’ve conceded five goals in the last two games, but Tom Heaton has been a massive part of the success this year. He’s 33 years old and has been absolutely fantastic for the team and in the dressing room.
Smith is always banging on about his experience and his knowhow, and his professionalism in general. He’s been vital. There were twelve new players, a lot of them from different countries, and Heaton’s been there to help people settle in.
Another unsung hero would be Marvelous Nakamba from Zimbabwe. He’s a central midfielder who has started the last two games. He’s looking very tidy, even though he goes about his business quite quietly. What he does off the ball is impressive, so he’s one to keep an eye on this Saturday. He’s got a big following back home in Zimbabwe who are all Villa fans now!
"I didn't think Tammy Abraham would have Premier League credentials"
canaries.co.uk: Tammy Abraham was a big part of Villa’s achievements last season. After his loan ended and he returned to Chelsea, what were the expectations for the club ahead of this season?
AP: Tammy’s made me eat my words because I didn’t think he’d have Premier League credentials to be honest. I just thought he was a very good Championship player, but he’s proven to be much more than that now.
Wesley Moraes has come in for him, but he’s come under a bit of criticism so far. He’s a £22million striker who’s struggled for consistency. He’s got two goals in seven games, but performances have been a bit inconsistent.
In terms of firepower, they’ve only got three recognised strikers in Wesley, Jonathan Kodija (but he’s missing the Norwich trip with a broken cheekbone), and Keinan Davis. I think Norwich fans might know him because he’s caused Norwich problems previously after coming from non-league.
As for this season in general, I can’t see Villa being in too much trouble. They went toe-to-toe with Arsenal and did the same with Tottenham on the opening day. They just need to cut out the sloppy goals and be a bit cleverer, especially on the road.
Failing to see out games has been their undoing this year, but I see them finishing just below mid-table, so hopefully relegation won’t be a concern this year.
canaries.co.uk: As for Villa’s opposition this weekend, what are your thoughts on Norwich this season?
AP: Very good. I just found out that Dean Smith was after Teemu Pukki when he was Brentford manager, so that’s interesting. I bet Norwich fans are grateful they got him in the end! He’s been on fire.
I really like what Norwich are doing. Daniel Farke is sticking to his guns with his principles. They went toe-to-toe with Liverpool on the opening day but got found out there, but against Manchester City, look what happened there.
It’s bold and I admire it, because you get a lot of promoted sides who will settle for draws, but Norwich aren’t doing that. They’ve got a good, young squad as well with Todd Cantwell coming through, so it’s a really good story down in Norwich.
They’re a great side with a great fanbase, so I’m really pleased with what they’re doing. As the old saying goes, fortune favours the brave, and that’s what happens at Carrow Road.
canaries.co.uk: You’re making us blush! Finally, what’s your score prediction for this weekend?
AP: I’m desperate for a Villa win, and they haven’t won since beating Everton four weeks ago, so I think Norwich will get some chances, but I’ll go for a sneaky 2-1 win for Villa.
You can follow Ashley on Twitter @PreeceObserver.