Whilst the pre-match headlines see the interest in this fixture naturally centre around the return of Dean Smith to Villa Park, there are more subtle narratives at play too.
Smith, sacked by Villa after a collapse of form and momentum resulting in five straight defeats, makes his first return to the club since joining Norwich. Though there will be few with any ill-will toward a manager who achieved both promotion and retention of our Premier League status, the reunion comes at an interesting moment at Villa.
Football has a funny way of producing odd quirks in the fixture list, none more so than this game, which to the outsider could readily dismissed as an end of season irrelevance.
Gerrard, despite a promising start, has found himself quickly bogged down in a transitional phase for the football club. An initial gentle climb up the table, soon faltered and became stop-start, culminating in a recent four game losing streak. The on field quality has deteriorated, team selections become changeable and individual performances erratic, to say the least.Embed from Getty Images
Although an away point to a well drilled Leicester side brought a string of defeats to an end, it was another difficult and frustrating watch over 90 minutes. We were better defensively improved, but wasteful despite a plethora of riches going forward against a Foxes side with one eye on a European semi-final against Roma.
Gerrard is therefore needing of a win to reset a downbeat recent narrative. He now comes up against an opposition side having to win every game if they are to pull off a miraculous escape from the trapdoor to The Championship.
Whilst such a miracle remains extremely remote, football has a strange habit of throwing up late season results that defy the formbook. Relegation bound teams do muster unexpected performances, arguably having been unshackled by any expectation upon them, that produce a shock result. We should be wary of this.
For Gerrard, the arrival of Norwich does present an immediate opportunity to improve upon just 11 points from the last 11 games. As a direct consequence of these poor results, there also hasn’t been much to get excited about at Villa Park itself. A somewhat alarming collapse in home form means we’ve secured just 3 victories in ten outings at home.
There is also the annoying if unnerving minute statistical chance of being pulled into a relegation dogfight. I know, I know; we have an 8 point cushion, which should be enough, but surely we’d rather not lead that to chance?
Defeating the visitors puts that to bed and at least allows the remaining fixtures to be free for experimentation or perhaps the foundation from which to springboard next season. We may have lofty aspirations, but in the here and now, Gerrard simply needs to be putting the divisions bottom club to the sword.