Notice how I left the quotation marks off “preview” this time? After last week’s explanation as to why I don’t do real sports-guy analysis, I started thinking: why not? Why don’t I dip my toes into—just an inch or two, mind you—into the muddy waters of statistical prognostication? Consider my shoes off, my socks neatly balled inside, and my pants rolled up just over the ankles.

Simplest stats first. Aston Villa currently sits at 17th in the table on 3 points, with Norwich at 15th on 4 points. And, while Villa have a goal differential of -1 (scored 5, conceded 6), Norwich are -2 (scored only 3 while conceding 5).

In form, Villa are 18th, having followed their famous win the Emirates with three straight losses. Norwich are 16th, with a draw, a loss, a win, and a loss. But the opponent is everything, right? Villa’s first four matches were against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Newcastle—teams that sit 2nd, 6th, 1st, and 8th in the league respectively. Norwich’s competition has been Everton, Hull, Southampton, Tottenham—teams in 9th, 16th, 11th, and 3rd. True, they drew Everton (the team that just beat Chelsea), but their lone victory was a 1-0 win at home against Southampton.

Andreas Weimann puts the Canaries in a coal mine
Andreas Weimann puts the Canaries in a coal mine

So Norwich don’t look too tough, but spot them a goal for being the home team, and another goal because we haven’t kept a clean sheet in forever (with Okore’s season-ending injury weakening an already patchy back line), and suddenly it looks a lot tougher.

Intangibles? Well, Lambert has done very well with Villa against his old club. Last year the two teams drew 1-1 at Villa Park, but later in the season the Villans won 2-1 at Carrow Road, and also 4-1 away in the League Cup. Both teams are struggling to score goals, but Villa’s 1.25 goals per game looks a lot better than Norwich’s .75.

This is all pretty basic stuff, right? As with any statistics, it’s important to know which ones to use. Either that, or find someone who has done the number-crunching for you. And who crunches more numbers—when they’re not crunching kneecaps—than a bookie? A quick scan of the odds shows that, despite some strong facts in Villa’s favor, the bookies are all just a little bit in favor of Norwich carrying the day—but only just. One oddsmaker has 9/1 for a 2-1 Villa win, and 8/1 for a 2-1 Norwich victory. Bet365 has Norwich 7/5 to win, Villa 11/5 to win, and a draw at 12/5.

Play the safe bet or the slightly less safe bet? Well, if I played a safe bet to win, I would have hitched my wagon to Manchester United during the glory years. I believe Villa’s offense will put the Canaries on the back foot early and they’ll go on to win 2-1. Maybe even 3-1. (They’ll let in a goal just to keep things exciting until the final whistle.)

It’s too early to start talking about must-wins—and I do believe the team will gel, and will have better results—but if we can’t pick up points against teams in the bottom half of the table, then we’re going to be in trouble, aren’t we?