Norwich City can match Aston Villa for firepower
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Chris Hughton retains a healthy respect for Aston Villa's attacking arsenal but backs Norwich City's offensive threat to probe for genuine vulnerability.
City's summer spend was designed to furnish Hughton's squad with a forward potency to match the intent routinely displayed by the likes of Villa's Christian Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann. Hughton confirmed on the eve of Villa's visit Gary Hooper is fighting fit after a precautionary watching brief at Tottenham - which raises the tantalising prospect of a productive coupling with club-record capture Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
Hooper's shin injury in the pre-season finale against Panathinaikos robbed Hughton of one last chance to experiment by deploying the former Celtic man in a chief support role to the Dutch international. Hughton's pre-match soundbites appeared designed to keep Villa guessing.
'Gary will be in the squad,' was the manager's sole concession. 'The problem with Gary is of course he got injured at the start of the season and he had just a three day training build-up to Spurs. He was free from injury and physically fit but he has missed a fair chunk of the season and it is about me analysing when it is right for him to play and what part he can play.
'He is certainly one who can play in that withdrawn role. Ricky will work hard but he is the one you want to play in the advanced role. Hoops is certainly a good enough footballer to be able to adapt his role and play off him, but ultimately you have two lads who want to score goals. We had a look in pre-season but the problem then is you almost want more time and more games to look at things.'
Hughton concedes there is no mystery in the visitors' ranks after suffering at the talented feet of Villa's troublesome trio in league and cup battles last season.
'As a three I couldn't say they are the best around, because there are some wonderful players in the division, but they are three exciting players who are all capable of scoring goals,' he said. 'Some of the Champions League clubs have absolutely top class strikers but they probably play in a different formation. They can break at speed and we are aware of the threat they hold. They are a high-energy team and when you play a side like that there has to be two sides to your game. You have to be able to stop their positives and impose your own. You have to be a threat yourself. You would like to think the same as any team that they have vulnerable areas and the onus is on us to exploit them.'
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Hughton has cautioned nullifying the prolific Benteke is only one part of the equation.
'I think he has been a wonderful signing for them. If I look at last season he was a very good player and he always looks like he can score goals through an array of different methods,' he said. 'I thought we played Benteke well at Carrow Road, so they are not a one-man team. Its not just about one player, but he is a superb talent and we need to produce a good enough team performance.
'Was I surprised they kept him in the summer? No, because Villa always had the power in terms of a player under contract and they made it known in no uncertain terms if he was going to leave it would be on their terms. In that respect they always had the upper hand because Villa is a very big club and they showed great strength to keep him.'