Paul Lambert has mixed things up this season having used a variety of systems including 4-4-2/ x3 centre backs / variants of 4-5-1 and his side have been entertaining to watch. Despite registering six goals in just six starts this season, talisman Grant Holt has been in and out of the side – starting last week due to Newcastle being without a regular CB – the change was a masterstroke as all 4 of Norwich’s goals came from crosses. We have defended crosses better this season with just 2 goals shipped from headers so I wouldn’t expect Lambert to target this as our weakness and thus Holt will probably not start. I’d expect Norwich to play a 5 man midfield with Hoolahan as the chief creative spark to enable them to get more of a foothold in midfield as this is an area we usually dominate in home games.
In terms of our own selection, key midfielders Osman and Rodwell are doubtful whilst nobody seems to quite know the whereabouts of our most creative talent Royston Drenthe. Therefore, it could be a similar side to that which lost narrowly to Arsenal last week with Saha and Cahill leading the line.
2. The Endurance Factor
Norwich regularly record the highest average speed and distance covered in play as a team – this is due to them having a team as physically fit as any in the league and also the fact that they spend the majority of time not in possession. During the win against QPR they averaged 3.04mph (highest in the league that week) and they followed this up at Anfield with a hard fought 1-1 draw covering more distance as a team in the Premier League, completing 77.61 miles and against Man City the trend continued – as a team they covered more distance than any other Premier League team during that round of games registering 70.12 miles in total. An example of the legs in their midfield is shown via key duo Bradley Johnson and Wesley Hoolahan who each covered 8.05 miles of ground in the Eastlands defeat.
3. Defend the long ball
Norwich hit more long balls per game (74) than any team in the top flight. As a result of this they have scored more goals from set pieces (11) and the converted the most headed goals (10) in the division. Steve Morison is the principal target man and already has an impressive 6 goals to his credit as does Holt. Defender Leon Barnett is a threat in both boxes having won an impressive 42 of his 56 headers this season although Whitbread has been preferred recently. One option is to bring back Distin to counter this and move Heitinga into midfield but I would be reluctant to do so given Heitinga’s decent run of form of late and also his distribution from the back given that we will have most of the ball.
4. Press high and keep a high line
We should keep Norwich in their half and minimise the risk of their crosses coming into our box from dangerous areas. This worked well against Wolves last month when we totally nullified what was their key threat by pinning their wingers back in their own half. The Canaries have not scored from a fast break situation so the risk of being caught up field is minimal. Hoolahan is the yellow’s main danger; he is statistically their best passer with a pass completion this season of 86% and he also makes the most dribbles – but he has been dispossessed more than any of his colleagues and our principal presser Fellaini will be looking for an opportunity to catch him out and push him away from goal and onto his weaker right foot at every opportunity.
5. Leaky Rearguard
The Canaries are a cavalier side and thus concede 19.7 shots per game on their travels – the 3rd highest in the league. Their average 39.9% possession is the lowest in the league for an away side which means the Canaries are constantly chasing the ball and while they have a team of athletes who are capable of doing so this puts great pressure on their defence which has led to them not keeping clean sheet at home or away this season. If Osman is fit he will be crucial as patience will be needed – Norwich will chase you all day long but they concede more goals in the second period of games which would allude to the fact that eventually their belligerence can be broken down.