1. Lambert Impact
Paul Lambert has made a really positive impact in his maiden season as a top flight manager. In his playing days the Scot became the first British player to win the Champions League with a non-UK team, and the first British player to win the ECL since its inception, beating Man United on their own patch in the Semi Finals on the way. Shortly before his retirement he completed his UEFA Pro License at the German FA after being convinced to do so by former Scotland boss Berti Vogts. He has reaped the rewards of studying in a different country and being exposed to new ideas and interpretations of the beautiful game. There is a fair amount of synergies between Lambert and our own maestro David Moyes. Both are former Celtic players who have served their apprenticeship in the lower leagues of England and both are more pragmatic than idealistic in their outlooks.
Both managers have overseen sides this season who are perhaps more reactive in terms of being off the ball more than being on it – both sides bizarrely averaging the same 46% average possession per game and 76% pass completion. The duo have flexed their tactical acumen on many occasions this campaign and have been amongst the most influential in terms of making proactive changes during games to take points. Whilst Moyes was lauded for his high pressing game at Swansea a few weeks ago it needs to be said that Lambert had already strategised the same tactic to take 6 points off the Swans this campaign. Lambert has gained the Canaries 10 additional points by bringing on players to get decisive goals whilst 41% of our goals have come from goals either scored or assisted by Moyes substitutions – the highest in the league.
2. Norwich Style and Approach
Norwich have been a really good team to watch this season and their games have usually involved a fair few goals at both ends. As a team they have covered the greatest distance collectively in the League this season, averaging 67 miles per game with former Toffee target Kyle Naughton the most energetic, covering just under 6 miles per game
The Canaries play more long balls per game (75) than any side in the top flight. This is not dismissing Lambert’s side as long ball merchants as they have shown they have diversity to their play but they clearly play to their strengths. When selected together in Holt and Morrison they have an interesting strike duo that almost seem something of a throw back. Holt is a crucial player for the Canaries though; he has scored or assisted 29% of Norwich’s goals and is also the most persistent fouler in the top flight; making the most fouls per game 2.6 (74 in total). Steve Morrison is decent in the air with an eye for goal but has the worst pass completion (55%) of any outfield player in the top flight. With their aerial armoury I’d expect Distin to start as Jags/Heitinga won no aerials against them at Goodison.
They do have subtlety to compliment this physicality though; in the middle of the park Man Utd Academy graduate and ex Blackpool midfielder Danny Fox has created 39 chances with his long ball delivery to the flanks crucial, so far posting an impressive 70%, as has his crossing with 41% accuracy from his 90 crosses. Norwich also have another ex Blackpool schemer Wes Hoolahan in their ranks who possesses great dribbling and an eye for a pass which has seen him amass 5 assists so far.
3. Toffee Tactics & Selection
Moyes key decisions will be who he rotates with only 1 days rest before Sunderland and the looming Wembley date with Liverpool. With the return of Holt and the potential selection of Morrison I’d be surprised if Distin wasn’t recalled for this one with Moyes likely to rotate his 3 centre backs for this quick fire bank holiday double header. Pienaar is of course cup tied so I’d guess he would be a shoe in for both games with Drenthe also returning to the fold and now available for selection.
One area which has been key in the Blues annual post xmas revival is the blossoming partnership of Fellaini and Gibson. The Irishman will hold and distribute whilst the Belgian does what he does best – aggressively win the ball, keep it simple in possession and be a general snide in both boxes. Gibson’s long passing has been superb, averaging 76% completion and the speed with which he gets the ball and moves it out of his feet and out to the flanks – notably to Pienaar – has seen us a lot more dangerous in fast break situations. Upfront I’d guess Jelavic will start either this or Sunderland with Denis Stracquilarsi released from his cage for the other match.
As mentioned in point 1, Lambert is very much a pragmatist and will tweak his selection and formations according to his opponents. The Canaries predominantly attack down their left but on this occasion they overloaded down the right via Naughton & Croft, presumably to counter act our chief creative force Leighton Baines. Lambert played 4-4-2 with Holt and Morrison as the battering rams but both were quite isolated as the two banks of 4 sat deep and proved tough for us to breakdown – a familiar factor in our post Christmas matches.
Whilst we had 62% of possession and 29 shots over half of these where from long range as we again lacked the incision to break down stubborn opponents. Norwich played mostly long balls to their strike duo – 86 in total – more than their average and had just 1 shot on target and scored with it after a nice bit of skill from Holt. We only really looked threatening with any form of penetration when the enigmatic Drenthe came on a sub on the right and Osman shifted to the left with the pair combining for our equalising goal.
Our run of low scoring games has lessened since the arrival of Jelavic and we look more potent and have won our last 3 games 2-0 having only scored more than once on our travels twice previously this season. We haven’t won 4 on the spin without conceding since September 2009.
Our defensive record has been steadily improving with 7 clean sheets in our last 12 with only the Manchester clubs and Chelsea conceding fewer goals on the road. Bizarrely we haven’t been involved in a 0-0 in 64 games.
Norwich are not in good form though and sit 3rd from bottom of the form table and are short on goals so an under 2.5 goals bet could be a decent shout. I fancy us to sneak this 1-0 courtesy of an Osman goal.