Saturday’s visit of Norwich will be seen by many as a ‘must win’ given the feeble collapse last week against the mighty Reading. This weekend’s preview will take a more in-depth look at Norwich’s key strengths and the areas of weakness we should look to exploit…..
At the back…
Defensively they have been in resolute mood of later, only conceding once in their last five games in a run of matches which has seen impressive wins against the likes of Spurs, Arsenal and Man Utd. Hughton’s sides are never particularly easy on the eye with his signature approach being to churn out teams with a rigid backline that are hard to beat. After some initial hammerings, everyone now appears ‘on message’ with Hughton’s mantra. Like Reading last week they won’t be too concerned with not having the ball; their wins against Arsenal / Man Utd were achieved with an average share of the ball of just 35% and off the ball is where their key strengths reside in terms of organisation. Individually though they do have weaknesses; neither full back has a particular good turn of pace whilst Turner is susceptible to quick feet running at him. That said, they’re going to be a tough nut to crack and given our kamikaze defending of late you feel we will need to crack it at least twice to win the game.
This game showcases the two sides who have successfully delivered the most crosses in the league and this will be Norwich’s principal attacking weapon. With 65 successful crosses we are the top dogs with Norwich (57) in second spot with their most frequent exponent of the centre the ex toffee target Robert Snodgrass. When defending sides that play this way it’s important to play higher up the pitch and not allow your opponent to get into decent 2v1 situations or good crossing angles in the final third.
Coleman is having a terrible run at the moment and you get the feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better for the whole hearted but distinctly limited Irishman. Last season his lack of lack of ability on the ball led to him being frozen out of the right sided midfield reckoning. This season’s confirmation that he can’t defend either has basically left him facing into the footballing abyss otherwise known as Paul McShane. He really needs to up his game and show he has more to offer than his impressive twice annual outing as Gareth Bale’s shadow.
Back to the crossing and our high line should in theory mitigate the threat of Norwich’s delivery from wide areas but given our defensive omnishambles last week who knows. In attack, long armed farm-hand Grant Holt will lead the line but due to suspension will be denied an ‘elbow-off’ with Marouanne Fellaini – the duo are statistically the league’s most persistent foulers. Holt was touted in some quarters as an outside shot for the Euro’s squad in the summer and whilst this was never really likely if you afford him decent delivery he can do damage as he showed in both games last season. More interestingly is the fact that Holt had a spell with Sengkang Marine – now Hougang United Football Club – in Singapore’s S.League back in 2001. That’s Thursday’s boring fact #1.
Norwich will line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with ex toffee John Ruddy behind a back four of Javier Garrido/Steven Whittaker (fullbacks) and the aerially decent duo Sébastien Bassong (who once had a trial with us) and journeyman Michael Turner who turned out for Inter Milan as a youth ( #2) . Turner is rated at 50-50 so may miss out. In midfield, Bradley Johnson has been dribbled more times (36) than anyone in the top flight and also has the look of someone who probably can’t believe he’s earning a living out of football. He will occupy the centre mid slot alongside Tettey. On the flanks, Snodgrass and Pilkington will occupy right and left respectively with the majestic Wes Hoolahan the link man between midfield and Holt.
The big call for us is who will replace Fellaini. If fit, Mirallas will get the nod and I’d have him running at Turner from the kick off. You could of course stick Pienaar up there with Mirallas on the left flank. If KM is injured, Osman could be moved forward IF Gibson is fit to start. That’s a big ‘if’ though. Young Ross Barkley of course is now back from his loan at Sheff Wed where he has predominantly operated in an orthodox centre mid slot and Moyes seems more sure of his credentials for a starting place centrally “Ross has done great. He is a young boy, 18, and those games in the Championship will bode well for us and for him”. Having watched him a few times, notably his able handling of the snide’s snide Michael Brown against Leeds I’d say he’s ready for this type of tussle.
Given the way he was man-handled in the corresponding fixture last season I’d also be tempted to give Heitinga the day off to look after the ponies with Distin’s height at set plays a must given the loss of Fellaini and the fact Anichebe has fallen of the face of the planet.
We are favourites for this one, offered at a best priced 10/21 with Pinnacle. The draw is offered at 11/3 with the same provider with an away win an offer at 7/1 with Betfred. It’s hard to recall our last clean sheet and we haven’t failed to score since the opening weeks of the season so both teams to score (best offered at 5/6 by Bet Victor) is the dead cert here, probably with us eeking out a 2-1 win. With Fellaini out, Osman could be used further forward and you always fancy him against sides from the middle to lower echelons of the table and he’d be my shout in the goal / win market. You can bag that at 9/2 with Ladbrokes.