After all the excitement of a terrific win at the Stadium of Light and a “first game on MOTD” last Saturday, it`s back to Carrow Road this week as we welcome Stoke City to Norfolk.
Mark Hughes` men will be looking to pick up their first win of the season, while Alex Neil will want to consolidate the advantages of being at home and also take all three points.
Stoke City are a very different beast to that which we last encountered in the Premier League when a John Walters penalty saw a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road in early 2014, as Norwich drifted toward the relegation trap door. Stoke have recruited a number of very good “ball playing” footballers in our year away from the top flight and made a real statement of intent when they signed winger, Xherdan Shaqiri earlier this month.
Shaqiri cost Stoke £12m from inter Milan and is a really top player – he was suspended for the game against Spurs last Saturday but will be likely to make a debut either from the start or off the bench against the Canaries. Stoke also signed Bojan from Barcelona last summer but the gifted forward suffered a long term injury and missed the whole of the second half of last season. Hughes has also recruited Ibrahim Affelay (again from Barca) bucking the trend towards long ball football under the previous managerial regime.
But enough building up the opposition, Norwich come back to Carrow Road with a very good away performance under their belts. Much of the talk last week was about how bad Sunderland were, rather than how good Norwich were but despite Sunderland`s lack of fight, Norwich did everything the right way. They were crisp and sharp going forwards and closed down and were tight in defence, that poor late goal conceded, aside. Alex Neil has yet to lose away from home and that incredible statistic points to Norwich being counter attacking specialists.
Stoke are also something of a counter attacking team and that means that Alex Neil will need to find a way to get at the visitors early and hopefully get the first goal to make Stoke come at us, thus allowing Norwich to hit them on the break with the pace of Jerome and Redmond.
In terms of injuries, Neil is still without Youssouf Mulumbu, Kyle Lafferty and Martin Olsson, although Olsson should now be back in training but this game will come too soon for him. Stoke meanwhile, have a fairly clean slate on the injury front with Bojan in particular pushing for a first start of the season after playing 90 minutes against Wolves in an U21 game last weekend.
As I mentioned earlier, Stoke will appear very different to the side we have all seen and joked about in the past. With players like Marko Arnautovic, Affelay, Bojan and Shaqiri, the Potters have plenty of classy players in their squad. Whilst being aware of them though, Alex Neil will look to set his stall out to win the game from a Norwich point of view but I think it unlikely that he will change the side that beat Sunderland. The inclusion of Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond against The Black cats was the spark that the side needed and an injection of pace that killed the game from a Sunderland point of view.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic so far, despite the lack of new signings. The team are playing well and should have got something out of the Palace game, dodgy refereeing not withstanding.
So what am I predicting? I`m going to go for a 2-1 Norwich win.