After a nice mini winter break, in which Alex Neil took his men to Abu Dhabi for some warm weather training, Premier League hostilities resume again this weekend. The Canaries travel to Leicester on Saturday for the first of two daunting looking (at least on paper) games with a home game against Chelsea just three days later.
You’d have to think that Norwich will need to get something out of at least one of these games but with Leicester’s season long form and Chelsea’s re-discovered mojo, that will be no easy task.
The first of these games is against Leicester City, who have turned into many fans’ best hope for a change from the established Premier League order. This time last year, things looked bleak for The Foxes before a late season run of form that saved them from relegation. The sacking of Nigel Pearson was a surprise in the summer but I suspect there were factors other than football involved in that, followed then by the appointment of Claudio Ranieri, it was generally thought that Leicester would struggle again this season.
They have done the complete opposite and seem to have the best ‘outsider’s chance’ of winning the Premier league since Norwich City did almost the same thing back in 1992/93. I’ll hold my hands up to thinking that Ranieri was a poor appointment at the time it was announced and I’ll also tell you now that I would love to see Leicester win the title.
Not because I have any allegiance to Leicester at all – I’ve only been there a couple of times when I met a girl from there in 1994 and we had a brief dalliance. No, I would just love to see an unfancied side win it – something I suspect most of us thought could never happen. Yes, they have loads of money and having spent around £70m in their quest to win promotion alone, it certainly wouldn’t be a fairy tale but it would be great for English football. To think that a team in their position could do such a thing would be a lift to everyone else, I’m sure.
Here comes the ‘but’ though. I’d like them to win the title but not at the expense of three points against Norwich on Saturday.
Norwich City’s need for points is clear and a point or better at the King Power Stadium would be very welcome.
Danny Simpson is suspended, so Claudio Ranieri has a big decision to make in a team that normally picks itself. Daniel Amartey could make his debut there after signing in January. Jeffrey Schlupp has returned to training this week after a hamstring strain but this game looks as though it will be too soon for him. Jamie Vardy was rated 80% fit after his recent surgery by Ranieri on Thursday but seems certain to play.
Andre Wisdom’s knee injury will keep him out again but other than that, Alex Neil has no new injury concerns. John Ruddy seems certain to continue in goal after reclaiming the ‘keeper’s jersey from Declan Rudd. Alex Tettey is available again after suspension.
‘They are refreshed and they are ready for the fight. I told them the Arsenal match is easier than against Norwich.
‘It’s a big battle on Saturday and we must be concentrated.
‘You are very concentrated against Arsenal but I want to see my players [show] the same concentration – very hungry, because we lost the match at the last second [against Arsenal].’
‘Leicester are effective and good at what they do, but we need to impose ourselves on the game. We’re going there to get something.
‘We need to win games – that’s the bottom line. We’re going to go out and attack and play with freedom and that’s our strength.’
THE STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Norwich have won six of their last nine league meetings with Leicester (D1, L2).
Leicester have won the last two matches between the two sides – in the Premier League in October and the FA Cup fifth round in 2012, although both matches were at Carrow Road.
Leicester’s defeat by Arsenal in their previous game was their first in eight Premier League matches (W4, D3).
They are unbeaten in their last eight league games at home (W5, D3).
Jamie Vardy has won six penalties this season, more than any top-flight team – wonder why that is?!
Norwich City have taken just one point from the last 18 available, conceding 18 goals in those six matches.
The Canaries are aiming to avoid a fifth successive league defeat on the road – they have lost eight of their last nine league matches away from home.
Alex Neil’s side have gone 13 Premier League away games without a clean sheet.
The Canaries have conceded 50 league goals this season, a joint-high with Sunderland.
A shocking set of Norwich Stats eh!?
WHAT TO EXPECT
Leicester are a great counter attacking team, it’s their best attribute. In Vardy and Mahrez they have two players who have scored more goals (33) than Norwich have as a team (30) this season. I wrote an article earlier which you may have seen, about where I think the Foxes are most vulnerable. With Simpson suspended, Ranieri will have to try somebody new at right back and Norwich have a decent left side with the trio of Brady, Naismith and Hoolahan all making an impact from there in recent games.
I expect Alex Neil to use that left side to his advantage but his men must not over commit or they will be roasted and toasted by the Leicester counter attack. If I were the gaffer, I would instruct my team to try to keep things tight (I know) and then look for counter attacking opportunities. The first goal, as ever, will be crucial and if Norwich get it then the game will get very interesting. Leicester know that with the form of Spurs and Arsenal, particularly Spurs, they cannot afford to drop points against the Canaries. They are at home and the onus will be on them to make the running. Norwich have to be ready for that and must be solid throughout. The return of Alex Tettey is a welcome boost on that front and he will be needed to shield the back four.
The odds are very much against us but we have it in us to get something. Obviously I’d take a draw right now.
When asked at Colney on Friday if there was anything Alex Neil could take from the way that Arsenal hammered the Foxes 2-5 earlier in the season, the gaffer replied ‘Well, if you give me Alexis Sanchez…’