Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 15 – Norwich

Manchester City have the chance to win back to back Premier League matches when they face Norwich on Saturday at Carrow Road. In the nineteen games since City dispatched of Newcastle and Bournemouth last October, the Blues have failed to win two on the bounce. After thrashing Aston Villa at the Etihad, there is a real chance of changing that against relegation threatened Norwich this weekend. But never write off a team fighting for their life in the Premier League…

To learn what has gone wrong at Norwich and get some general views, I spoke to Chris Goreham of BBC Radio Norfolk’s ‘The Scrimmage‘. I appeared on ‘The Scrimmage’ yesterday to offer a City point of view on the weekend clash, and Chris was kind enough to share a Canaries viewpoint.

It’s all gone downhill for Norwich in 2016, with a series of defeats. What do you think Alex Neil needs to change to ensure survival?

It’s been a frustrating two months. Going into the FA Cup clash with Manchester City on third round day we were on 23 points in the Premier League at the halfway stage having won three out of four games and with money to spend in January there was huge optimism that Norwich were well placed to stay in the Premier League. But since then we have taken just one point from nine games, a run which has included damaging losses at Swansea, Bournemouth and even Aston Villa. I’m not sure what more Alex Neil could change, he’s tried several different formations and combinations of players but nothing has delivered a consistent run of form.

Though not quite on a Manchester City scale, Norwich splashed the cash in January, bringing in the likes of Steven Naismith and Ivan Pinto. Do you think those signings have upset the balance of the side at all?

£8 million is a huge outlay by Norwich City’s standards and they spent it twice in January on Naismith and the Swiss international defender Timm Klose. Naismith enjoyed a promising debut in tht infamous 5-4 loss to Liverpool but has struggled to have an impact on games since. There has been talk of a hamstring problem. Whether the balance has been upset is a difficult one to answer because most fans were calling for the centre of defence and up front to be strengthened during January and that’s what Alex Neil tried to do. The harsh truth is that £8m is not big money in Premier League terms. Klose has started to look the part in recent weeks but Pinto has been caught out defensively a number of times which is a worrying trait for a right back even though he can look impresive going forward.

What’s your Achilles heel? If you’re Manuel Pellegrini, what area of Norwich’s side would you be looking to exploit?

I think the perilous position Norwich are in has left the players looking tense and nervous at times. They know there is very little margin for error now in the battle to stay up. The Canaries have undermined some good performances this season by making a silly mistake at the back or missing a clear scoring opportunity The previous Premier League meeting between the two sides was a good example of how Norwich can find a way of losing games when they seem to be on course for a point or three.

I’m eager to hear your thoughts on Manchester City. What do you make of the club’s appointment of Pep Guardiola? And what are your thoughts on Manchester City as a club in general?

Manchester City feel like they are in a different world to Norwich these days. It’s hard not to admire players like Aguero and the opportunity to see them at Carrow Road is why winning promotion to the Premier League again last season was so exciting. However I am old enough to remember a time, before the big money came in, when the two clubs competed on a more even footing although even in those days Man City were a massive bogey team for us. We’ll always be grateful for selling us Darren Huckerby though. As for Pep, I hope we’re around to give him a Premier League welcome to Carrow Road next season.

We recently played Norwich in the FA Cup third round at Carrow Road. It’s fair to say that Kelechi Iheanacho made quite an impression, with an exquisite finish. What were your thoughts on him that day, and in any other games you’ve seen him?

He looks good to me. Another of those bright youngsters who would walk into most Premier League teams. From a commentator’s point of view, I couldn’t get past the fact that he wears number 72 on his back. That shows the size and scale of the Man City squad and to break into the first team against that shows what a talent he must be.

Finally, what is your prediction for Saturday’s game? And do you think you have enough to stay up?

It would be silly to predict anything other than a Man City win at the weekend, there’s nothing to suggest a surprise other than the fact that the Premier League has had a few shocks this season. Will Norwich stay up? Well, even after a run of one point from a possible 27 we still have a chance of beating the drop which is all you can ask for. The home games against Newcastle and Sunderland in April will be huge.

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