Inside the Opposition: Norwich City

City had a great League Cup result against Palace on Wednesday and will be looking to do something similar to newly promoted Norwich this weekend. The Canaries have had a mixed start to the season and City will be hoping to make it three from three against the promoted sides at home.

We talked to Dan Brigham to get some more information on tomorrow’s opponents. Dan is a sportswriter and is half of Norwich fan site The Little Yellow Bird Project.

Hi Dan, thanks for coming on! Norwich have returned to the Premier League after a few seasons away. How has it been this time? Any particular positives or negatives which have stood out to you? Think you’ll stay up this season?

It was just the one season away – but it just goes to show how much we probably weren’t missed after two years of watching us bore everyone to tears under Chris Hughton! (My mistake! – ed.)

We’ve had an OK start to the season, with good wins at Sunderland and at home to Bournemouth, and good points at Anfield and Upton Park. We’re playing the same quick passing football that Alex Neil installed when he took over last January, which means goals haven’t been too much of a problem (although we could do with being more clinical). So it’s been much more fun than under Hughton.

It’s at the back we’ve really struggled. Only Newcastle (who put six past us!) and Bournemouth have conceded more. We have the same defence that shipped nearly 50 goals in the Championship last season, and we failed to sign anyone to bolster it. This ultimately could be our undoing – our midfield and attack is having to perform at its peak every game because we’re incapable of keeping a clean sheet. And I’m not really expecting to get our first one of the season (in the league) at the Etihad…

I said at the start of the season we’ll go down if we didn’t sign a quality centre-back, and we didn’t, so I think we’ll struggle. We’ll play some good stuff, and it’ll be touch and go, but unless we bring in a defender in January we may not have quite enough.

Alex Neil has been talked about as the next in a long line of decent Glaswegian managers in English football. Is he the real deal? From the outside it doesn’t look like it has been all smooth sailing for him so far…?

It had been smooth sailing for Neil… up until the last few weeks. When he was appointed from Hamilton, no one had heard of him south of the border and there was a lot of head-shaking at the appointment of a 33-year-old.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 27: Norwich City manager Alex Neil looks on during the Capital One Cup Fourth Round match between Everton and Norwich City at Goodison Park on October 27, 2015 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 27: Norwich City manager Alex Neil looks on during the Capital One Cup Fourth Round match between Everton and Norwich City at Goodison Park on October 27, 2015 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

Norwich were outside of the play-off positions and stagnating under our previous manager Neil Adams. Promotion looked a long way off. But Neil transformed the side, getting a quality Championship squad to play possession football with the emphasis on forward passing. The players were glowing about him, talking about how simple he made everything. He was no-nonsense, also, with eyes that could kill. He’s very much a manager who takes the philosophy that fans deserve to be entertained, and you can’t ask for much more than that – especially when your team is winning!

But we’ve lost our last four matches to Leicester, Newcastle, West Brom and, on Tuesday in the Cup, Everton. Those three league defeats really hurt (although the Leicester and WBA games were by just one goal), and Neil has started coming in for criticism for picking the wrong players, the wrong tactics, the wrong formation; all the usual stuff.

It’s nonsense, really, as Norwich’s squad can’t compete with most teams in the Premier League, so fans need to exepct these sort of blips – even getting relegated wouldn’t mean we’ve underperformed as that’s what most neutrals expected! With a few signings in January I think Neil, like Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, has the intelligence and quality to turn it around, and I’d rather see Norwich trying to win games and losing than trying to sneak a draw and still lose games as we did under Hughton…

On your last trip to the Premier League a lot of money was spent on the likes of Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. This time you look a lot better set. Nathan Redmond in particular has come on leaps and bounds. Is he your best attacking talent or should we be keeping an eye out for someone else?

Redmond has come on enormously since the last month of last season. He’s more direct, he’s getting in better scoring positions and his final ball is better. He’s got to be close to an England call-up after rally impressing for the U21s for the last 18 months. I’m not convinced he’ll start, though – Neil sometimes prefers a narrow midfield to keep things tight.

Wes Hoolahan is having the best spell of his career – until a couple of weeks ago he had the most assists in all of Europe’s top leagues. He’s our David Silva, and he seems to be improving with age. Having said that, Neil may also sacrifice him against City in order to try and keep things tight – it’s rare that both Redmond and Hoolahan start, but one of them probably will!

Dieumerci Mbokani, who we signed on deadline, has given us a bit of extra penetration up front. He’s strong, quick, good on the ball,  gets in good positions and has scored twice in his last three games (he’s also pretty handy with his elbow and has been known for some spectacular misses in a career that’s taken him around Standard Liege, Monaco, Anderlecht and Dynamo Kyiv…). But he’ll be a handful.

Your League Cup game against Everton went all the way to penalties. How much of an effect will that have on the team this weekend?

After watching the game on a (perfectly legal) stream, it was a big improvement from our home defeat to West Brom. We made a few changes and, as usual, dominated possession and were unlucky not to win. In the end, though, that’s still six games without a win – and a victory would have given the team (and fans) a big psychological lift ahead of a run of fixtures which include your lot, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Man Utd and Spurs in the next 8 games…

Predicted line up and score?

This isn’t the line-up I’d go for, but I’m guessing this (4-2-3-1): Ruddy; Martin, Bennett, Bassong, Brady; Tettey, Mulumbu; Jarvis, Hoolahan, Howson; Mbokani

Plenty of Norwich (and probably Man City) fans expecting a hammering, but I think it’ll be tighter than expected. 2-1 to your lot.

Thanks again, Dan, and good luck tomorrow…

Interview by Alex Timperley

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