On the opening weekend of the new 2013/14 Premier League season, Norwich City play hosts to Everton at Carrow Road on Saturday lunchtime, as the Canaries aim to reach the next level in their third successive top-flight campaign.
The Toffees finished five places above their opponents last season but will be making the 256-mile journey with a new face in the dugout, as Roberto Martinez looks to kick start his Everton reign with a bang after leaving Wigan Athletic to replace David Moyes this summer.
Norwich have signalled their intent to improve this season as six new signings have been brought in by Chris Hughton, injecting the much-needed pace and firepower that was heavily missed in their squad last season.
But Gary Hooper, who has joined from Celtic this summer for £5m, could miss the game due to a shin injury picked up in the club’s pre-season clash with Panathinaikos and Fer, a recent acquisition from FC Twente, will be unavailable for selection as his one-game ban from last year’s Eredivisie campaign has been carried over from the Dutch FA.
Roberto Martinez confirmed after Everton’s pre-season win over Real Betis last Sunday that Marouane Fellaini will be fit for their Premier League opener, despite sitting out of the game due to an infected cut on his lower leg.
The midfielder has trained with the Belgium national side this week, whereas Darron Gibson is a doubt after picking up a knee injury against the Spanish outfit at Goodison Park.
Since returning to the league in 2011 under Paul Lambert, Norwich have since become a nightmare side for Everton to play against, as the Merseysiders have yet to pick up a win in the four fixtures both sides have recently contested, losing once away whilst sharing the spoils three times.
The results have been even more painful for Everton supporters to digest, as on three occasions, they have scored first but failed to wrap up all three points. Last season saw Norwich snatch a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park thanks to a 90th minute equaliser from Sebastian Bassong and in the return fixture, Norwich won 2-1 with goals coming in the 84th minute from Kei Kamara and in the 94th through the recently-departed Grant Holt.
However in reverse, since Norwich won promotion back to the Premier League, they have lost both of their opening fixtures and in the four times they have previously went up against Roberto Martinez in the top-flight, they have only managed to win just the once (2012/13), drawing twice and also losing away at the DW Stadium last season.
In fact, Norwich’s last win on the opening day of a season dates all the way back to their 2002/03 Football League First Division campaign, where they overcame Grimbsy Town 2-0. Ten years later, they’re now mixing it up amongst the might of the Premier League without tasting a victory in the annual curtain raiser of any season since.
Although the tag was put to shame last season, Everton are usually renowned as ‘slow starters’ and that’s evident as in the last five opening Premier League fixtures, they have only managed to win once (2012/13) and four of those seasons have started with a home game.
Martinez previously spent four years with Wigan Athletic in the Premier League and he also found the opening day fixture to be a hurdle, as the former Swansea boss recorded one win (09/10), one draw (11/12 against Norwich at home) and two defeats with the Latics.
With past statistics in mind, and key players expected to miss out, this fixture looks fairly even on paper but anything can happen, as both sides look to bury their prominent opening day quandaries.
Check out the latest odds concerning Norwich vs. Everton and all the other opening day Premier League matches with Pinnacle Sports.com here: EPL Odds via Pinnacle Sports
After almost signing for Everton in the January transfer window last season, both sets of supporters would have pinpointed Leroy Fer to be the key man to watch, should he have not been suspended for the match.
Norwich were the joint-third lowest goalscorers in the Premier League with a diminutive 41 goals last season and much of this summer’s preparation has been geared towards finding an affordable goalscorer with a decent track record, and therefore Ricky Van Wolfswinkel has joined from financially-troubled Sporting Lisbon for £8.5m to patch up the problem upfront.
The Dutchman scored 13 goals in the Portuguese league last season and 25 in all competitions in 2011/12, as his strikes helped Sporting reach the UEFA Europa League semi-finals that year. During Everton’s pre-season games, they have been testing out the three at the back system Martinez entrenched at Wigan and also the four, hence there is still a transitional period in terms of finding a suited formation under his management, and Van Wolfswinkel can most certainly exploit that if the visitors are not careful.
He is unquestionably dangerous in-and-around the box and his poacher-like instincts could pay dividends as Everton are still getting used to passing their way out of defence. If Norwich put pressure on those defenders and get them into tight areas, Van Wolfswinkel can easily pounce on any mistakes and get his career in English football up and running imminently.
As for Everton, the signings of Arouna Kone and Gerard Deulofeu will add more spice to an already potent attack containing the likes of Nikica Jelavic, Kevin Mirallas, Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar. But with Phil Jagielka now taking over captain duties due to Phil Neville hanging up his boots, the England international will need to step up to the plate this season and fervently lead whatever defensive setup Martinez looks to embed on the team.
Everton kept 11 cleansheets under David Moyes last campaign and Jagielka’s presence was pivotal, winning 68% of his tackles (43 out of 63), 77% (98 out of 127) of ground duels and 64% (87 out of 137) of his aerial tests.
During pre-season, Martinez has instructed his possession-based game and although the three at the back system worked very well against Juventus in the International Champions Cup (ICC) in the United States for example, there were also signs in other games that it’s still a learning curve for the Everton players to get more familiar with and Jagielka will need to be on top form as his team-mates are encouraged to attack more openly.
With everything being considered, I think this game will sum up how a tense opening day fixture feels and if there is to be a winner, it will only be by a slender margin. It’s extremely difficult to split the sides but as Everton continue to adapt to Martinez’s tactics, I predict a long-awaited opening day victory for Norwich and Van Wolfswinkel to shine on his Premier League debut.
Prediction: Norwich 1-0 Everton
Referee: Michael Oliver
Odds via Pinnacle Sports
Norwich to win = 3.25 (Place a £10 bet to win £32.50)
Everton to win = 2.37 (Place a £10 bet to win £23.70)
Draw = 3.42 (Place a £10 bet to win £34.20)