A much changed Stoke City will host a struggling Norwich City side this Sunday after both sides progressed into the next round of the Capital One Cup in midweek.
Boring. Unadventurous. Threat from set pieces. Last season you would have associated this with Stoke, but Mark Hughes’ short tenure as manager has already seen a sharp improvement to the style of football they play. The trip to Arsenal last weekend saw Stoke have 49.6% possession, attempt 507 passes with a 85% accuracy, and 10 shots. Yet for all of the improvement in Stoke’s build up play, Stoke still created the same amount of chances as they did during last year’s visit and have scored 4 goals in 5 Premier League games this season.
On the other hand, Norwich fans will associate their team with the adjectives formerly related to Stoke. Norwich have had a stop and start go to the season with good results against Everton and Southampton contrasted with poor results against Hull and Aston Villa. Like Stoke, Norwich have struggled in front of goal and have only scored 3 goals in the league – 2 of which came on the opening day.
Once described by having the mentality of a child, deadline day signing Marko Arnautovic was impressive against Arsenal and got an assist in midweek against Tranmere. The attacking midfielder started on the left at Arsenal and had a spell on the right, but his focus was always the same as he looked to cut inside and drift into the middle. This played a part in goal as it was his initial shot, as well as his superb technical ability to volley N’Zonzi’s lobbed pass with such control, which hit the post before Cameron scored.
Against Norwich, this could cause real problems for the Canaries, who looked poor in defence against Aston Villa and the awful positioning in the build up to Villa’s goal made it too easy. For a player brought in for a bigger impact in the attacking third Arnautovic showed that he isn’t a luxury player as he tracked back to complete his defensive duties, which included 4 tackles near his own corner flag.
Creativity has been a problem for Norwich, especially down the centre with the majority of their attacks coming from the wing – Robert Snodgrass had 41 crosses against Aston Villa last week without much joy. Wes Hoolahan has been the magician for Norwich in the recent years and Jonny Howson has proved he is a good player despite his inconsistencies, but the threat from midfield will come from summer signing Leroy Fer.
In Norwich’s only win of the season ,against Southampton, Leroy Fer was instrumental in the central midfield. The Dutch midfielder won 11 ground duels and made 7 tackles during the game showing the strength he will need against a Stoke side that has a physical presence despite the changes to their style. His passing was also impressive, a pass accuracy of 89%, being able to keep it simple or successfully shifting the ball out wide and this is where Norwich’s only goal in 4 Premier League games came from. Fer also made another impressive assist against Watford during midweek, slotting a through ball past 5 Watford players to find Gary Hooper – a tactic that hasn’t been used by Norwich enough. Crosses in the box will be easy for Shawcross and Huth to deal with.
- Somewhat ironically for all of these improvements the 3 goals Stoke conceded against Arsenal came from set pieces – a strength for Tony Pulis’ Stoke.
- Stoke have the highest long ball accuracy in the league so far this season with 41%.
- Norwich have only picked up 23 points in their last 26 Premier League games.
- The last 3 fixtures between the sides have all ended 1-0 to the home side.
Erik Pieters (calf) and Marc Muniesa (groin) are doubts for the match alongside Matthew Etherington who suffered a whiplash injury on Friday morning.
Sebastian Bassong is a major doubt for Norwich after suffering a hamstring injury against Aston Villa. Chris Hughton can welcome back Ricky van Wolfswinkel though, who missed the trip to Watford with a toe injury, and will include Josh Murphy in the squad after the teenager’s impressive debut.
During Bassong’s 4 match absence last season Norwich conceded 17 goals, yes 17, and without their captain Norwich look like a different defensive prospect – this will make Stoke favourites after getting 10 points in their 5 games and impressing in their defeats. The threat of Gary Hooper, fresh from opening his account for Norwich at Watford, will be an issue for Stoke and Norwich will be a threat from set pieces, but the experienced duo of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross should make for another frustrating game for Norwich fans.
Stoke City 1-0 Norwich City