Fresh from cup success Sunderland host a rejuvenated Norwich City at the Stadium of Light as Gus Poyet continues his attempt to change the fortunes on Tyneside.
Bottom of the league Sunderland had a brief distraction from their precarious league position – the North East team will prop the table at Christmas – with a midweek win over Chelsea in League Cup seeing them through to the semi-finals of the competition.
After being taken to the cleaners and ripped apart by a faulty washing machine against Manchester City and Liverpool (Suarez), Norwich have reacted with improved performances and a run of 3 wins from 6 games and a draw last week to Swansea has distanced themselves from the bottom 3. A big Christmas will determine how the rest of their season pans out with, Manchester United aside, winnable games against Sunderland, Fulham and Crystal Palace.
The performances by the South Korean midfielder this season have already made Sunderland interested in signing him on a permanent deal from Swansea, and fresh from scoring the winner against Chelsea will again be important for Sunderland against Norwich.
Gus Poyet’s success at Brighton was down to the passing style of football and the key (no pun intended) to this at Sunderland is Ki. With a passing accuracy of 89%, the role Ki operates for Sunderland is similar to the that which Michael Carrick plays at Manchester United as they look to retain possession and draw opposition players out of position.
Ki also offers a defensive ability that saw him play centre back at Swansea when they struggled with injuries and despite Poyet wanting improvement on this area of his game the South Korean midfielder is an acceptable shield for Sunderland backline – 10 interceptions, 81% tackling success and 39 ground duels won proves this.
One of the former Leeds players currently residing at Norwich, Howson’s understated but pivotal role in the side has seen him marked by many as player of the (first half) season for the Canaries.
The calmness on the ball in a team who can be careless in the possession is a massive attribute and it is unsurprising that Howson has completed the most passes (610) for Norwich as he looks to keep things moving – just like Ki for Sunderland. When an option isn’t available however Howson possesses the ability to dribble his way out of trouble – something he managed to do against West Ham which helped Norwich secure the win.
The scorer of 2 goals this season Howson has been restricted to a deeper role than he best operates due to injuries, particularly Alex Tetty who allowed the English midfielder to advance further forward and into goal scoring positions.
Sunderland are unbeaten against Norwich at home since 1997 and have won 4 of the last 5 meetings.
Sunderland’s 2 victories, both coming at the Stadium of Light, this season is the worst record in the Premier League.
On average this season, Sunderland have scored 0.8 per game and Norwich have averaged 0.9 goals per game.
Norwich’s troublesome away form has seen them score 6 goals and concede a monstrous 21 goals – 72% of their goals against total.
Steven Fletcher and Jack Colback are both available for this weekend, while the game could come too soon for Kieran Westwood.
Norwich gleefully welcome back key players Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Robert Snodgrass into the squad after missing a chunk of the season. Pilkington and Tetty will be unavailable until the New Year though.
A game that will start as a cautious affair as neither team will want to lose, Sunderland’s physically draining extra time exploits against Chelsea mid-week could catch up with them on Saturday. With this in mind, and the upturn in performances and results by Norwich – including a good away performance against West Brom to get them the 3 points -, the away side may just pip this in a highly contested game.