These sides are only separated by two points going into the weekends fixtures, with both still carrying relegation fears, but a victory on Saturday would go a long way towards safety. Neither side are in immediate danger of dropping into the relegation zone, but this is the sort of fixture that both sides will be targeting to win. There are only ten games left in the season, so it’s imperative that sides near the bottom don’t get into a losing habit, as it could prove terminal. It’s more crucial for Norwich to get points from this match as they are at home and they face a horrific run in, so they need to pick up sufficient points before then.
Norwich had a poor result at the weekend, losing 4-1 to Aston Villa after taking the lead, but it was the manner of performance that will worry supporters, especially after the good display in the victory against Tottenham a week prior. Inconsistency has been a word that describes Norwich’s season as they can be really good and pull out victories when it’d desperately needed, but they are poor too often. Their main problem this season has been scoring goals, they have only found the net on 21 occasions. The only sides who have scored less are Crystal Palace and Cardiff.
Stoke have began to propel themselves up the table into 13th place, two spots above their opponents on Saturday. They have played well recently with impressive wins over Manchester United and Arsenal being the highlights. They also came very close to taking something away from the Etihad, until Yaya Toure scored a late goal. Mark Hughes has had an impact at Stoke as they are starting to play better football, but there are still some parts of their play that are left in tact from the Pulis era. That was seen against Arsenal as the players were once again physical with Charlie Adam picking up a retrospective three match ban for his stamp on Olivier Giroud.
When the two sides met earlier in the season, Norwich ran out 1-0 winners with Johnny Howson bagging the only goal at the Britannia Stadium. In the corresponding fixture last season, Norwich also won 1-0 with Bradley Johnson scoring the goal. There aren’t normally many goals in this fixture and I expect that trend to continue on Saturday.
Norwich are yet to lose at home in 2014 after playing five matches. They have managed to keep a clean sheet in their last four home matches against Tottenham, Manchester City, Newcastle and Hull, all teams that normally score goals.
From their last eleven league matches, Stoke have only beaten Manchester United and Arsenal, both of which were at home. This will boost Norwich who are in desperate need of a result.
Norwich need their strikers to start scoring regularly and Gary Hooper is the one that looks most likely to do that as Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Johan Elmander share just one Premier League goal between them. The former Celtic striker was prolific in Scotland, but he has yet to bring that form to Norwich. He has scored five times, but he has a very impressive shooting accuracy of 68% showing he can hit the target when given the chance. The striker has missed seven clear cut chances out of nine, which is a stat he’ll look to improve on as at a side like Norwich, you really have to take your chances. He’s been in and out of the side, but he’ll be hoping he gets a run in the side from now to the end of the season. If he does, he’ll cause sides plenty of problems and he could even improve on his goal tally.
Steven N’Zonzi has become a crucial part of the Stoke side in the centre of midfield. He offers a strong, ball winning midfielder who works hard for the side, with ability on the ball to find a team-mate. His tackle success rate of 82.61% is very impressive from 46 tackles, which highlights his abilities when going into a tackle. He is also very useful in the air winning 74% of his aerial 50-50s, while he has also won 47% of his ground 50-50s. He will be key for Stoke on Saturday as they need to control the centre of midfield in what is expected to be a tight match. He also has the quality to cut open the opposition defence.
Jonas Gutierrez could make his return after a calf injury. Joseph Yobo, Martin Olsson and Robert Snodgrass are all doubts for Saturday. While Michael Turner, Elliott Bennett, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer are all expected to be missing again for Norwich.
Peter Odemwingie and Robert Huth are doubts for the trip to Norwich. The only other injury is Oussama Assaidi who will be missing on Saturday with a knee injury.
I expect it to be very tight and it could be decided by only one goal again, but Norwich look more likely to come out as winners. They need to win given their position in the league and their difficult run in, while their home form has been very good lately. Stoke have been dodgy on their travels and they’ll be up against a team who know that they need to win to ease the pressure yet again on Chris Hughton.