It’s difficult to judge sides this early on in the season, as there are still hundreds of games to be played, but these two sides will take heart from their opening two matches. Norwich City have performed better than the other two promoted sides, highlighting the importance of Premier League experience. They managed to keep the majority of their squad when they were relegated during the 2013/14 season and that will allow them to transition easily back to the top flight. Meanwhile Stoke have only managed to pick up one point from their opening two matches, but they have showed that they won’t be easy to beat this season.
Norwich picked up their first points of the season with a convincing win over Sunderland last weekend. They were unlucky in their opening day defeat against Crystal Palace, especially as Cameron Jerome had a perfectly good goal disallowed. The Canaries look well organised under Alex Neil and everybody in last week’s starting eleven has a great amount of Premier League experience and that is key in this division. Although Norwich have long been seen as a hardworking outfit, who will be physical and tough to beat, they have some very exciting flair players in Wes Hoolahan, Nathan Redmond and Robbie Brady. That trio will cause a lot of problems this season with their pace and creative instincts.
After making a lot of headlines this summer, in terms of the ability of their signings, Stoke have started the season with a draw and a loss. It looks bad on paper, but they have played Liverpool and Tottenham, two sides pushing for a top four place this season. Stoke could have picked up more points if luck had gone their way and their comeback at White Hart Lane shows that they won’t stop fighting this season, which has become integrated into their DNA. Xherden Shaqiri is an exciting signing and continues to highlight the changes being made under Mark Hughes to improve the club’s reputation.
In the corresponding fixture during the 2013/14 season, the two sides shared the spoils in a 1-1. Bradley Johnson scored the opener to give the hosts a slender lead, before Jonathan Walters netted from the spot to equalise. Meanwhile in the other fixture between the two sides, Norwich managed to beat Stoke at the Brittania Stadium. A Jonny Howson strike seperated the two clubs and gave Norwich a precious three points.
Norwich have only failed to score twice in their last 23 matches, highlighting their quality in the final third.
Stoke have only won three of their last twelve matches in the Premier League.
Nathan Redmond has long been tipped for big things in this country, since bursting onto the scene at Birmingham City as a 17 year old. He impressed in Birmingham’s Europa League campaign and was linked to many Premier League clubs as a result. This will be his third season as a Norwich player and being back on the Premier League stage could see him make England’s Euro 2016 squad if he has a good year. At the age of 21, Redmond needs to add consistency to his game and become wiser. He has shown signs of both in Norwich’s opening two fixtures, as he caused Crystal Palace and Sunderland problems with his quality in the final third. He has already scored twice this season, showing his ability in front of goal. Everybody knows about his pace, but Redmond also has excellent close ball control and he is able to deliver quality crosses from out wide. He will be a danger on Saturday as Stoke lack pace at the back and they will find the winger difficult to deal with when he is running at them.
Stoke have signed some excellent attacking players this summer, and the competition for places will be intense. Xherden Shaqiri and Ibrahim Afellay will bring Champions League quality to the Stoke attack. Marko Arnautovic has been an exciting player for Stoke over the last few seasons and he brings unpredictability to the side. His attitude has got in the way of his talent in the past, but he has found at home at the Brittania Stadium and his game has become a lot more consistent as a result. He played well against Spurs last week, playing a pivotal role in the side’s comeback, grabbing the first goal from the penalty spot. The Austrian will have to perform well over the coming weeks to secure his place in the first eleven. His unpredictable style of play makes him difficult to defend against as he can beat defenders with skill and threaten the goal from distance. Norwich will be wary of Arnautovic as he can be unplayable on his day, while his strength and height make him a different proposition to most wingers in the Premier League.
Martin Olsson and Kyle Lafferty are both closing in on a return to action, which will boost the options available to Alex Neil. Youssuf Mulumbu is still injured, but Norwich will be hoping that he returns soon as the midfielder signed in the summer will add steel to their midfield. Robbie Brady impressed at Sunderland and is likely to keep his place this weekend.
Jon Walters has an illness and is a doubt ahead of the trip to Norwich. Marc Wilson could be back in the squad after an ankle injury. Peter Odemwingie is still a week away from returning to first team action, while captain Ryan Shawcross is set to be out for a while with a back injury. Xherden Shaqiri is set to make his debut this weekend.
It will be a physical game, especially in the midfield areas, but both teams have exciting attacking players. Norwich have played very well in their opening two matches and home advantage could be key this weekend in giving them a second successive victory. Nathan Redmond and Robbie Brady will be key this weekend as they have the pace to trouble the Stoke full backs. The hosts still have the winning mentality that they developed under Neil towards the end of last season and they will be keen to use that to gain a good points total before Christmas. Stoke have been tipped for another top half finish and if they are to achieve that, they will want to be winning these kind of matches. I think they will cancel each other out.
Norwich 2-2 Stoke City