Saturday, 18 August 2012

Norwich City Premier League Preview

Football has come home. Well the Premier League starts again, and that is football right?

Norwich City start their campaign away at Craven Cottage after a fairly limp pre-season. The games played under Hughton up till now have not really given us much insight into how they will fair, as it seems pre-season is more about the fitness of the players and bedding in new recruits rather than the results, so we have little to go on in way of making predictions. Under Bryan Gunn, Norwich were unbeaten in their pre-season and went on to lose their opener 7-1 at home to Colchester United which serves to illustrate this point quite nicely.

Chris Hughton has brought a few players over the summer, as is to be expected. Of those the most useful looks to be Robert Snodgrass from Leeds, expect him to start behind the striker in a 4-5-1 formation, he looks a good player, technically very capable and often a threat from set pieces. His delivery could prove important as a fair chunk of Norwich's goals last season came from headers. More often than not the head of Grant Holt, who after signing a new deal looks set to end his career at Carrow Road. Whether he can replicate the form of last season remains to be seen, but without much pace to lose it could well be business as usual, that business being scoring goals and being an all round (hopefully not too round) fan favourite.

The defence has also been strengthened over the summer, Hughton obviously identifying this as something that needed to be bolstered, bringing in three new players in Michael Turner from Sunderland, Steven Whittaker from Rangers, and Javier Garrido on loan from Lazio. Turner looks to be a good buy, he has three years experience in the Premier League and looks to be a fairly decent player. Whittaker and Garrido will serve to provide competition for places at full back, something which Norwich certainly need with Marc Tierny and Russell Martin as their only other options. Kyle Naughton of course returning to his parent club Tottenham after an impressive season with the Canaries last time around. Jacob Butterfield, who was very highly rated at Barnsley, and impressively captained the side for a time despite being younger than many of his colleagues, completes Hughton's summer business, who will again provide competition for places, this time in the midfield.

With a couple of weeks left in the transfer window fans might be hoping for the club to bring in another striker, as apart from perhaps Grant Holt, not many would back the others who are on the books to get the club the fifteen or so goals that could make the difference between relegation and survival. Though with the lack of money available at the club it could be the case of one in one out, and with speculation over James Vaughan's future, it wouldn't be a surprise to seem him depart to make room for a new arrival.

Looking at the game against Fulham, City fans will certainly be pleased to hear that Clint Dempsey is unlikely to play due to the uncertainty surrounding his future at the London club, after two impressive displays against City last season it is certainly a welcome boost to the Canaries chances. Opening day games are notoriously hard to predict, both clubs will obviously be wanting to get off to a decent start, and I can see this one finishing as a score draw.

Predicted result: Fulham 1-1 Norwich City

Sunday, 24 June 2012

England vs. Italy Preview

After all the upheaval coming into the tournament, England have surprised everyone, probably including themselves with how well they done thus far. Like most of the Roy Hodgson’s teams they are very disciplined and as a result are hard to break down, Steven Gerrard is a great example of this as he is often criticised for his Roy of the Rovers style play, but we have seen much more intelligent performances from him so far. This instilled discipline can be seen in the group games against France and somewhat against Ukraine, specifically, the majority of shots at Joe Hart’s goal were from long range, a testament to their solidity. That isn’t to say that England have been outstanding, they have struggled to retain possession, often giving the ball away sloppily, something they will need to fix as they face a strong Italian team. The return of Wayne Rooney will obviously be a boost; he will add the much needed craft to the team, something that Ashley Young largely failed to provide in the opening two games. England’s bench offers some decent impact substitutes, the pace of Walcott can trouble tired defenders, and if they need to go direct Andy Carroll has proved himself a great target man with a stunning header and decent all round display against Sweden.

Speaking of upheaval, Italy too have had their fair share with another match fixing scandal breaking in the run up to the tournament. The last time this happened before a major tournament was 2006, the year Italy went on to lift the World Cup, if that means anything at all. Italy have been very impressive in the group games, their 3-5-2 formation against Spain was a particular highlight, with Daniel De Rossi outstanding in the largely defunct ‘libero’ position. The worry of that formation is perhaps the tiring of the wing backs who both have to put in a lot of work providing width when attacking, and also cover when out of possession, so it will be interesting to see how they cope. Mario Balotelli could be key to Italy’s chances, having scored a sumptuous overhead kick against Ireland his confidence should be high, with Di Natale perhaps more useful as an impact sub, we are likely to see Super Mario in the starting eleven once more. This game is quite hard to call, and it looks to invert the stereotypes of these two nations, expect Italy to have most of the ball and England to be the ones sitting back looking to counter attack when possible. The game will be close but I feel Italy’s greater all round quality will win out.

Predicted result: England 0-1 Italy

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Spain vs. France Preview

Spain, alongside Germany, would have been most people’s pre-tournament favourites, having won the tournament four years ago and the World Cup two years ago in South Africa. They have of course played in their imitable style, dominating possession in each of their games, they do however seem to lack the penetration of years past, this could be owing to the loss of David Villa to injury, whose goal scoring record for his country is impressive to say the least. Or on the other hand teams may have begun to work out ways to frustrate them, as Italy and Croatia did for large parts of the group games. A lot has been said regarding the false nine formation they adopted against Italy, and for part of the game against Croatia, its main success seems to have been in annoying Mark Bright amongst other pundits. There is no problem with this formation on paper but Spain lack the movement upfront of someone like Alexis Sanchez who works so well in the system at Barcelona, who lest we forget often play without an out and out striker. The often maligned Fernando Torres has had a good tournament so far, and I feel it would be wise to start him against France as they will need someone with good strength on the ball to challenge the combatant centre back pairing of Rami and Mexes.

France, coming into the tournament were on an excellent run of form, free-scoring in the two friendlies that preceded the tournament. They seem to have lost that now that the pressure is really on, against England although they had the majority of possession, akin to Spain they failed to find any real penetration in the final third, relying mainly on long range efforts. Benzema, who looked a good choice to be tournament top scorer, has flattered to deceive so far, not rekindling the form he showed at Real Madrid in the season just passed. Mathieu Debuchy looks to be a decent player, especially coming forward, the game against Spain will be the sternest test yet of his defensive capabilities. Similarly the French midfield will have its work cut out; one would expect Spain to dominate possession so it will be intriguing to see how Cabaye and co cope when they do have their chances on the ball. This game I feel will be a lot close than people might expect, but the Spanish should just edge it.

Predicted result: Spain 2-1 France

Friday, 22 June 2012

Germany vs. Greece Preview

Greece's qualification is perhaps the biggest surprise, what with their opener against Poland where they were to be found one nil down and with only ten men on the pitch, quite a turnaround then to see them beating group favourites Russia in the last game with a goal from captain, and now joint most capped player, Giorgos Karagounis. It is that kind of fighting spirit, akin to 2004, that they will need to show again if they are to have any chance against Germany. Starting Salpingdis would seem like a good idea given the impact he made in the Poland game, Samaras will also need to pick up his game, he has shown glimpses of his talent, but not enough as of yet. Young defender Papadopoulos has been one of the standout players, and he will need to be at his very best to handle the in form Mario Gomez.

Germany will be everyone’s favourites to progress to the semi-finals, they comfortably won their group and don’t look to have hit top gear as of yet which will be a worrying sign for the rest of the teams left in the competition. They have a stellar midfield, Bastien Schwiensteiger as ever has been excellent, and both Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil look to have grown immeasurably in their two years at Real Madrid since the World Cup. Mario Gomez has a real point to prove it seems, after the disappointment of the Champions League final, and criticism from some factions of the German press, he is in sparking form with three goals so far. Mats Hummels at centre back will have been a revelation to many viewers, comfortable on the ball, a great range of passing and great positioning being the hallmarks of his game, off the back of winning the double with Dortmund his confidence will be sky high. It is hard to see anything other than a comfortable German win in this one.

Predicted result: Germany 3-0 Greece

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Euro 2012 Quarter Final Preview

Thursday 21st June 19:45 - Czech Republic versus Portugal

The Czech Republic should count themselves quite lucky to be going through to the quarter final stage, and even more so to be topping the group and avoiding Germany. They were torn apart by Russia in their opening game, and although they managed to beat Greece and Poland, they never looked entirely convincing doing so. Their big name players, such as Cech and Rosicky, the latter of whom is now a doubt for the quarters, have not really turned up so far, something which they will need to remedy fast if they are to go any further in the tournament. It has been Petr Jiracek who has been the standout man for them so far, with coach Bilek quoted as saying he was the 'heart of the team', and with two goals and some impressive performances it is easy to see why.
After a slow start losing their first game to Germany, Portugal have really picked up and look to be in good form going into the quarter finals. A spirited 3-2 victory against a decent Denmark team will obviously have done wonders for their confidence. Ronaldo’s poor performance, by his standards, in that game seems to have really spurred him on and he turned it on against Holland with a man of the match performance. Portugal are solid at the back with Pepe and Bruno Alves, and Joao Moutinho in the midfield is having a very good tournament. Ronaldo will obviously be the key man; if he is on form then Portugal should have enough to get past what is a pretty average Czech team. A great quote from Chris Mann on twitter the other day perfectly sums them up for me; “This Portugal team is very entertaining. It’s a perfect mixture of showy egomaniacs and savage nutters.”

Predicted result: Portugal 2-0 Czech Republic

Saturday, 2 June 2012

What's next for Norwich City?

After weeks of speculation, started mostly by himself in his post-match interview on the final day of the season, Paul Lambert has left Norwich City for pastures new, that's Aston Villa to you. This leaves the obvious question, who will replace him?
Alan Curbishley, a running joke in regards to managerial vacancies, has of course been touted, along with Steve Bruce, Chris Hughton, Malky Mackay, Neil Lennon, and if you believe and local taxi drivers, Lee Clarke.
David McNally, in an interview with BBC Radio Norfolk, denied claims that there would be any approach for Neil Lennon so that would seemingly rule him out. Curbishley, as mentioned above, is linked with every top flight vacancy, and although he had a fairly decent record with Charlton is unlikely to be appointed. The less said about Steve Bruce the better.
That leaves us with Malky Mackay and Chris Hughton. Most of the speculation in the press seems to be suggesting that Mackay is the favourite to take over at Carrow Road, with Sky Sports reporting yesterday that an approach had been made, though Cardiff have since denied that any such contact has been made. Mackay would be a popular choice with the fans, having made over 200 appearances for the club between 1998 and 2004, but his lack of experience at the highest level would be of concern.
Out of the candidates mentioned above, it is Chris Hughton that in my mind would be best suited for the job. He has Premier League experience having coached at both Tottenham and Newcastle, as well as his stint in the top flight as Newcastle manager in 2010, the outcry at his sacking serving as testament to the work he had done with the club, galvanising the squad and taking them back into the Premier League at the first attempt. Hughton also has an eye for a player, bringing in Cheik Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa and James Perch during his tenure, who have become integral parts of the Newcastle team over the last season. His style of play could also be suited to the personnel that Norwich have at their disposal. With Newcastle, Hughton made great use of Andy Carroll's aerial presence and Joey Barton's delivery from wide. Stats from the season show Norwich's David Fox as having had the highest percentage of successful crosses in the league with 41.3% (minimum of 30 crosses), and only Manchester United (16) scored more headed goals than Norwich with 15.
The clincher for me would be that at Newcastle Hughton's hair slowly began to represent the teams colours and seeing him with yellow and green hair can only be a good thing for football, not just in the city of Norwich but for the world as a whole.