Kick it off…
With the 2013/14 Premier League season just three days away it's time to look at the Norwich City starting eleven that Chris Hughton will put out against Everton at 3pm on Saturday. The final couple of games in the pre-season schedule are usually a good indicator as to a manager's view of his strongest team and, apart from a change in goal and a suspension, it's the side that started in the 1-1 draw against Real Sociedad a week ago that should run out this weekend.
August 14th, 2013
Mark Bunn was between the sticks for that game and, along with the suspended Leroy Fer, he’ll miss out as England international John Ruddy takes up the position behind the defenders. Although Sebastien Bassong played 60 minutes in the Under-21s win over Stoke on Monday that’s the only recent action he’s seen due to an injury and the Everton game may come too soon. With the team captain out, club captain Russell Martin will take his place in central defence along with Michael Turner. Steven Whittaker will fill the right-back berth vacated by Martin, with summer signing Martin Olsson given the nod at left-back.
Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson are likely to fill the middle of the pitch with Robert Snodgrass out on the right. Nathan Redmond, who impressed in the England Under-21s 6-0 win over Scotland with a goal and the Man of the Match award, brings real competition to the opposite wing. Expect to see him start on the left with Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett ready to come off the bench.
Hughton looks set to adopt a 4-4-1-1 formation so expect to see Wes Hoolahan play in the support role to the striker as Leroy Fer completes a ban. It will be a shame to see Wes lose his place after the season opener but he’ll have to play a blinder to keep out Fer who has really caught the eye in pre-season. At the top of the formation will be Ricky van Wolfswinkel, with Gary Hooper ready to come on to play upfront with him or in place of him. Saturday’s final friendly against Panathinaikos saw the former Celtic striker exit the game on a stretcher but City fans have since breathed a huge sigh of relief as it was confirmed that his injury will be short-term at the most. With Luciano Becchio the only other recognised striker at the club, it could be said that Norwich City are short in the striking department but when the boss looks like he’ll go with just one upfront, it’s not easy keeping three forwards happy sat on the bench.
So, without injuries and suspensions it looks like Hughton has created a solid spine to the team – John Ruddy (part of the England setup and the subject of a reported £10m bid from Chelsea), Sebastien Bassong (Norwich City’s Player of the Year in his debut season at Carrow Road), Leroy Fer (the subject of a £8m bid from Everton six months ago and likened to Patrick Vieira on and off the pitch, although all I remember of the Arsenal midfielder off the pitch was arguing with Roy Keane in the tunnel before a game), and Ricky van Wolfswinkel (the club’s record £8.5m signing).
Decorate that spine on the left with England Under-21 starlet Nathan Redmond and the solid Martin Olsson, with club captain Russell Martin and the impressive Robert Snodgrass on the right then you have the makings of a team that can sit comfortably in the top half of the Premier League table. I predict Chris Hughton’s Norwich City – and it really now is his Norwich City – to finish 10th. I’ll remember this post in May…