Patient approach can pay off for Norwich City as pressure builds on Premier League champions Chelsea
09:00 21 November 2015
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International breaks are usually just an annoying period of tedium as we wait for the return of club football.
But sadly this one will be remembered for much more than the successes and failures of those involved in the Euro 2016 play-offs and wondering whether Roy Hodgson has any idea of what his best team is.
With so many innocent civilians dying at the hands of ISIS in Beirut and Paris the relative importance of football was thrown into sharp perspective and the suicide bombings in the vicinity of the Stade de France during last Friday night’s game were an unwelcome reminder that sport is not immune from the madness. Sadly the 26-year-old social media administrator of one of Everton’s French supporters’ clubs was one of those gunned down in the massacre at the Bataclan concert hall.
One of his colleagues announced his death on Twitter with the poignant message: “I do not have the strength to write what is happening to us, but be aware that the person who used to respond to your posts will do so no more...”
Football can’t provide much in the way of answers in the face of such an atrocity other than by showing that the inherent tribalism that makes the game the absorbing contest that it is can be put aside for the greater good in the sort of moving display of unity that we saw at Wembley on Tuesday night.
I think it’s fair to say that City fans will be approaching today’s game with markedly different expectations to those that we had when the fixtures were released in the summer. Then Chelsea had just won last season’s Premier League with three games to spare and were lining up another £50million worth of talent to add to an already star-studded squad. Five months on in mid-November it’s hard to believe that they are sitting below City in the table with a negative goal difference and having lost seven of their 12 league games.
What’s more the club is still reeling from the fallout from the Eva Carneiro affair and the increasingly bizarre media appearances of a manager who is giving every impression of being out of control. Everything suggests that there couldn’t be a better time for City to be playing them.
However, while Chelsea’s confidence may be low City will need to perform better than they did in their last game after an international break, that ignominious defeat at Newcastle. Much will also depend on how much energy the break has sapped from the legs of City’s international players, although Martin Olsson, Robbie Brady, inset, and Wes Hoolahan should be feeling buoyant after their success in the play-offs.
What is positive from a City perspective is the fact that Jose Mourinho will not have a clear idea of how the Canaries will set up. Will Alex Neil return to the three centre backs formation that he employed at the Etihad or the flat back four with two holding midfielders that we used against Swansea, or will we see yet another shape?
I think it’s highly unlikely that City will try to be particularly expansive; the fact that Chelsea have failed to utilise their attacking weapons particularly well so far this season doesn’t mean that they’ve lost their potency. However, they have a notoriously fickle crowd and Neil will know that the longer his side can stay on level terms, the more the pressure will build.
City have reason to travel with confidence, particularly after their last two performances. However, Chelsea’s squad is still stellar and one feels that at some point they have to find some form. Let’s hope it’s not this week.