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Saturday, October 6, 2012
Chris Hughton is not a greedy man. He would happily settle for a repeat of Norwich City’s last Premier League visit to the capital.
The Canaries’ merited 1-1 draw at Tottenham marked the high point of Hughton’s early City reign. Brad Friedel’s heroics denied the visitors all three points on a day when Norwich’s travelling support were treated to a glimpse of just what might be possible this season.
A frustrating home draw against West Ham followed by consecutive league defeats served to temper the mood of optimism engendered at White Hart Lane, but Hughton will remind his men anything is possible against the European champions.
Chelsea have looked omnimously good at home and abroad so far but Hughton detects a Blues’ outfit in transition with the summer arrival of some sublime midfield talents offset by the exit of the talismanic Didier Drogba.
“I would be delighted if I got a Spurs type of result and a performance and I would expect every single player in contention to look forward to this,” said Hughton. “Stoke went and put up a very good account of themselves. Reading went there in a night game and did well too so there should be no fear. Chelsea have been very good in recent seasons and perhaps they now have more fluency to their game.
“No Drogba has certainly given them a team that does not have that strong, physical centre forward. (Fernando) Torres is a different type of number nine and the players they have brought in with Oscar and (Eden) Hazard are very slight, mobile, quality players. With (Juan) Mata as well you can see how they rotate in a forward three. Only time will tell whether that extra dimension makes them as successful and as progressive as in recent years, but they have brought in very exciting players.”
Torres looked a pale imitation of the man who destroyed defences at Liverpool when he featured for the Blues in last season’s goalless Carrow Road draw. Hughton, however, insists the Spaniard can still recapture the form that saw him first burst onto the Premier League scene.
“I think he is a super player,” he said. “You cannot go from the form he showed at Liverpool to all of a sudden not being the same type of player. I think the circumstances when he first moved where different and the question was always, ‘Could he play with Drogba?’ I am quite sure that Torres’ answer would be that he didn’t play as regularly as he did at Liverpool, so he could never quite get into that rhythm.
“There is a confidence in his game now. He has a lot of good movement around him. He is always a player who is not just about scoring goals but he can work centre halves and make assists. If anything perhaps he is becoming a better all round player as a result.”
Hughton’s task to try and end Chelsea’s perfect league start at home was made all the more difficult by the manner of last weekend’s Liverpool beating. Changes look inevitable this afternoon and Hughton admitted no-one inside the Norwich changing room will have cause for complaint.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “In each result and each poor result you have got to take it on the chin. It is very much about competition and competition is about producing performances and results. I would rather see it in terms of the fact that we have good competition within the squad to be able to change it. I think you always consider changes – that is always the balance and the fine line. You have a real bad day last week but for the four games before that the performance was quite consistent. Do you make changes for the sake of it or do you give the same players the opportunity to go again?
“We didn’t defend well on the goals. We made basic errors. You can’t afford to give a team like Liverpool and particularly a player like (Luis) Suarez those type of opportunities or you will get punished.”
Hughton’s best-laid plans to nullify Suarez and the Reds asted barely two minutes at Carrow Road.
“That is the most frustrating thing as a manager,” he said. “I think Russell Martin said afterwards when he was interviewed that he didn’t see that type of result coming. One of the criticisms has been that we have not finished off our chances, but as a team I think most would generally have felt we were quite solid and the shape was quite good.
“So, of course, when you work and you have a game plan and on the day you give Suarez those sort of opportunities that is hard to take.
“But I would see it more as individual errors last week. You want to defend well as a team and that starts from the front but you are relying on individuals not making errors. I thought four of the goals were down to individual errors. That is disappointing. We could always go the other way and look at the three goals Suarez scored, but I think they could have been avoided.”
The City manager’s room for manoeuvre at Stamford Bridge will hinge as much as the fitness of Sebastien Bassong and Anthony Pilkington, with both only returning to training towards the end of the week. Hughton confirmed teenage striker Harry Kane had undergone successful surgery on his broken foot injury but the Tottenham loanee is poised to be out until December.
“Anything short of eight to ten weeks will be a real bonus,” he said. “That was a real big blow for us because it was so innocuous. It wasn’t a bad challenge or an injury he had suffered before.”
Hughton revealed he is also likely to hold back the likes of Jacob Butterfield to feature in City’s scheduled Premier League U21 development game against Everton at Carrow Road on Monday. The attacking midfielder made his senior debut in the recent Capital One Cup win over Doncaster after a long term knee problem.
“He has missed a few days of training this week, but that was something completely different,” said Hughton. “He was back on Thursday so he is close, but he probably just needs that little bit more. It’s good timing for us because it leads into the international week, althought we can only play three over-age players.”