Forget FA Cup romance, Alex Neil targets Premier League fringe benefits against Manchester City
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Alex Neil is no FA Cup romantic but the Norwich City boss can see the fringe benefits of progress in the world famous cup competition.
Much of the Scot’s planning has reflected the upcoming Premier League trips to Stoke City and Bournemouth, although Neil is keen to retain the Carrow Road fear factor for visiting sides.
“We want to try and build on the fact we are five unbeaten at home,” he said. “Manchester City’s away form isn’t great so there is no reason we can’t go and win it. Having this cup game now allows the players to enjoy it and really attack it. There is no pressure, in terms of fighting for three points, and that is pretty much what I will be telling them before the game. We want to advance in the cup but go and enjoy it, go and play, go and be aggressive and show them what you have got. There will be certainly less pressure than of late.
“We’ll select a team that is capable of winning the game. I can appreciate the fans would love a run but if I was to stay to them, ‘What would you prefer, staying in the league or beating Man City in the cup?’ I am pretty sure they would want to retain their league position. I appreciate the fact they want a cup run, and so do we, but I have to do what is best for the club. The one thing about the FA Cup is it’s a one-off, knockout competition. You just need to play well on the day.”
Neil understands the traditional attachment and affection many feel towards the FA Cup.
“Cup games are not the be all and end all, certainly at this stage of the competition, because the league is more important and I am not going to apologise for saying that. That is the truth,” he said. “When we were challenging at the top of the Championship last season if I’d had an FA Cup tie I would have seen it in exactly the same way. Every time you go on the pitch you want to win, but maybe the teams in the bottom 10 of the Premier League see it exactly the same way. Perhaps if you are lower down the leagues and you get a big draw you see it as potential for a scalp.”
Neil is pledging to avoid wholesale changes but one constant from City’s battling 2-1 Premier League defeat at the Etihad in October could be the tactical approach, which saw the Canaries deploy three centre-backs for the first time under him.
“There are certain ways I would set up against certain opposition and if you look at Manchester City, on a number of occasions, they end up playing with four up front so if you go four at the back you are literally man for man at times,” he said. “That is why we occupied that area of the pitch with the sweeper to give us that overload at the back when we went there. It is certainly something that has come into my thinking.
“We gave a good account of ourselves and it was a game we should really have taken something from. Not to see that out was disappointing. I don’t think I have ever thrown a completely neutral 11 in, mostly it is four, five, six changes to go around some guys who are regularly playing in the team.”