Norwich City in the mood to topple Southampton says Alex Neil
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Alex Neil is no FA Cup romantic but the Norwich City boss is not ready to sacrifice a place in the fourth round to focus on a Championship revival.
Neil has pledged to send out a team good enough to get past Premier League Southampton on Saturday, but the Scot readily accepts the Canaries' league status is the only measure of success.
'I want to be clear about it. The league is our priority,' he said. 'I have said that before all the cup ties we play. We want to win the game and that will be reflected in the team. You will look at the side and know that I want to win this game. It won't be a case, like at Everton in the League Cup this season, where I made 11 changes. It won't be anything like that. It might be a couple here or there.
'Of course there are key players we have to protect but we can't go into every game worrying about injuries. The way I am approaching it is, 'who has had a lot of minutes, who has played a lot of game time and probably needs to be dipped out?' because we have a really important run. The next three league games are absolutely crucial to get back up the table.'
Nelson Oliveira comes into the protected category after seven goals in seven games.
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'Imagine we lose him for weeks through injury. You would be saying that is a mistake on my part,' said Neil. 'If I put him in and he gets injured then I will be criticised and if we put him in and we don't play well I will still be criticised. That is the type of call you have to make as a manager.
'When I was playing you had smaller squads, maybe 18 players and the best XI played week in, week out. The cup was approached the same way as the league. Now the modern game is so much quicker, the demands placed on them are greater and to be honest perhaps we are bit too precious with them in terms of protecting them and making sure they are nice and comfortable.
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'Nowadays because teams freshen up you can get caught short, like at Barnsley or at home to Huddersfield. The expectation and the pressure on this club is to be either in the Premier League or challenging to be in the Premier League and we have hovered in that bracket for quite a length of time. The league will always be the priority because the rewards far outweigh winning a cup game.'
Neil is expecting Claude Puel to rotate his squad, after complaining about a festive workload and with an EFL Cup semi-final tie against Liverpool on the horizon.
'That game, in my eyes, would take priority over this tie because it is an opportunity for them to get to a final,' he said. 'I certainly think he will be freshening things up. You might say we have an advantage, in terms of playing a lot of games close together, because that is the nature of the Championship. The only thing I would say to counter that is you probably don't play at the intensity you get in the Premier League. Although we are more acclimatised to it we don't play at that same pace or intensity you find in the Premier League.
'When we went to Everton we played a really strong team, made 11 changes and managed to win the game, so we are more than capable of beating Southampton.'
Neil knows the result will take care of itself if Norwich carry on in the same vein they swept aside Derby.
'Derby had been in unbelievable form, won eight out of nine, beat us at their place in a tight game, but performance-wise it could literally have been six or seven,' he said. 'It had a different feel to it and I hope that continues and there is no reason why it shouldn't. If you go out in the next one and the game is a damp squib then people will I am talking rubbish, but it felt like a game where we put some things right.'