The Premier League’s final Saturday instalment comes from Carrow Road, where Norwich City take on Manchester City. Both sides come into the game with defensive injury worries, however it will be Norwich who are hit hardest by these. Max Aarons and Zimmermann are expected to miss out, with Sam Byram and Grant Hanley coming in. Manchester City will be without defender Aymeric Laporte, however could see the timely return of John Stones for their first trip to a newly promoted side of the season.
In their opening four games, Norwich have looked to carry on where they left off in the Championship. They have already taken on Liverpool and Chelsea, and if they are to set up in a similar fashion against City, it could be a long afternoon.
Lining up 4-2-3-1, Norwich opt to play with a very narrow midfield, then looking for their full backs to provide the width going forward. The compact midfield helps them overcrowd the opposition and retain the ball, a tactic which worked extremely well against Newcastle, and it patches, against Chelsea. Norwich also look to play out from the back, and this is partly down to their lack of height up front, as well as talented midfield on the ball. Moritz Leitner in particular has started well for Norwich in the midfield, ranking 10th in the Premier League for completed passes (275), however, this style of play is going to be a worry against City, and has already led to a number of problems this season in matches.
Although playing out from the back has allowed them to retain possession in games, ranking 8th for completed passes and averaging 51.4% possession, it has also led to them conceding goals. For example, Chelsea’s second goal from Mason Mount came as a result of a high press from Chelsea, in which a misplaced pass playing out from midfield when Norwich had pushed up left outnumbered at the back and out of shape at the back. As the full backs are expected to provide a high level of width to attacks, if the ball is turned over in their own half, it can often leave Norwich outnumbered. This was also the case against West Ham in their previous game when a misplaced pass on the halfway line led to West Ham breaking quickly, this time wasting the opportunity. Susceptible to the counter attack, also factoring in Manchester City’s ability to play an effective high press and Norwich could be the manufacturers of their own downfall.
If Norwich are to adapt to this and play with more restrained full backs, they immediately lose one of their main attacking threats, as well as an out ball out wide. On the left flank, Jamal Lewis will be up against Kyle Walker, and Walker’s pace is
another worry for Norwich, as similar to Andy Robertson on the opening day, his ability to get up and down the flank throughout the game comfortably means there will be less space for Lewis. There is also a lack of an option for Norwich to go long, as Teemu Pukki doesn’t demonstrate a threat in the air. Yet to win an aerial dual all season, Norwich will continue to endeavour with playing out from the back, and this coupled with City’s effective high press will lead to a lot of problems.
Norwich’s other main worry is at centre back, where Grant Hanley is expected to return after being replaced for the trip to West Ham. A solid defender in the Championship, he has struggled to adapt back to the faster nature of the Premier League, and in particular his performances against Liverpool and Chelsea are a cause for concern for Daniel Farke. It was Tammy Abraham’s performance against him which sends the alarm bells ringing, as he was unable to deal with the young striker’s pace. This led to him sitting off him and allowing him space to run at Norwich’s back four, and subsequently led to Chelsea’s winner in the second half. Raheem Sterling could be given the central striking role given Jesus’ injury and Aguero’s long travels on the international break, and if this is the case, Hanley will struggle to deal with Sterling’s movement.
Sam Byram is expected to come in for Norwich at right back to replace the injured Aarons, and although this will lead to a more restrained attacking approach from the full back, it is a tough game to be handed his first league start of the season. Bar a substitute appearance of one minute against Newcastle, his only other minutes came in the Carabao Cup defeat to Crawley, and it is a big ask to be thrown in straight away. Potentially up against the tricky prospects of Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling, it will be a difficult task for Byram. His disciplinary record is also questionable, picking up 3 yellows in 6 games for Forest last season, and 6 in 23 (8 of which were off the bench) games in the Premier League for West Ham in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons. As a result, he looks a overpriced at 4.33 (Bet365) to be booked. Furthermore, card friendly referee Kevin Friend will take charge, and has so far shown 14 yellows and 2 reds across three games.
Given these injury worries, and City’s attacking threat, I expect to see a very comfortable City win. Goal markets are particularly short prices, however there is value in Over 1.5 goals in the first half and City to lead at HT at 2.20 on Bet365. The open nature of Norwich’s games has led to exciting first halves, and City will want to have the game wrapped up as early as possible, as a trip to Shakhtar awaits on Wednesday.