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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Norwich City

Connor Southwell of the Eastern Daily Press on The Canaries

4 March 2022

Norwich sit bottom of the Premier League table going into Saturday’s clash, five points from safety with 12 games left. What have you made of what you have seen so far in 2022?

The key point is to say that, since the managerial change in November, there has been a lot of improvement. They have been a lot better defensively and, though they are still shipping goals, they have been significantly better than they were. They have posed more of a threat and are more competitive at this level so, in many ways, I would say the Norwich City side that Brentford are going to face on Saturday is almost completely different to the one they faced earlier on in the season, though Norwich picked up a win on that occasion. There has definitely been improvement, it is now just a case of whether the improvement ramps up to a rate that is good enough for them to get the points they need to stay in the division.

They have won two and drawn one of their seven league games since January, with both wins coming against Everton and Watford. Do you think those encouraging performances against teams battling it out to stay up will stand them in good stead for the last couple of months?

Yes, I do. There is no getting away from it, from a Norwich perspective, that they have to win on Saturday. That is the general consensus, not just among fans but players as well and, when you are in their position, you are looking up the table and at which teams you can drag into it. To do that, particularly what we have seen recently with various teams having games in hand and the league table is a bit skewed, you have to win those matches when they come around and so I think that places a bit more significance. They play Brentford at home and then Leeds away next Sunday, but have sandwiched a game with Chelsea in between because of the FA Cup, which is a bit inconvenient. People are looking at it and thinking that there are eight games now that define their season and, if they come out of the games against Brentford and Leeds with six points, they are going to be alive again and still in touch. That has to be the aim and I think there is some significance in the fact they managed to beat Everton and Watford because it has hopefully shown the players and given them a bit of confidence that, in these types of games, with the way Smith sets them up, they can perform and they can extract points, which is going to be the target for Saturday’s game.

Ex-Brentford boss Dean Smith took over from Daniel Farke – who signed off with victory against Thomas Frank’s men in the last meeting between the teams – in November. How was he received by the fans and how has he settled in at the club?

He has been received very well. Norwich fans viewed it as a little bit of a coup, given his Premier League record at Aston Villa and the fact he has managed to get a club out of a similar situation before. He brings experience with him and I think that has told in the way that he sets the team up. As I said, they have been a lot more competitive and I think that is largely down to the changes he has implemented. He has also got Craig Shakespeare as his assistant, who was part of that great escape at Leicester, which is one of the greatest we have seen. I think Norwich fans are hoping that Smith and Shakespeare are able to replicate some of their past successes here and keep them in the league. There is also a feeling that people would like to see him with his own team, rather than a team that was assembled with Daniel Farke’s coaching methods in mind. Now it is just a case of whether he can keep Norwich up, but I don’t think anyone will be pointing the finger at him if, ultimately, that does not happen.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on at Carrow Road?

Milot Rashica (main picture) at the minute. He is a man who is really in form and he scored his first Premier League goal at Anfield a couple of weeks ago, and since the turn of the year he has started to look really lively and like the player Norwich fans hoped they had signed in the summer. He is a direct winger, he is exciting and an excellent ball carrier who makes things happen, particularly with the way Norwich play now, which is a bit more counter-attacking than it was under Farke, where they looked to dominate possession. Anything they seem to create at the minute is because of him and his work. We spoke about Mathias Normann last time, too. He has got so much quality, but the only caveat with him is that he has just returned from quite a long-term injury after undergoing an operation on his pelvis, so he is still feeling his way back into it.

How is Smith likely to set up his side this Saturday?

What we have, largely, seen from him is a 4-3-3. Norwich won the games against Watford and Everton playing 4-4-2 but that was mostly because they didn’t have any fit midfielders, so he had to strip it back completely. Subsequently, they have lost Adam Idah for the rest of the season to a knee injury, so they have only got Teemu Pukki to lead the line. I would expect something like this: Krul, Aarons, Hanley, Gibson, Williams, Normann, McLean, Rupp, Rashica, Sargent, Pukki.

Norwich won the reverse fixture 2-1 back in November, extending their unbeaten run against Brentford to six games. What’s your score prediction for this one?

It is tough and, in many ways, I can see all three results. From a Norwich perspective, they need to win the game and I am hopeful they can replicate the same sort of performance they delivered against Everton and Watford. A nice 2-0 Norwich win would do me very nicely indeed.

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