West Brom v Norwich: Inside track on the Canaries
West Brom host high-flying Norwich this weekend, with a win able to put the Baggies level on points with their opponents.
We've spoke with Stuart Hodge, Norwich City pundit, EDP contributor and former Canaries commentator, and Gary Gowers, Editor of Norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com, to get a proper look at Daniel Farke's side.
See what they had to say here...
It's been quite a while since Albion's last meeting with the Canaries, with Norwich flying up the table - what have you made of the season so far?
SH: I think the success of Norwich this season has come as a surprise to most fans.
After a campaign last year which was so reliant on the magic of James Maddision, and other high-profile departures such as Josh Murphy in the summer, many Canaries were downbeat about the team’s chances going into this season.
And after the slow start, many supporters had lost patience with Daniel Farke. The turnaround though, has been absolutely remarkable and testament to a manager keeping faith with his principles and some inspired recruitment.
GG: Well, we certainly didn't see it coming - put it that way!
After an indifferent start to the season, there were a few in these parts who were sharpening their knives for Herr Farke, especially as it followed a 'transitional' season that bored most of us to tears, but as it transpires, last season was effectively just one prolonged training session that was about educating players (and supporters) in this new philosophy.
The summer, while we lost some quality in the form of James Maddison and Josh Murphy, was an opportunity to bring in players who fitted the style rather than shoehorn in players into a system they didn't necessarily suit.
So, armed with little more than a pot to pee in (the sale of Maddison was used to fill a financial black hole), Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber set about getting in some bodies who were not expensive but who ticked at least one the young or hungry and boxes. And, you know what, somehow they pulled it off!
In addition to the summer signings, a few of last season's recruits - like Mo Leitner and Marco Stiepermann - have adjusted to English football and collectively, by doing it our own way, this has taken us to second in the table.
None of us saw this coming, but we're quite proud of the fact we're self-funding - no external money whatsoever - and are now playing such an attractive brand of football. Whether we have enough to see it through is another matter, but it's been an exceptionally fine few months.
Late goals have become fairly common when Norwich are involved in recent times, what's been behind this glut of late goals?
SH: I could reel out all the clichés here, but the spirit and fight amongst this group is undeniable.
In addition to that though, Farke places a huge emphasis on fitness levels and the work done on that side of things has also been a massive factor.
For those who don’t know how Norwich play though, don’t get the wrong idea: this is not a team which lumps it into the box to get these late goals. They are as a result of well-crafted moves and composed decision making and finishing late in matches.
Carrow Road, pound for pound, has probably delivered the best entertainment in the country this season, especially at the death.
GG: If you believe Leeds fans... luck.
Undiluted good fortune (which is a bit rich coming from them considering they've had more than their fair share), also seems to be the common consensus from elsewhere, not just in Yorkshire, but we like to think it's more to do with a combination of desire, belief and being super-fit (and a bit of luck).
Who's the main danger man for the Canaries, is there a certain player West Brom should be worried about?
SH: Teemu Pukki is the man getting most of the goals but Norwich are far from a one-man band. Keep him from scoring though and that will be a big boost. But of his 16 goals this term, only one has been scored in the first half. So he’ll need to be watched throughout.
Mario Vrancic has turned into the main playmaker in the middle of the park in Moritz Leitner’s absence as well and has a very cultured left foot, so part of the game plan will need to be keeping him quiet.
GG: Well, Teemu Pukki is the obvious one, given this knack he's developed for scoring important goals.
He's great because in so many ways he's unexceptional - he's not big, strong or particularly quick and for 89 minutes you can look at him and wonder what he actually brings to the team - but a combo of clever movement and instinct has turned him into the antithesis of what Celtic fans told us we were getting. He's one of those I described earlier, who's perfectly suited to the Farke and Webber template; one of those identified as a technically good fit.
Other danger men are (or were) Mo Leitner, Marco Stiepermann and Emi Buendia, but unfortunately for us - fortunately for you - all three are injured and will miss Saturday.
So, instead, watch out for Onel Hernandez twisting and turning on either flank, and another of our youngsters, Todd Cantwell, bursting forward from midfield.
January's obviously in full flow, have Norwich strengthened yet? If not, where do you think they're looking to do so?
SH: I have heard from sources high up the chain that it’s going to be quiet for the Canaries on the transfer front.
Despite a few injuries setting in they’re happy with what they have for the most part so it’s expected to be a quiet month.
GG: The simple answer is we haven't and are unlikely to do so.
In fact, it's more a case of wanting to hold on to what we have, with Premier League clubs reportedly hovering around Max Aarons - our 18-year-old right-back who's been outstanding - plus one or two others.
There's also the small matter of having little or no money to buy anyone with, although we really could do with some cover at left-back.
What's the Norwich style of play, under Daniel Farke - he seems to have found a way to make this team click?
SH: Norwich like to dominate the ball and prefer to move teams around as opposed to trying to overpower them in the air.
They have very clever movement at the top end of the pitch and it’s often these underlapping runs, complemented by incisive passing which produce the goals.
Also watch for Daniel Farke throwing the kitchen sink at it in terms of the team’s shape if Norwich are chasing the points near the end. He’s very adaptable tactically, as are his players.
GG: It's tiki-taka but with extra passing and patience. There's little hoofing and few long balls, although teams try desperately to press us high and get us to do both.
Last season was the same but the passing was slow and sideways, with very little oomph. This season everything happens a little bit quicker, the passing is more incisive and we're a so much better side for it.
Think Man City but in the very limited budget category - that's us.
What kind of XI can we expect to see this weekend?
SH: I expect to see Norwich play their usual 4-2-3-1 shape, but the number of goals conceded has been a massive problem recently – after being very stubborn earlier in the campaign – so it will be interesting to see if there’s an emphasis on keeping things tight, especially early on.
GG: Want me to have a guess? Marks out of eleven? I'll go for...
Krul; Aarons - Zimmermann - Klose - Godfrey; Tettey - Trybull; Hernandez - Vrancic - Cantwell; Pukki.
As mentioned earlier, we're missing Mo Leitner, who we regard as possibly the best 'quarterback' in the division, as well as Stiepermann and Buendia who would have been nailed on starters in the attacking midfield three.
So, fair to say you've caught us at a good time (for you). Also missing is left-back Jamal Lewis, another huge miss.
What have you made of Albion from afar? Do you think they have what it takes to secure promotion this season?
SH: Matt Phillips has been outstanding and between Gayle, Barnes and Rodriguez they haven’t been short of goals.
The Baggies are one of the teams who I would expect to definitely be top six, and they have lots of quality and experience, definitely more experience than the Canaries.
They should be in the mix for automatic promotion but I think they may fall a bit short of the top two. Anything can happen in the playoffs though. Boing boing!
GG: You remind me of us two seasons ago - plenty of expensive players with Premier League quality who on their day can beat anyone in the division, except our lot had a little too much swagger and entitlement and weren't especially keen on getting their hands dirty in that rough ol' Championship.
From what I've seen, Darren Moore has not allowed that to be a thing and you look full of goals, with so many attacking options it's ridiculous.
Oh, and by the way, it'll break my heart if Wes Hoolahan comes on against us on Saturday
Your match prediction?
SH: After the feast of goals we had in the game earlier this season, I think it’ll probably be quite tight.
There is a lot hinging on this for both teams and that may mean both teams are a bit risk-averse.
1-1 seems a likely result, or a single goal might win it.
GG: We've been quite good at digging ourselves out of deep holes lately - even in the midst of this injury crisis - but the wins have dried up a bit. I'll go for a rip-roaring 2-2.