The FourFourTwo Preview: Fulham vs Norwich
Liverpool and Manchester City's Sunday lunchtime summit meeting at Anfield may be the fixture setting most tongues wagging, but this basement battle is arguably the pivotal game in this season's relegation scrap. Fulham and Norwich are not only separated by five points, but also 'the dreaded dotted line' that marks the border between Relegationsville and Safety City.
- Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Everton (Prem)
- Man City 5-0 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Norwich 0-1 WBA (Prem)
- Swansea 3-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 2-0 S'land (Prem)
- So'ton 4-2 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
A win for the Cottagers would shorten the gap to two points. With Norwich still to play Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in their final four matches, survival would seem a very real prospect for the Londoners.
Fulham's run-in – Tottenham, Hull, Stoke and Crystal Palace – is far more favourable. Having looked dead in the water a month ago, Felix Magath's side are now suddenly very much alive and kicking. Should the German drag his new team to safety, his appointment will be seen as a masterstroke. It may have taken a few weeks for him to get his ideas across, but Magath seems to have Fulham playing with the kind of confidence and fight that was missing for much of the first eight months of the season.
It may be with that kind of turnaround in mind that Norwich opted to make a managerial change of their own this week, replacing Chris Hughton with Neil Adams – former Canaries midfielder, under-18 coach and radio pundit. Clearly this isn't the time for Alan Partridge gags (believe us, we wish it was).
It does seem odd that the Norfolk club would wait until this stage of the season to roll the dice in such a fashion. They've basically gambled their Premier League existence on a 'new manager bounce' taking effect in this match. If it does, and Norwich considerably up their performance levels from their recent back-to-back defeats to Swansea and West Brom, then it will have been well worth it. If Adams doesn't make the desired impact at the first time of asking, then Norwich could be well and truly scuppered.
Fulham defender Johnny Heitinga will undergo a fitness test after picking up a knock at Aston Villa. The Cottagers will likely be without Dan Burn (muscle twang), Damien Duff (knee knock) and Kostas Mitroglou (missing person). Leroy Fer is Norwich's most notable absentee, with a hamstring strain picked up in last month's defeat at Villa sidelining the Dutchman.
Player to watch: Alexander Tettey (Norwich)
Norwich's form in recent weeks may not have been particularly impressive, but the form of Norwegian midfielder Tettey has at least been a positive. The 28-year-old not only scored a howitzer in the win over Sunderland, but also completed 50 passes – largely neat and tidy in the middle third – as the Canaries dominated possession and took a stranglehold on the game.
In the defeat to West Brom, Tettey's passing was far more expansive, with the Canaries spending much of the game chasing an equaliser. This meant his pass-completion rate dipped as he looked to play in team-mates in the attacking third. He also made 3 successful tackles and 2 take-ons, as he looked to drive his team on.
Adams will need Tettey to be at his best if Norwich are to see off a Fulham side with several tidy midfielders.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Fulham 3-0 N'wich (FAC, Jan 14)
- N'wich 1-1 Fulham (FAC, Jan 14)
- N'wich 1-2 Fulham (Prem, Dec 13)
- N'wich 0-0 Fulham (Prem, Feb 13)
- Fulham 5-0 N'wich (Prem, Aug 12)
It should come as no surprise that the Norwich board turned to Adams to fill the void left by Hughton. Speaking after the Canaries' FA Youth Cup win over Chelsea last May, majority shareholder Delia Smith lavished praise on the then youth team coach.
“He was always one of my favourite players," Smith said. "He was the best penalty taker, the best pundit when he retired and now he’s the best manager – he is wonderful.”
She'll no doubt be hoping Adams has the recipe for succ… [stop it].
Facts and figures
- Fulham are unbeaten in their 5 meetings with Norwich since 2011/12, winning both matches at home.
- Both teams have scored in 13 of Fulham’s last 14 home games against bottom-half teams.
- Norwich have won 0 of their 13 trips to bottom-six teams since the start of last season but they have managed to get 7 draws.
- 11 of Norwich’s 13 trips to bottom-six teams since the start of last season have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Fulham have drawn the first half in 10 of their last 14 home games.
Fulham are on the up, Norwich are on a downer. 2-1 to the Cottagers.