Middlesbrough Preview vs Norwich City

After two weeks off for the international break, Boro will be looking to keep up their impressive start to the season at Carrow Road. Yet, despite Norwich only picking up the one win so far, they did claim maximum points from Tony Pulis’ side last year.

In their most recent encounter, the Canaries ran out 1-0 winners thanks to Tom Trybull’s right-footed shot from outside the area. But, since that afternoon in early February, both teams have endured different fortunes. Norwich then went on a seven-match winless run, while Boro won five of the next seven.

After the game, there was only a two-point gap between the sides, with Boro having 45 points compared to Norwich’s 43. By the end of the season, however, that gap had significantly increased. While Boro occupied a play-off place with 76 points, Norwich had struggled to maintain any significant form and finished 14th in the league with 60 points.

With the Canaries only managing two wins in the remaining 16 fixtures last season, Daniel Farke needed a strong opening set of results in this campaign to prove that he is still the man to lead Norwich forward. That simply hasn’t happened. With Norwich only picking up one win so far this season, the view from the fans is that September will be a defining month for their German gaffer, with frustrations growing in the terraces from watching their one-dimensional style of play.

Norwich often like to dominate possession and attack a tired opposition. None-more-so has this been evident in their opening day fixture against Birmingham City. Norwich had 70% of the ball in that game and benefitting from this by scoring in the 83rd and 94th minute when their opponent’s legs were tiring. Although those goals only earned City a draw in that match, it does show that Norwich become more a dangerous side as the game progresses – seven of their nine goals this season have been scored after the 70th minute mark.

With star man James Maddison now unable to provide that spark, Norwich have been left with a creative hole that needed filling; step up Onel Hernandez. Brought in last January as a relatively unknown prodigy, Hernandez endured a disappointing first six months in East Anglia but has since taken his chance in the absence of Maddison to become one of the first names on Farke’s team sheet.

The Cuban-born winger has scored twice and assisted three times in his opening six matches and will be one that Ryan Shotton will have to keep a close eye on when he comes up against City’s number 25 on Saturday. A tricky winger with an eye for goal, Hernandez will be a real handful for the Boro right-back and we may see Pulis’ ordering Daniel Ayala to help Shotton with marking Norwich’s biggest attacking threat by doubling-up on him.

Middlesbrough have only won once at Carrow Road since 1997, but one man who knows all about winning in East-Anglia is Boro midfielder Jonny Howson who racked up 176 appearances for Norwich in his five-year spell at the club. Howson has been one of Boro’s most consistent players this season and will be hoping that he can once again be on the winning side at Carrow Road, even if it is with the visiting team this time out.

It’s always an emotional time when you come up against your former club but it’s not just Howson who will be wanting to perform in front of the fans who used to cheer his name. Jordan Rhodes will forever be remembered on Teesside for his dramatic late winner against Bolton which sent Boro top of the table with only four games to go. However, Rhodes will line up for City this weekend with the hope of netting against his former team.

With Norwich only firing a blank once this season, they should be confident coming into this fixture that they will score at some point. However, Boro have only conceded two goals in the entirety of the season so far and will be looking to extend their run of five consecutive clean sheets into six.

Boro haven’t let in a league goal in 8 hours and 23 minutes of football – that is some accolade. Norwich now face a task of breaking down the toughest defence in the league. A task that Sheffield United, Birmingham City, Bristol City, West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United all failed to accomplish.

Predicted Line-ups:

Boro: Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Flint, Fry, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Besic, Braithwaite, Assombalonga.

Norwich City: Krul, Aarons, Hanley, Klose, Lewis, Tettey, Leitner, Buendia, Pukki, Hernandez, Rhodes.


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