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First team

Media View: Expert insight on Norwich

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to extend their winning run and tighten their grip on a play-off place when they visit Championship leaders Norwich City on Saturday (8pm kick-off).

The Cherries head to Carrow Road bidding to secure a sixth successive league victory and a fourth consecutive double having beaten Blackburn, Coventry and Huddersfield in their past three games.

Since tasting back-to-back defeats against the Cherries and Derby County at the start of the season, Norwich have lost just three league games and are currently eight points clear at the top of the table.

Daniel Farke’s team are 15 points clear of third-placed Swansea and could seal promotion with a favourable result against the in-form Cherries.

With Teemu Pukki leading the scoring charts with 25 goals, the Canaries are enjoying a 13-match unbeaten run having dropped just four points in drawing with Blackburn and Preston.

Undefeated at Carrow Road since going down 1-0 at the hands of Derby in early October, the Canaries won their last home game 7-0 against Huddersfield.

Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Michael Bailey who covers the fortunes of the Canaries for The Athletic.

NORWICH CITY IN PROFILE

Head coach: Daniel Farke (appointed May 2017)

Club captain: Grant Hanley (pictured below)

Last game: Derby County 0-1 Norwich City (Championship)

Leading league goalscorer 2020/21: Teemu Pukki (25)

League position: first

Past six league results: WWDDWW

afcb.co.uk: Have Norwich exceeded your expectations this season?

MB: I have to be honest here and say it's matched them, rather than exceeded. 

The disappointing way Norwich were relegated from the Premier League, the attempted focus at the time on longer-term growth at the club, keeping hold of most key players and the relative financial and coaching stability of the club  all in a Championship hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic  really did leave me feeling they should be the strongest team in the division.

None of that has dampened the joy in seeing them (so far) prove it.

afcb.co.uk: What’s been the key to the turnaround under Daniel Farke (pictured below)?

MB: Turning the mentality around from losing every week to winning. You can't do that on quality alone, otherwise you won't have the belief to come from behind or score late goals.

Not many teams bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt, and far fewer do it with the same manager who was in charge for the entirety of their previous relegation.

Fresh faces recruited last summer have helped, but Farke's achievements for me outweigh many of those achieved through a purely upward trajectory.

afcb.co.uk: Teemu Pukki or Ted MacDougall?

MB: I never saw Ted play, so it's a tough one to answer!

But in terms of their records, I think we can safely say we're talking two club legends at Norwich  and one hasn't finished yet.

afcb.co.uk: In all seriousness, where does Pukki (pictured below) stand in the list of legendary Norwich strikers?

MB: Well he's in the top ten with 66 goals, and he's done that faster than any other Norwich player.

As much as anything, it's that Pukki was signed as a free transfer  to have that much value in today's football climate is miraculous.

It's not just his goals either. The fans love his work rate and just how down to earth he seems.

There's a connection there that every fan will remember, and that should assure his place in Norwich folklore.

afcb.co.uk: Who has been their unsung hero this season?

MB: I'm not sure anyone has managed to get away without being noticed this season but the deeper midfield pairing of Oliver Skipp and Kenny McLean have helped the defence look so much tighter, as well as making so much possible for the attacking players ahead of them that grab more attention.

Skipp, on loan from Tottenham, has been brilliant but it's probably McLean whose efforts can often go more unnoticed than some.

afcb.co.uk: Which Norwich player will catch the eye in the Premier League next season?

MB: If Skipp stays for a second season on loan, he would really catch the eye playing every week.

Ben Gibson deserves a proper go at the top flight too, given it didn't work out for him at Burnley.

But there are also players like Buendia, Todd Cantwell (pictured below) and Pukki who should be hungry to prove they learned a lot from their previous Premier League season.

afcb.co.uk: Relegated from the top flight three times in the past seven years, what’s it going to take for them to stay up next season?

MB: This time they will need to add three to four players that genuinely improve the current starting XI  the recruitment of two years ago simply fell short.

They will also need better luck with injuries, rather than spending months with one fit, recognised centre-back.

Norwich won't have the resources to deal with significant and repeated setbacks.

I would also prefer them to keep hold of Emi Buendia! But that is probably going to depend more on who wants to buy him this summer.

Having supporters back at Carrow Road would help too, of course.

afcb.co.uk: Are any first-choice players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?

MB: No suspensions but the big misses are at centre-back, with Gibson and Christoph Zimmermann out for the foreseeable.

Academy product Andrew Omobamidele, 18, has stepped in and impressed alongside Grant Hanley. Saturday will be another step up in challenge for him.

afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?

MB: Norwich also have Watford at Carrow Road on Tuesday and won't want to lose to the two sides they were relegated with. Can see it being a 1-1 draw.  

You can follow Michael on Twitter – @michaeljbailey

Officials: Graham Scott (referee), Neil Davies (assistant), Edward Smart (assistant), Dean Whitestone (fourth official).

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