Match Preview: Norwich City vs Middlesbrough

This will be the 53rd competitive fixture between Norwich City and Middlesbrough. Boro lay 8th in the Championship table following the 0-0 draw with Sheffield Wednesday, whilst Norwich are 13th after the win at Brentford thanks to a James Maddison thunderbolt.

 Stats

  • Norwich have collected just one victory in their last six home league matches against Middlesbrough (D3 L2), a 1-0 win in October 2010.
  • Middlesbrough haven’t lost three consecutive matches against the Canaries in all competitions since December 1961.
  • Both teams have scored in eight of Norwich’s last nine Championship home matches, including each of the last six games (W2 D2 L2).
  • After losing three successive away games, Boro have won three in a row; their longest winning streak on the road since January 2016 (four consecutive away wins).
  • James Maddison’s eight goals in the Championship have been worth 13 points for Norwich this season; more than any other player in the competition. In fact, the Canaries’ last three wins have all come courtesy of a Maddison strike.
  • Tony Pulis won his last Championship meeting with Norwich in March 2008 as Stoke manager, with Mamady Sidibe securing the points in a 1-0 win

Head-to-Head: Middlesbrough wins: 21, Draws: 13, Norwich wins: 18. Highest Boro win: 6-1 (1980), Highest Norwich win: 4-1 (1961)

Pre-Match Thoughts

It’s been a controversial few days since the last preview.

The draw with Sheffield Wednesday was a frustrating day at the office and now Boro have not scored in four games at home under Tony Pulis – and it’s starting to raise concerns with the Boro faithful. Boro not scoring is not Pulis’s fault though – the team has created 37 chances in the last two home games and not been able to convert a single one of them. It’s a finishing problem, not a manager issue.

After the match on Tuesday, I was baffled how we didn’t win the game, we created so many chances and missed sitter after sitter and it was deeply frustrating to watch.

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However, as the days passed and we looked forward to Deadline Day, I had some slight optimism going in. But when I woke up Thursday morning to see the likes of Christie and Braithwaite leave with Besic and Crainie coming in, I felt massively underwhelmed at the business we had done.

Having said that, Besic, Crainie and Jack Harrison all want to be at the club and I’m sure they will give everything in a Boro shirt. Even though I was initially underwhelmed I’m sure they will make Boro stronger in the final push.

Boro Predictions

Tony Pulis is set to name the three new players in his squad on Saturday. However, it is unlikely they will start. All three of Boro’s signings have lacked game time in recent weeks, especially Jack Harrison who was yet to start pre-season in the MLS for his former side NYCFC.

Therefore, Tony Pulis could be tempted to name an unchanged side from the game with Sheffield Wednesday and QPR. Pulis has found a system he likes Boro to play in and in the past, he has been quite consistent with team selections. But, if there was a change in personnel it will be most likely be in the midfield with Bamford dropping to the bench and either Clayton, Besic or Harrison taking his place.

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Boro have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the trip to Carrow Road on Saturday.

Norwich Predictions

Daniel Farke will be looking to include his three new signings in the squad for the game against Middlesbrough. Norwich signed striker Dennis Srbeny, winger Onel Hernandez and Moritz Leitner from the Bundesliga on transfer deadline day.

However, new signing Marcus Edwards will not feature as he is still out with a back injury. Furthermore, captain Ivo Pinto is set to join Edwards on the sidelines with a knee injury. The full-back missed last week’s win at Brentford after injuring himself when getting out of his car.

The Canaries will make a late decision on the fitness of star man James Maddison after the midfielder missed three days of training this week through hamstring trouble.

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Winger Matt Jarvis is stepping up his rehabilitation from a long-term ankle problem, while midfielder Louis Thompson (achilles) remains sidelined.

Players to Watch: James Maddison and Harrison Reed

Tactics

Daniel Farke played a tactical masterclass in the 1-0 victory at the Riverside in September. The Norwich manager set up his team to be incredibly organised and to sit slightly deeper allowing Boro to have the ball in their own half. Farke knew Boro were prone to mistakes and told his players to press in certain areas of the pitch so they could remain tight in defence.

And they were rewarded. Boro made a mistake and James Maddison punished the team straight away with a delightful effort in the only goal of the game.

The performance from Norwich in September was very Karanka-esque in scoring and keeping tight at the back and it’s something Boro may have to look to on Saturday to pick up the 3 points.

At home, the Canaries like to play the possession game, with neat short passing and through balls to the left-hand side of play. This has been a recurring theme throughout the season for Norwich along with the 4-2-3-1 formation.

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However, in the previous two games, Farke has opted for a 3-4-1-2 formation with James Maddison being the influential link in midfield. The England U21 international has been in excellent form all season for the Canaries and he is someone who Boro need to keep a close eye on this weekend, should he play.

A big weakness to Norwich has been set pieces. Zonal marking is a long debated subject and it seems Norwich have struggled to utilise to full effect.

To counter the Canaries, Boro may have to play the way they did in the 0-1 victory in 2015. Try to score the early goal and defend through long spells. Boro must keep their shape and press in the right areas to force the mistake. Boro have a tremendous outlet in Adama Traore and it’s something they will definitely utilise along with set plays.

My Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)

Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend. Clayton, Howson, Harrison, Downing, Traore, Assombalonga.

Changes… They were probably needed at some point and I feel as though this team would pick up the points needed on Saturday.

Introducing Clayton for Leadbitter is solely down to opinion on a player. This season I have been impressed with Jonny Howson and I believe Clayton suits Howson’s style more than Leadbitter does.

The reason Leadbitter plays more than Clayton is due to his leadership qualities on the pitch. Yes, Leadbitter is the club captain and he shows week in, week out why he is – however, due to the style of play, I prefer watching Clayton in the team rather than Grant, so it’s a difficult decision!

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Furthermore, the introduction of Jack Harrison into the team. In an ideal world, the young English winger would be fully fit and raring to go on Saturday and I would like to see him on the wings with Adama.

We have become a team which solely depends on Adama creating something and a winger like Harrison is exactly what we need to help create more chances for us to score (seen as 20 shots aren’t enough).

Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)

Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Leadbitter, Howson, Downing, Adama, Bamford, Assombalonga.

Bench: Dimi, Crainie, Besic, Clayton, Baker, Harrison, Gestede.

I expect same again for the starting eleven as Pulis will try to keep the consistency within the team. However, the bench is where I think we will see the most changes. It’s highly likely the three new players will be in the 18-man squad at the weekend.

With Forshaw, Braithwaite and Fletcher leaving the club last month we may see the return of Lewis Baker. The man who has been out in the cold since October may start to feature in the team in the coming weeks since the team has been trimmed slightly.

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Score Prediction

We’re in for a tough game on Saturday. Norwich made Boro look bang average earlier in the campaign and they will look to control the game again with the early goal. All season long I have said the early goal is vital for Boro and this game is no different. We need to be at our best to beat the Canaries.

Norwich 1-1 Boro

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