At the beginning of the season Newcastle United would have, with respect, viewed a trip to Norwich City as a maximum three pointer. Almost four months on, it’s fair to say circumstance has forced the Magpies to reassess this weekend’s fixture at Carrow Road. The Canaries’ impressive start to life back in the Premier League on top of Newcastle’s defensive injury crisis has set up a potentially very difficult afternoon for the visitors in East Anglia.
The untimely news of Steven Taylor’s need for a season ending achilles operation was a huge blow in itself, but with captain Fabricio Coloccini rated doubtful Newcastle could be fielding a very make-shift back four on Saturday.
With third-choice centre-back Mike Williamson also ruled out, it’s anybody’s guess who Alan Pardew will turn to in his attempts to fill the void left by the impressive Taylor and Coloccini. James Perch is certain to fill one spot in central defence but as for who will partner him, it remains a mystery, with everyone on Tyneside keeping everything crossed it could still be Coloccini.
The Magpies midfield is also wearing thinner with every game as Danny Guthrie was this week ruled out for between four and six weeks, whilst Cheik Tiote is still absent with a groin injury.
It’s expected Dan Gosling will replace Guthrie in centre midfield, with Jonas Gutierrez also likely to return to the starting XI following his one-game ban.
Offensively Newcastle are still strong with Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa likely to line-up against a Norwich back-line that has been guilty of some questionable defending at times this season.
Despite that slight criticism of the Canaries’ defense, Paul Lambert’s side have been hugely impressive, currently sitting joint ninth with Aston Villa. After playing League One football only two seasons ago I wouldn’t bet against Lambert completing the fairytale by leading Norwich to safety come the end of the season. It would be the only achievement to rival City’s back-to-back promotions and one that I believe is a realistic aim.
If Coloccini misses out at Carrow Road this could be a difficult 90 minutes of football for Newcastle, who are looking for their first win in four following a difficult run of fixtures. A point at Old Trafford was sandwiched by defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea, so the Magpies will see this game as key in their attempts to re-find the form that took them to third spot earlier in the season.
A 1-1 draw at Anfield in October shows Norwich’s credentials, but its how an injury-hit Newcastle defence deals with physicality of Steve Morison or Grant Holt that could determine this encounter.
Despite a 2-0 defeat on the day, Norwich’s trip to Old Trafford proves they are capable of creating clear-cut chances. Pardew will have this noted and knows whoever takes to the pitch at Carrow Road in his defence on Saturday must be on their game if they want to escape unscathed from this one.
A difficult test awaits the Magpies but if they get it right defensively there’s no reason why they can’t get back to winning ways and continue to mix it up with the Premier League big boys.