Last weekend I was able to sit through the Norwich versus Chelsea match immediately prior to own game at Watford. Both games were remarkably open affairs with all four teams seemingly prepared to throw caution to the wind. While West Ham weathered the Watford storm at Vicarage Road and finished much the stronger side, Norwich started their game on top but fell away noticeably for most of the second half.
The results left both clubs in the cluster of clubs sitting on four points who will be looking to build on their solid starts to the season. With only Liverpool boasting a 100% record and only Watford still to register a win the table has an unusual look about it.
Daniel Farke has created an amazing transformation during his two seasons at Norwich taking them from the lower reaches of the Championship to division champions on a shoestring budget. When you are a newly promoted club and your marquee signing in the transfer window is Sam Byram says it all. It will be interesting to see how their season pans out compared to big spending Aston Villa – the two clubs had been relegated together at the end of the 2015/16 season.
Much of the early season buzz at Carrow Road has surrounded Teemu Pukki, whose 5 goals from 3 games has him leading the charge for the Golden Boot. Pukki is an interesting character having experienced an uninspiring early career (including a very mediocre season at Celtic) before kicking on at Brondby and then at Norwich. From what I have seen he demonstrates excellent movement and will be a handful for whichever central defensive partnership he comes up against at the London Stadium. If they can keep him away from Delia’s pies it could be a very influential season for the Finn. Another player to look out for is Todd Cantwell who looks to be an excellent prospect based on his performance against Chelsea, particularly in the first half. Seems a bit unfair but they also have Spiderman playing in midfield.
Both teams have been involved in EFL Cup ties since last weekend. West Ham negotiated a tricky visit to South Wales to face Newport County while Norwich crashed out against Crawley Town. Premier League teams continue to gamble that their much changed teams have enough to edge past lower league opposition. Manuel Pellegrini won his gamble whereas Farke did not.
All things being equal I would have expected West Ham to start this weekend’s game with same team that was on the pitch once Michail Antonio replaced Andriy Yarmolenko. However, an injury to the unlucky Antonio has sidelined him for a while. The options would be to persevere with Yarmolenko or call in one of Pablo Fornals, Robert Snodgrass or Jack Wilshere. My concern that more than one of Mark Noble, Snodgrass and Wilshere at any one time reduces the average pace to snail level. I can’t begin to guess what Pellegrini will go for.
West Ham will have plenty of opportunity to show their attacking qualities but they will also have many Norwich attacks to repel. The Canaries like to get their full-backs forward to provide width and this could easily expose the Hammers lack of numbers in those areas if the attacking wide men do not put in a defensive shift.
When the two teams met in 2015/16 season both games ended in 2-2 draws – Cheikou Kouyate scoring an injury equaliser at Upton Park and the Hammers coming back from two goals down at Carrow Road.
This weeks real and virtual referees are Paul Tierney and Andre Marriner respectively. An interesting aspect of VAR is that it hasn’t really overturned many actual decisions made by referees. Rather it has become a mechanism to review each goal for technical infringements and as a backstop offside checker. It can’t be long before offside is totally automated, just like the goal-line technology, with the referee receiving a ‘beep’ in his ear each time a forward strays offside. After all it is a simple case of applying and measuring clearly defined rules – there is no subjectivity to it as with handball.
Everyone will be expecting the game to be a high scoring extravaganza. I was considering opting for a 7-5 home win to claim the record for the highest scoring Premier League game (Portsmouth 7 Reading 4 in 2007) but instead will go against the flow and predict West Ham to win 1-0.