Norwich City boss Chris Hughton: We need to be better this time
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Liverpool is a name synonymous with a glorious European footballing heritage. For Chris Hughton it is a reminder of the low point of his Norwich City tenure.
Hughton adopts a measured approach to his work you attribute partly to vast experience and partly character. The Canaries’ fluctuating fortunes in the Premier League, that club record unbeaten run and the festive spell to forget, are embraced with the same even-handed tempo.
But Liverpool’s dismantling of his side in September rankled with Hughton. City’s collective response illustrated the resilience deep within Carrow Road not to be cowered by an inspirational personal goalscoring display from Luis Suarez.
So much so that Hughton dismisses the potential for any residual mental anguish to re-surface this afternoon when they face their nemesis on Merseyside.
“No, I don’t think we carry any mental scars,” he said. “I don’t think the first game (between us) has any relevance. We certainly need to be a lot better than we were on that day. That was the one performance I have been most unhappy with this season. You can talk about Fulham for obvious reasons because of it being the opening game. Chelsea was another I came away from disappointed, but felt there were positives, but Liverpool was arguably a turning point for us. Suarez was good on that day but for as good as the finishing was I felt we made the day too comfortable for him.
“What we are is up against a very good team, one who have spent big money to bring in another quality player in (Daniel) Sturridge. Offensively, they are a very good team and strong at home apart from one or two hiccups. They are a very, very good outfit and we will certainly have to defend well in the periods they have the ball and make the most of our opportunities.”
Hughton constructed a persuasive case to suggest Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool enjoyed the same legacy as his squad from that landmark day at Carrow Road. Renewed belief to aim higher.
“I think that was a little bit of a turning point for Liverpool and certainly Suarez,” he said. “It is only when you look back at the game and the goals he scored, and they were three that would have grace any game. We are well aware of his quality and of course he has continued that form through the season and continues to do so, but he is only one of a very good side and they are in a good rhythm at the moment.
“They are a side still developing from the start of the season under a new manager. He is implementing the way they want to play but they have very good footballers. I think the league table is a reflection of that but on their day they are as good as anybody in the division.
“You only go back to a very difficult game for them at Old Trafford last week. I thought for 45 minutes in the second half they were excellent. They are a threat and a side who will continue to climb the division as the season goes on.”
Suarez is pivotal to that sustained renaissance. A more divisive player it would be hard to find in the Premier League right now. When the Uruguayan lets his feet do the talking, the mood music is sublime - it is the words that tumble from his mouth which continue to undermine.
Rodgers himself on Thursday was forced to publicly condemn Suarez’s most recent outburst, which contained the admission he had tried to con the officials in search of a penalty at Anfield against Stoke.
Hughton dwells only on the positives to a football story which in normal circumstances would see Suarez’s sublime gifts celebrated in the same way as Manchester United’s prodigiously talented Dutchman Robin van Persie.
“What you have with van Persie is a consistency over the whole season but I have to say Suarez’s level of performance has been very impressive,” he said. “It is not really appropriate for me to speak about another club’s player in respect of those issues. Those questions are for the Liverpool manager. All I see is someone having an excellent season. I think this season, though, he has proved just what a good player he is. Whatever problems he has had he has managed to put them behind him and be right up their in the goal charts. He is a tough individual and that shows on the pitch with his consistency.”
Suarez is not the only forward threat Hughton has planned to try and contain. The Norwich boss was effusive in his praise towards recent arrival Daniel Sturridge. Hughton sees no lack of compatibility in Rodgers’ task to harness both Sturridge and Suarez in tandem.
“I think with Brendan he is very good tactically at manoeuvring players around and with those two in particular he will do that for each game,” said Hughton. “Both are very adaptable players. You have to remember a lot of Sturridge’s performances were playing wide in a 4-3-3 so I think both can do that.
“He is a very exciting centre forward. I think the move will allow him to play more regularly than at Man City and Chelsea. He is used to a big club mentality.”
Hughton is willing to acknowledge Liverpool’s undoubted pedigree, but the City boss is undaunted by the prospect of a trip to Anfield.
“It is always a nice feeling going there,” he said. “Old Trafford is special for obvious reasons but at Liverpool you can always feel what the club is. The atmosphere when the crowd get behind the team is impressive. Historically, they are a club who have had so many good moments. You feel that every time you go there. It is a special place but it is nicer when you get a result.”