Chris Hughton won’t be drawn on Norwich City’s formation against Everton
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Chris Hughton understands why so much focus is centred on Norwich City’s difficulties in front of goal. His Everton team sheet today will outline what he plans to do about it.
Hughton knows a return of one goal in the Canaries’ last six league and cup tests is a pattern that can only suck City back into trouble toward the lower reaches of the Premier League over the next few months.
Hughton’s post-Fulham admission that he planned to pair Grant Holt and Luciano Becchio raised the prospect of a revision to the lone frontman role which had proved a qualified success in insulating City from a prolonged season-long battle to avoid relegation.
But Hughton cautions the solution is more problematic than merely bolstering the point of Norwich’s attack.
“It isn’t just about playing a two up front. It is how you use the team you have – whether that is a Wes (Hoolahan) off the front in a more advanced role. It is always about options,” he said. “Where we have been for a good spell of the season is Wes playing in that position and there is no doubt he can influence a game. If Wes is going to be in the team which position are you going to play him? That comes down to different opinions and where he is best suited. But that is just one area.
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“Wes is no different to every other player in the sense if I feel he should be in the team, he will be. If not and I want to change it he is no different to any other player. Which ever team I put out is about getting the balances right. The options I have are two up front, or one up front or play one in a little different way off the front and sometimes it will depend on the opposition’s formation.”
Taken at face value, Everton’s central defensive pairing carry as much latent physical intent as did Fulham’s Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos, but Hughton was firm when prompted if he aimed to reprise his Cottagers’ formula.
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“No, I can’t confirm that. Both Grant and Luciano are available and there is a good chance that I would have played them (against Fulham),” he said. “I think you assess every opposition. You also look at your own form, how the week’s training has gone and whether you want to set up differently against a particular opponent. That can change from game to game. What might have been the case for a Fulham game might change for an Everton or an away game at Old Trafford the following week. These are all things you work on during the week and they are normal processes. There are numerous games this season when we have used Wes off the front and we have had enough creativity, enough chances, enough balls going into the front and enough support.”
Dealing with Everton’s 11-goal force of nature Marouane Fellaini is another pressing matter for Hughton, but the City boss rejects the notion the Toffees are over-reliant on their Belgian ace.
“I think somebody like him always has to come into your thinking. He is a wonderful player who has had an excellent season but he is part of a really good Everton team,” he said. “I think that would be unfair (to label them a one man team). You have got (Leon) Osman, who has got himself into an England squad, (Leighton) Baines, who people are speaking about in such glowing terms, (Phil) Jagielka, who is very much a regular in that England squad now. These are very good players. It is not a team that has been put together in the last season. They have some seasoned campaigners. “Fellaini gets a fair few of the headlines because of his form this season, but Baines and (Steven) Pienaar is a partnership that has been almost as good as any left-sided partnership in the division. I know occasionally Pienaar will play on the other side as well but he has real quality and Baines is not only a really good user of the ball but a threat from set plays.”
Hughton was impressed with Everton in defeat at Manchester United recently, but with City heading to the champions-elect next weekend the Norwich boss does not attach any greater significance to turning over the Toffees on home soil.
“Irrespective of form, Carrow Road is not an easy place. They will have to work hard to get a result,” he said. “It is key because it is the next game. We need to start turning some of our draws into wins. We are at the business end of the season in a very difficult league where other teams are winning games. We need to make sure the gap that we have had to the bottom three is something we can maintain and get the wins we need to stay clear of it.
“Everton is a home game and we will do everything we can to win the game. I think you build your week on the opposition you are up against and we are up against very good opposition. I think they will be pushing for Champions League spots and if that is not the case then they will not be too far off it. They have a really good group of players, but we are at home and it is about us.”
Hughton is a huge admirer of David Moyes’ enduring ability to meld a fighting unit that can compete against rivals with bigger resources.
“I think every club similar to ours aspires to be what Everton are,” he said. “Firstly, they have an excellent manager and that consistency. They are a club that is managed very, very well with a real good support base.
“They are a well-drilled team. Even in their last game against Manchester United I thought it was a bit unfair to hear David Moyes speak afterwards how well United had played.
“After watching that game I thought Everton had played well and he was perhaps a little harsh on his own team. They are a good side home and away.”