The Southampton Preview
On the back of a tasty Capital One Cup victory, it's back to business as usual.
With no points up for grabs in mid-week, the players could let their hair down and play with a bit of freedom, displaying the odd bit of panache with some real precision in the process.
Johan Elmander showed class and instinct to bag a brace, while fellow goal-scorers Olsson, Pilkington, Fer and Whittaker were also clinical.
Ok, so we shipped three in the process. Doesn't matter in the least. Point being, we're through. Job done. Finished. Done. Over and out. Bring on Watford. And hopefully Wembley.
Southampton had good week in the competition too, travelling to Yorkshire for a dreadfully one-sided affair with Barnsley which they never looked like losing. Two goals from Steven Davis and efforts from Rodriguez, Ramirez and Mayuka saw them continue their impressive unbeaten start to the season.
But that was the League Cup. There's no pressure in that really, is there?
Naturally you don't want to lose and go out if you can help it, but even if such an embarrassment does occur, it's forgotten about almost immediately because you have a much more meaningful league fixture coming up just a couple of days later.
The actual results from those games have absolutely no bearing on league form whatsoever. But in terms of personnel, a half-decent cup run can be useful in terms of squad rotation (if you have enough bodies), and trying to bring injured players back up to speed, as was the case with Sebastien Bassong and Anthony Pilkington on Tuesday.
But even that's clutching at straws a bit. A Premier League fixture is a totally different pressure for all involved for everyone. For your side, no matter what your stature in the division, it's 38 cup finals. Each and every single point is so crucial now, which just made last weekend's East Yorkshire sojourn all the more agitating.
That's something Southampton have taken into account as well, and they've picked up 4 points from their first 6 by refusing to give up the ghost until that final whistle blows. A late winner at West Brom and a late equaliser against Sunderland have given them a solid foundation on which to build on from this point, and whilst it's still early doors, they don't exactly look like second-season syndrome material.
There's a lot riding on this campaign for both of us. We're looking at making it 3 consecutive seasons in the top tier, while the Saints want to make it 2.
Both of them achieved seemingly impossible back to back promotions from League One not so long ago, which seems crazy now, and with the sheer amount of cash on offer today, trying to establish yourself at this level has never, ever been so important.
Gary Hooper won't be in contention now until after the international break. Elliot Bennett's knee injury might rule him out for the entire season.
Pilkington and Bassong both featured on Tuesday night in the cup, overcoming their recent injury issues. Bassong took a nasty knock or two, but should be in contention to make his first league start, along with Pilks and Robert Snodgrass.
For the visitors, Morgan Schneiderlin, Guly do Prado and Jos Hooiveld are doubts, and Luke Shaw has a knee issue. Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, their new club-record signing, will be hoping for a first Prem start.
Last time we met
There was nothing between the two sides last season, with a 1-1 draw at St.Mary's and a 0-0 at Carrow Road. City nearly took all three points during the latter, only for Grant Holt to have a stoppage time penalty saved by Artur Boruc in the Saint's goal.
Prior to those two meetings, they last met whilst they were League One sides in 2009/10. Norwich were fairly pleased to take a 2-2 draw on enemy soil in the first clash of the season, but the Saints won 2-0 in Norfolk a few months later.
They also met in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy competition, a match Southampton won on penalties en-route to winning the competition under the stewardship of Alan Pardew.
(Competitive results only, still not counting pre-season games.)
Sadly, this is the last week I can use both of the first two W's - the wins over West Brom and Man City - from the back end of last season. How you look at our first three games for this term is up to you, but I think it's 2-1 to us in terms of decent results.
The Saints successfully preserved a second successive season in the top-flight by drawing their last two games of last season. They drew 1-1 in both of them, away to Sunderland and at home to Stoke respectively.
In their opening Premier League game, Rickie Lambert - Who scored for England just days earlier - capped off a memorable week by ploughing home a 90th minute penalty against West Brom to give them a winning start to 2013/14. They started their home fixtures off with 1-1 draw with Sunderland - leaving it late again to snatch an equaliser - and round off this form guide after they obliterated a feeble Barnsley side in the League Cup.
In the league, that's actually a four game unbeaten stretch. Or one win in four, if you're a bit of a pessimist.
Head to Head Stat
Norwich haven't beaten the Saints in the last SEVEN competitive meetings, which have taken place across FOUR different competitions (Prem, Championship, League One, JPT). Time for a change, hopefully.
What's in store this time?
Make no mistake, this might be a pretty tough nut to crack considering their start to the campaign.
After the cup matches the two sides were involved in, scoring a combined total of 11 times, perhaps this'll have the potential to be something of a goal-fest, both of whom are clearly in a net-busting move.
But, as this previewer keeps stressing, you can't read anything into non-Prem results, and as a consequence this game is likely to disappoint. Rather than running out of space for names on a score-sheet, the journalists covering the game may even struggle to compile a report altogether if neither side presses the other much.
Hopefully that wont be the case. I fully expect Southampton to push for the win, and hopefully we'll match that determination and desire to avoid just that.
With our squad gradually recovering from their injuries, we're beginning to look much stronger. If the likes of Redmond and Fer can click better in midfield and provide some suitable service for Van Wolfswinkel, you'd certainly fancy our chances.
More than anything else, we need to time our passes much better, and improve our decision making once in the final-third, rather than losing the ball, or space, or common sense when we should be putting the opposition to the sword.
The intent was there, no question, but the timing was dismal.
Enjoy it, because we'll be waiting a fortnight before we're in action again. At least this international break comes with qualifying games attached and not a pointless set of friendlies, but I still think having your first international break so soon after the season's started is a bit agitating.
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