Pre-match Analysis: Norwich City vs Southampton FC
Credit: Stephen Bond

In a new era at Carrow Road, Dean Smith will take charge of his first game at the helm of Norwich City,, taking on the resilient Southampton FC. After what was a whirlwind of an international break for the former Aston Villa manager, Smith gave himself only a number of hours after getting sacked from Villa, to take on a new challenge.

All eyes will be on the 50-year-old this weekend as his final game in charge at Villa Park came against the same opposition, in a game where Adam Armstrong’s third minute strike divided the two clubs to seal a fifth consecutive defeat for the Smith’s former employers.

As for the visitors, who will be looking to ruin the party in Norfolk; Southampton have lost just one game in their last four Premier League outings.

Norwich City

New manager Dean Smith takes over from Daniel Farke, who was released from his duties as manager at Norwich City after a somewhat disappointing start to the campaign. Farke had been at the helm for four years, lifting the club into the Premier League on two occasions, whilst facing criticism over his capabilities to support the club in their attempts to avoid another relegation from England's top flight. His sacking came as a surprise to many fans, after securing a first league win of the season, with a 2-1 away win against Brentford FC.

Prior to joining The Canaries, Smith previously took charge of Walsall; Brentford; and Aston Villa, where he had achieved relative success with each club.

The attention will all circle around the new man in charge. Smith took to the media after confirming the move to Norfolk where he expressed his excitement for the challenge at hand by stating: It’s great to get straight back in [to football] with a club that are determined to be progressive,” Smith said. “I’ve always worked to improve and develop players – with that obviously comes improved performances.”

Tactically, the former Villa manager favours a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-3-3 formation, despite occasionally playing three central defenders, this tactical approach is a similar feel to the one that had successfully been deployed by Daniel Farke in the Championship. In turn, Smith has been able to focus on his team’s strengths in attack; which with Brentford, his side would focus by playing centrally with the ball, whilst at Villa, he would get the team crossing balls into the box for the prolific Ollie Watkins to capitalise, whilst also playing to the strengths of Jack Grealish, who would terrorise defences down the left flank.

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This focus, as seen with Villa, maybe one that Smith chooses to use with Norwich. After seeing the successes of Matt Target and Matty Cash at Villa, who were two explosive attacking fullbacks, a similar approach may be used to get the best out of Max Aarons, Brandon Williams, and Dimitris Giannoulis.

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One of the downfalls for Smith during his tenure at Villa was the sheer reliance on Grealish. Unremarkably talented with the ball at his feet, the attacking midfielder made the move to Manchester City in the summer, with former Canary Emiliano Buendia coming in to replace him. Buendia, despite winning Player of the Season for Norwich in the Championship last season, the Argentine has so far not been able to fill the gigantic hole that had been left by the 25-year-old.

The introduction of Smith may come as a major relief for Canaries attacker Todd Cantwell. Often leaving fans asking ‘why?’, Cantwell had failed to make an impression on Farke this season, having featured for the Under 23’s more than the First Team in recent months. Speaking ahead of the weekend encounter, Smith mentioned: “It is a new start for them [referring to Cantwell and recently absent Billy Gilmour], in terms of a coaching team coming in. We get to see them at training on Thursday and it is down to them to impress us.”

Southampton FC

The Saints have started the season much better than many expected. After the departure of striker Danny Ings, who moved to Premier League rivals Aston Villa, many had tipped Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side for the drop this season.

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Replacing Ings for Southampton in the summer was Adam Armstrong, highlighting the shrewd transfer business from the Hampshire club. Joining the club for £15 million, the 24-year-old was once on the radar of Norwich City, before making the move for Josh Sargent. Having settled in down south with two goals to his name, the former Blackburn Rovers striker scored 28 goals for the club, only to be beaten by Brentford’s Ivan Toney in the face for the golden boot.

A side that looks fresh and revitalised after kickstarting the campaign, Southampton have on show a young and exciting squad – with Kyle Walker-Peters and Tino Livramento adding an extra flavour to Hasenhüttl’s attack.

Matching the exciting attacking prospect with defensive resilience, The Saints have kept three clean sheets in their last four matches.

Tactically, the Austrian manager has his side playing in a 4-4-2. When defending, Hasenhuttl’s side is set up to make it as difficult as possible for opposition attackers to break down, whilst being able to hit sides on the counterattack, with fast and technically impressive players.

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In recent years, Southampton have remained true to their tactical approach, reaping their rewards by often being underestimated with the common misconception that their squad lack real quality despite having a recruitment process that involves signing exciting players who have in large part gone under the radar of ‘bigger’ clubs in the Premier League.  

Last Five Meetings

In total, the side’s have met 129 times, with The Saints coming off victorious on 51 occasions. As for Norwich, they have won in this fixture 40 times, with the club’s drawing 38 games against eachother.

From the last 16 meetings between the side’s, Norwich have only won on two occasions, with the last of those coming in 2016, where Alex Tettey scored the all-important goal.

19th June 2020 Norwich 0-3 Southampton

4th December 2019: Southampton 2-1 Norwich City

18th January 2017: Southampton 1-0 Norwich City

7th January 2017: Norwich City 2-2 Southampton

2nd January 2016: Norwich City 1-0 Southampton

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