Friday, January 3, 2014

Norwich City - Fulham Preview: Meulensteen must shore up league's leakiest defence

Rene Meulensteen will look for an improved defensive showing from his Fulham side when they face Norwich City at Carrow Road on Thursday.

The Dutchman's first two games in charge saw the Premier League's leakiest defence show signs of improvement as they were denied a point late on against Tottenham before shutting out Aston Villa to win 2-0.

However, since then Fulham have conceded eight goals - falling to defeats against Everton and Manchester City - meaning that they have now shipped 34 in 17 top-flight matches.

Norwich have scraped just 15 goals in 17 league games this season and, if the Cottagers can keep the likes of Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel at bay, they could move out of the relegation zone before Saturday's visit to Hull City.

In what has been a frustrating, injury-hit start to his maiden campaign as a Norwich player, club-record signing Van Wolfswinkel is now pushing for his first start since September following a toe problem and is eager to hit his full stride by the time 2014 gets under way.

"After 13 weeks with the injury I was so happy to get back playing on Saturday," he told reporters. "The toe is 100 per cent right now - I feel great and I'm raring to go."

Fulham have a strong recent record against Norwich, especially offensively, having won three and drawn two of their last five meetings, with two of those victories yielding 11 goals for the Londoners.

That said, Norwich will likely pose a stern test to Meulensteen's charges as they are unbeaten in four home leagues games - conceding just twice in that time.

Jonny Howson's back injury will be assessed by the club's medical staff, while manager Chris Hughton confirmed on Monday that Russell Martin will return from an ankle injury. Alex Tettey and Elliott Bennett, both long-term absentees, will not feature as the Canaries boss looks ahead to what he envisages will be a tough fixture.

"It's been a difficult period for Fulham but we want to make sure it's about us and that we get the result we want," Hughton remarked. "It's a busy time but, at the moment, we have to look at our first game against Fulham as the most important one."

Meulensteen is hopeful on the return of striker Dimitar Berbatov following a groin problem, while Hugo Rodallega could also come into the reckoning after a similar complaint, but captain Brede Hangeland remains out with a back injury.

Norwich City - Fulham Preview: Meulensteen must shore up league's leakiest defence Rating: 4.5 Posted by: Unknown


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