Few outside the tight confines of Norwich City’s dressing room will give the Canaries much hope of denting Liverpool’s surge to a first-ever Premier League title at Carrow Road this weekend.
City teeter two points above the relegation places after losing a straight shootout with Fulham at the weekend, when Neil Adams took charge for the first time since replacing Chris Hughton. Liverpool swept aside Manchester City the day after in a title duel fuelled by the relentless momentum of their previous nine straight wins. Manuel Pellegrini’s side then stumbled again in midweek to firm up the belief this is Liverpool’s year to step out of the shadow of Manchester’s dominance.
Framed in that context, Adams’ squad will look to escape with limited damage to a dire goal difference that could still prove a decisive factor in their battle at the bottom. Many have already written off Norwich’s chances of extricating themselves during a run-in that also takes them to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge before Arsenal visit Carrow Road on what is poised to be a fraught final day.
Yet the only people who really matter in this equation now are Adams and his players, and there was no undercurrent of submission when the new boss emerged from what he conceded was a desolate away dressing room at Craven Cottage. Norwich had pummelled Fulham but lacked the killer instinct that Liverpool possess in abundance. Luis Suarez has scored 11 goals in his last four meetings with the Canaries and three more in a prolific Premier League campaign than Norwich’s entire squad have mustered. Crystal Palace’s treble at Everton in midweek left Adams’ club as the top flight’s lowest scorers, and finding a fast-acting antidote will decide their fate. It really is as stark as that.
Despite the late-season managerial upheaval, the fight and the spirit are unquenchable in Norfolk, woven around a core of players who have had to scrap just to become Premier League footballers. John Ruddy may end up going to Brazil with England’s World Cup squad but this is a keeper who endured nine different loan spells during a five-year stint at Everton that, by his own admission, left him questioning his future in the game. Teammates like Russell Martin and Bradley Johnson started out in non-league circles after teenage rejection at their hometown professional clubs. Norwich will not lack for conviction in these final four fixtures against the elite, but Adams has to succeed where Hughton failed in channelling that belief and undoubted quality into tangible productivity.
Norwich’s squad realise that, for them to realistically pull off a shock, Liverpool must slip from the high watermark they reached last weekend. The Canaries will also have to carry an attacking threat of their own or risk being dismissed as they have been too often in the recent Premier League era against the Reds. The stakes are huge at both ends of the table, but such a contrast may trigger a contest rather than the procession that all the empirical evidence suggests will unfold at Carrow Road on Easter Sunday.