CHAMPIONSHIP leaders Norwich host bottom side Ipswich on Sunday and EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) picks his best bet for the East Anglian Derby
Norwich v Ipswich | Sunday 10th February 2019, 12:00 | Sky Sports
Paul Lambert is one of the greatest managers Norwich City have had in the modern era.
After inflicting on them an opening day 7-1 defeat while manager of Colchester, he was then promptly appointed boss at Carrow Road and inspired them to back-to-back promotions, followed by a 12th-placed Premier League finish in 2011/12.
Since Aston Villa fans sung for him to replace Alex McLeish on the final day of that campaign, however, Lambert has had a mixed period in management.
The Scot did little to halt Villa’s decline, then stabilized Blackburn but struggled to make an impact at Wolves and oversaw relegation at Stoke.
Without doing a particularly bad job at any of those clubs bearing in mind the relative lack of investment, he did not exactly thrive either
On Sunday, he shall return to Norfolk for the first time since becoming manager of bitter rivals Ipswich Town, taking on the challenge of extending their second-tier stay to 17-years.
Issues at Ipswich
A prolonged series of off-field issues have led to Ipswich finding themselves bottom of the Championship, eight points adrift of safety.
On the field though, it could be that their woes stem, in part, from problems at centre-back.
This season has seen a trend of second-tier managers gamble on younger defenders, because the ability to play out from the back has become increasingly important in the modern game.
The problem Lambert has is that veterans Luke Chambers and James Collins are too slow to offer any confidence in possession and the alternative options are Matthew Pennington, who can be very error-prone and Toto Nsiala, who was struggling at Hartlepool last time he wasn’t working under Paul Hurst.
The latter duo might be selected for two games running, with Chambers and Collins struggling with foot and hamstring injuries respectively.
That is not to say that the rest of the team is blameless, but it hardly helps that centre-backs are either playing safe passes, riskier ones that see Ipswich dispossessed in their own half, or aimless long balls.
For the latter option, the Tractor Boys do not possess a target man; Will Keane is the type of forward that needs players around him to link up with and Collin Quaner is largely about raw pace.
Lambert has changed certain things at Ipswich – he has tried, with reasonable outcome, to build bridges with supporters, re-energize and re-connect the club.
However, the fundamental issue is that the team does not have a clear playing identity and that sense of uncertainty has filtered through to the players.
Norwich flying high
When Norwich drew 1-1 at Ipswich in September, the performance suggested that they would not be too far above their rivals by the next time the two teams met, let alone top of the Championship after a 3-1 win at Leeds.
Though it did not seem like it at the time, it seems retrospectively that the Portman Road clash kicked Norwich’s season into life.
For a start, their current star homegrown full-backs, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis, started together for the first time in Suffolk.
Then, when Jordan Rhodes did not enjoy the best of afternoons up top, it prompted Daniel Farke to hand Teemu Pukki a false nine role the following week.
Pukki then scored in the 1-0 win over Middlesbrough – the rest is history for both he and Nodge.
At certain times this season, battling stalwart Alex Tettey and deep-lying playmaker Moritz Leitner have been regarded as central figures for Norwich.
While both were absent however, the duo have been replaced more than capably by the tenacious Tom Trybull and vivacious Mario Vrancic.
If anything, Trybull can cover more ground than Tettey while Vrancic arguably poses more of a goal threat than Leitner, averaging 2.2 shots per game in comparison with just 1 for his positional competitor.
That is in no way a slight on Leitner, who remains Norwich’s best midfielder when it comes to collecting and distributing from deep.
However, after stellar performances against Birmingham and Leeds, the duo of Trybull and Vrancic could prove very difficult to break up in more ways than one.
For a side higher in the league table than their rivals, the key to winning a derby game against them is not to treat it like a derby.
It is about sticking to the game plan that has worked, using the ball intelligently and making sensible decisions.
Generally, that basic protocol will see the favourites be victorious.
As underdogs, Ipswich must hope the fact it’s a derby means something.
Because the blueprint they have used hitherto this point has failed them, they almost have no option but to embrace the significance of the clash in it’s widest sense.
Fans will demand passion but there is a danger that, in the away camp, too much emphasis will be placed on the need for spirit and desire, with not enough on precisely how that will manifest itself.
Daniel Farke, having worked in Under-23s football previously, is a process-driven coach, which essentially means he focuses on the specifics of performances rather than the wider implications of the game.
Lambert, who is likely to be burdened by far more emotional factors than Farke, might find it difficult to do the same.
The Tactics Board
Given the aforementioned psychological issues, Ipswich will want to start the match on competitive footing, by closing Norwich down where possible.
That might have worked against the Canaries last season, when the task for any opponent was to shackle James Maddison.
This year, the threat is far more diverse.
Pukki is on paper the ‘centre-forward’ but he often drops in to allow Marco Stiepermann to press forward.
Contain those two and there’s the trickery of Onel Hernandez to contend with, or the creativity of Emi Buendia, plus the midfielders and full-backs.
Norwich have mastered the art of half-inviting pressure from the opposition, before quickly changing the speed and direction of play to find those open spaces.
Ipswich will hope Collin Quaner can lead their counter-attacks individualistically, but it could be very difficult for him on his own.
The Betting Angle
Norwich are understandable available at very skinny outright prices.
However, if we look at their last three games, they have only conceded goals to three of the best strikers in the Championship – Dwight Gayle, Billy Sharp and Che Adams.
It is possible that Norwich, without a clean sheet since Christmas, might allow Ipswich the occasional chance, but it is also possible that their visitors will lack the ruthlessness to take advantage.
Away from home this season, The Tractor Boys have taken 63 shots from inside the penalty area, with just 5 finding the net – an 8% conversion rate.
They have scored just nine goals in 15 away games and they will spend a lot of their game focusing on their work without the ball, rather than what they can do with it.
To get Norwich onside at an odds-against price, therefore, the win to nil could be the way to go.
Norwich v Ipswich – Norwich to win to nil (23/20 BetVictor)