Alex Neil wants his Norwich City players to prove his FA Cup selection policy to be correct as the Canaries’ continue their pursuit of Premier League survival with a trip to Stoke City.
Neil made seven changes to his team for the 3-0 home defeat to Manchester City in the third round on Saturday and the Carrow Road boss stressed that retaining top-flight status remains Norwich’s primary objective this season.
Ahead of the visit to the Britannia Stadium on Wednesday, where Norwich are seeking a third successive league win, the 34-year-old explained his decision to rest many of his star men against City.
“Our main priority is to stay in the Premier League, that’s the bottom line,” he said.
“We’ve got two really crucial games coming up – we’ll have a lot of guys who are fresh who’ve not been involved or played small parts that will be able to give their all in the next two.
“If I put my strongest team out and we lose against one of the best teams in the league, then we get to Wednesday and we lose that because we’re fatigued, then we’ve got a huge game Saturday and they’re still a bit fatigued with that, then you’re just making yourself problems.
“I make no apologies for changing the team up. I think it was the right decision, and I hope I’m justified in the next two games.
“When you know three points are at stake and Premier League survival is at stake that will quickly get you back focused.”
Matt Jarvis is available to Neil after a knee injury and the Norwich boss has no other concerns ahead of the clash with the Potters, whose own line-up is likely to be much changed after manager Mark Hughes rested nine players for the 2-1 FA Cup win at Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.
Ibrahim Affelay, Bojan Krkic, Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri are all set to return but Hughes remained coy when quizzed on the possibility of Saido Berahino – the West Brom striker – joining them.
Of the recent transfer speculation linking Berahino with Stoke, the Potters boss said: “There was some mention of it but it would be wrong for me to talk about players from other clubs.
“We are looking in the window and if there’s opportunities we will pursue them.”
Stoke sit 10th in the Premier League, six points clear of this week’s opponents.
Key opta stats:
– Norwich have won three of their last four Premier League games, the same amount they had won in their previous 23.
– Stoke have been given a joint league-high four red cards in their 20 Premier League games this season, this after receiving only one in 38 games in 2014-15.
– Marko Arnautovic has scored seven goals in the Premier League this season, despite having just 11 shots on target for Stoke.
– The Canaries have conceded three Premier League goals in second-half injury time this season, more than any other team.