Norwich Manager, Alex Neil, is overplaying the plucky underdog tag ever so slightly ahead of Tuesday night’s match.
The two clubs were relegated together last May, with only three points separating them.
The summer saw vastly different stories at the two clubs, Norwich seeing very little movement in and out, whilst Newcastle were the opposite with wholesale changes as players left and others arrived.
Alex Neil says that Norwich didn’t have the same level of expectation as Newcastle and Aston Villa at the start of the season, with the money spent by the other two relegated clubs being the prime factor.
However, as Villa have shown, the amount of money spent is often a poor substitute for continuity and stability.
Newcastle had a whole list of players such as Janmaat, Wijnaldum, Coloccini, Cisse, Sissoko, Townsend and Thauvin who had no interest in sticking around after relegation.
Whilst others such as de Jong, Krul, Riviere, Mbabu, Saivet and others had to go out on loan for various reasons, plus Doumbia, Taylor, Obertan and Marveaux all leaving permanently.
Rafa Benitez had no alternative but to bring in a load of new players – the reality being that far more first team squad players left, than arrived.
In actual fact it was Norwich who had the perfect scenario when this season kicked off.
The opening weekend saw a terrible and disjointed display from Newcastle as they lost 1-0 at Fulham with five new players in the team.
In contrast, Norwich hammered Blackburn 4-1 away, with all the starting eleven having been at the club the year before.
Norwich City had kept a Premier League team together and looked very strong candidates to go straight back up, the only player who forced a move last summer to stay in the Premier League was Nathan Redmond.
Of the senior first team squad to start double figure PL games last season for Norwich, 12 of 15 were still there at the end of last summer’s transfer window. Plus they added Pritchard from Spurs and Canos from Liverpool, plus Oliveira arrived from Benfica, as well as keeper Michael McGovern who had starred at Euro 2016.
The most successful story of recent times when it comes to bouncing back from relegation, is Burnley.
Relegated in 2014/15, they went up as champions the following (last) season. In their promotion campaign, of the 12 players to make most Championship starts, nine of the 12 had been in the PL squad that got relegated the year before.
If any Manager is performing miracles it is Rafa Benitez in pulling together a top of the table team/squad from a total mess he inherited.
In reality, Alex Neil had so much going for him when he started the season, you have to say that they have massively underperformed, especially with so many of his players having previous experience of the Championship as well as the Premier League.
If either team wins tonight then they will have earned it and a win for Rafa would be at the very least as commendable as one for Alex Neil.
“Many would argue Newcastle have the most expensive squad in this league and players who, up to this point, had played in the Premier League.
“I don’t think we have the same level of expectation, in the fact they spent a huge amount of money, albeit they also recouped a huge amount, whereas we have been relatively modest, within reason, in comparison to Newcastle and Aston Villa.
“They have certainly been a lot more active in terms of the money spent. That carries a weight of expectation.
“The one thing we have got here is talented players.
“We have had to focus on the other aspects of what we need to do, to be resilient, well-organised and disciplined. You put those all together then you can pick up points.
“It is going to be difficult to catch Newcastle, based on their form throughout the season, but that said, we came close the last time we went up to the top two.
“I remember going to Rotherham and losing after having a man sent off when if we had won we would arguably have gone up in the top two. If we can go on any sort of run like that then nothing is impossible.”