Norwich V Fulham at Carrow Road : Match Preview

24 December 2013 02:31
Norwich V Fulham - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.

Meulensteen an admirer of RVW

Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen was surprised to see compatriot Ricky van Wolfswinkel join Norwich in the summer - and revealed he had once been on Manchester United's radar.

The 24-year-old became the Canaries' record signing when he moved to Carrow Road from Sporting Lisbon in the summer, but has endured an injury-hit start to his career in English football.

Van Wolfswinkel still only has one Norwich goal to his name, but is in contention to face Fulham on Boxing Day after coming off the bench in Saturday's goalless draw at Sunderland following almost two months out with a toe injury.

Meulensteen knows a lot about the Holland striker and feels the Canaries pulled off something of a coup when they secured his services.

When asked if he was surprised when Van Wolfswinkel joined Norwich, Meulensteen said: "I was, to be fairly honest.

"Obviously I know him and know the Dutch league very well and he has an eye for goal and is really good in and around the box and is a quick and clinical finisher - he showed that at Sporting Lisbon.

"I thought at some point he would be heading for the Barclays Premier League or the Bundesliga, but it was a bit of a surprise. My first thought was that Norwich had done well there but it shows again how keen players are to play in the Premier League."

Meulensteen, who spent a total of 11 years as a coach at Manchester United before leaving the club following Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, admitted Van Wolfswinkel had caught the attention of those in and around Old Trafford.

"We had definitely discussed him," said the Dutchman, who has overseen one win in four games since taking charge at Fulham.

"I don't think it was ever to the stage that we needed to do something as we obviously had fantastic strikers at the club and, at a club like Manchester United where you have got top, top strikers, when you bring someone in he needs to be better than you have already got."

Norwich have taken five points since losing heavily at Liverpool last month, and Meulensteen is expecting a stern test at Carrow Road.

"It is going to be difficult," said the 49-year-old, whose side then travel to Hull on Saturday before a New Year's Day clash at home to West Ham.

"Let there be no mistake - the games are crucial and, from a different category to the Spurs, Everton and City games, but they are going to be equally difficult because that is what the Premier League is about.

"Most Premier League teams have gathered good squads and (Norwich boss) Chris (Hughton) did an amazing job last year and he is at it again - two draws and a win and it is a difficult place to go to. They will be looking at getting as much out of the game as we do, but we do fancy our chances."

Anything less than a win for Fulham is likely to see them remain inside the bottom three following a run of one win in nine league outings, whereas victory for Chris Hughton's Canaries could see them move in to the top half of the table.

Striker Dimitar Berbatov faces a late fitness test.

The 32-year-old missed the 4-2 defeat to Manchester City with a groin injury but Meulensteen is hopeful he will be fit for the match at Carrow Road.

It is in defence where Meulensteen has most of his worries as both Brede Hangeland (back) and Philippe Senderos (abductor) are missing as well as Matthew Briggs (hernia).

Van Wolfswinkel is plotting to use the busy Christmas schedule to silence doubts over his commitment to the club.

His debut Barclays Premier League season has been interrupted by a niggling toe injury that forced him out for 13 weeks either side of an aborted comeback against Cardiff in October.

The 24-year-old Dutch striker's absence led to suggestions he had failed to settle at Carrow Road, leaving him poised to start the Boxing Day clash against Fulham with a point to prove.

"People said I wasn't enjoying it here. That frustrated me," said Van Wolfswinkel, who made his comeback as a second-half substitute in Saturday's goalless draw with Sunderland.

"When you're not playing people say 'it's only a toe injury, he doesn't really want to play or be here'. These people really annoyed me. I'm really, really happy here.

"It frustrates me to hear things like that, but what can you say? All I could do is focus on my recovery and get back on the pitch.

"I have a lot to prove and a lot to show. I can't wait to get started. I've had my holiday and I can't wait to play football."

Van Wolfswinkel, an B#8.5million summer signing from Sporting Lisbon, insists his eagerness to return ultimately hampered his rehabilitation.

"I didn't listen to anyone and started too quickly again. I made some wrong decisions," he said.

"Playing against Cardiff (October 26) was my call. The physios said it's better I don't, but I wanted to.

"I wanted to play because I saw the team wasn't playing too well.

"You think 'it's just a toe' and I tried to play against Cardiff and help the team, but I found I couldn't and needed to take my time.

"I was very happy to be back. I was counting the weeks. I had a programme in my locker and it was getting longer each week - 13 weeks out in total. That was rubbish so I was so happy to be back.

"There were times when I thought this is taking too long and that was frustrating.

"There are two things I don't like to do and that's ride the bike and swim. I had to do both for 13 weeks."

Norwich midfielder Jonathan Howson faces a late fitness test for the Barclays Premier League clash.

Howson is struggling with a back problem and is a doubt for the relegation showdown.

Defender Russell Martin missed the 0-0 draw with Sunderland to rest a sore ankle but will return against Fulham.

Source: PA

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