By Kevin Affleck
Quique Sánchez Flores has coached in a Europa League final, a Madrid derby and countless other mammoth occasions, but knows Friday night's match at Norwich is as important as any, describing it as “a final” and one that could shape the rest of the season.
The Head Coach cranked up the intensity in training this week and was as animated on Wednesday as anyone has seen him in his two spells with this club. His persona is perhaps reflective of a man who knows the significance of what could be a cracker under the lights at Carrow Road and what a first win of the season in a match between the bottom two would do to morale and the outlook.
“It's a significant match,” he said. “We know perfectly it will decide a lot the future of the team. We know three points is the same against every team but I know three versus this team is significant. It's a big final for both sides. It's not the end of the season, but it's a big final. The result can change the future of both team. It's massive.”
Norwich have lost five of the last six and only won one of the last nine, but their two wins mean they are above the Hornets by two points in the table.
“They are in the same situation as us,” said Sáncehz Flores. “They are positive, stable and able to play very good matches. They are also suffering a little bit, like us, and we are at the same point in the season with similar feelings. We know we need to change this dynamic and this situation. It's about what we can do versus Norwich.”
The Head Coach has been working hard on the training field this week, particularly when it comes to defensive shape, and he upped the ante in an intense finishing drill on Tuesday. He has also been working holistically away from the training field.
“We need to forget negativities, forget that we are a little bit low,” he said. “We need to forget about everything. They can play much better, they can keep the ball much better, they can shoot more time, they can defend more solid. They can do everything much better. We don't feel completely comfortable or have confidence but we are working to get results. Results are everything in sport. Some day we will play well and one day we will score one and they don't score and everything will change. We are working for this day and then everything can change.”
Like everyone else, Sánchez Flores had hoped to have seen a bigger and more noticeable bounce effect since he made a return to the club. It's not been for the want of trying, but he's just been focussing on stabilising the ship and creating a foundation. He has also been hampered by the fact four games had already ticked by and that he did not have a pre-season to get his philosophy across.
“I was thinking it would be difficult,” he said. “I came here to change the dynamic. A good result over the first two matches would have changed everything but we know the programme was difficult. I came positive and I don't feel deflated. I feel very positive and I understand the process of the players.
“We have played against City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea where the possibilities are reduced. This is not an excuse as we know the programme. We need to accept this. We feel positive, we believe in the players and we are transmitting the values and habits to improve the performance. I have no regrets, I will not surrender and I'm not going to give up until the last day I train.”
Sánchez Flores received some criticism for his third and final substitution against Chelsea and a touch of his explanation behind it got slightly lost in translation as he brought on Kiko Femenía for the tiring Daryl Janmaat as he wanted his team to raid deeper into the Chelsea half down the right. Plus, Isaac Success had only had one session under his belt and there was a desire not to pick up further injury, especially after Craig Cathcart had limped off. But the Spaniard still steadfastly believes shoring up the defence and making his team difficult to beat is the best chance of plotting a route away from danger.
“My biggest concern is to make the team more solid,” he said. “Since February, I think, we have conceded one or more goal per match and means you need to score at least once to draw and sometimes two or three per match to win. To do this every match is not easy. The shortcut is to try and not concede goals. If we don't concede, we are able to win. We were close against Tottenham, against Sheffield and Bournemouth. If you concede it is very, very difficult to be able. This is my first concern.
“We didn't concede for two matches and we didn't deserve to concede versus Tottenham. I want to have a good balance between attack and defence. I have to choose something and this is to be solid as if we won't concede, we are close to a win. This is my idea.”