By George Sessions, PA
Claudio Ranieri is happy for Watford’s wait for a clean sheet to continue against Norwich on Friday if it means they earn success over their relegation rivals.
The Italian arrived at Vicarage Road in October and promised his squad a free dinner if they were able to keep a shut-out in his opening match at home to Liverpool.
It finished with a 5-0 loss and Watford are still to secure a clean sheet under the 70-year-old but ended their seven-game losing streak with a point at Newcastle last weekend and are eager to build on it when the Canaries visit Vicarage Road.
“If we win, the clean sheet can wait and it is not important. Now we need the points and then also if we score one goal more than our opponent, it is OK,” Ranieri said with a smile.
“This is very big. It was big against Newcastle, another crash between two teams who want to stay in the Premier League, and we need the support of our crowd.
“We need the passion, we need everything and I am sure we do a very good match.”
Both sides enter the fixture with a shift in momentum after Joao Pedro’s late goal at St James’ Park on Saturday saw Watford halt their slide, while at the same time, Dean Smith’s Norwich were beating Everton by a 2-1 score.
It moved the Canaries off the basement and up to 18th, only one position and a single point off the Hornets, who are yet to drop into the relegation zone this season despite winning only three times in the top flight this term.
Ranieri added: “Yes of course, we have to win but we don’t want to lose.
“This is a very important match for us, for them and it is also a very good match for the Premier League.
“Norwich come with a lot of confidence after their win against Everton. We come with good thoughts, confidence and very happy after we drew the match with Newcastle. I think it will be a very good match.”
Watford were due to visit Burnley in midweek but Tuesday’s clash against another fellow struggler was postponed.
It means the 17th-placed Hornets have more time to prepare to face Norwich, which is their last game before the Premier League goes through a mini-winter break with the division set to resume on February 8th.
Ranieri floated the idea of Watford trying to fit in their game with Burnley during the next two weeks, adding: “I am not so frustrated (with the postponement) because when you play, you have to play every two or three days and this is not so good.
“Now I hope when we play against Burnley, I hope there are some days more to recover from another match.
“I don’t know if we play the fifth (of February) and after we play on the eighth. It would be a little crazy while we have a week free, so we can maybe play a little early?”
Seven players will miss Watford’s match with Norwich with Imran Louza, Adam Masina and William Troost-Ekong still away at the African Cup of Nations, while Peter Etebo (hamstring), Kwadwo Baah (foot), Nicolas Nkoulou (hamstring) and Ismaila Sarr (knee) remain sidelined.
The Vicarage Road outfit have already been active in the January transfer market but have been linked with Bordeaux’s Samuel Kalu and Liverpool defender Nat Phillips.
Ranieri insisted Kalu was “not close 100 per cent” and while he expressed his admiration for Phillips, the experienced boss conceded the Hornets needed to move players on before trying to bring in the centre-back.