After a dull, dreary and frankly disastrous 2013-14 season in the Premier League, Norwich City are back playing Championship football.
As fans, we had reason to be optimistic heading into our third consecutive top-flight season; Norwich had finished the 2012-13 season in their highest position since coming third in 1993, they’d bought in some exciting young talent in the form of Nathan Redmond, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper and Leroy Fer, and the club announced it was operating debt-free.
Fast forward to April 2014 and the picture was completely different. Chris Hughton and the board had failed to strengthen the squad in January, instead opting to bring Jonas Gutierrez and Joseph Yobo on loan. Unsurprisingly, the team’s dreadful run of form wasn’t halted by the new arrivals and Norwich were hovering precariously above the relegation zone. Our strike-force had mustered just seven goals between them; five for Hooper and one each for van Wolfswinkel and the deceptively ineffective Johan Elmander.
More than a little pointlessly though, Hughton was sacked with just five games of the season to go, which I found frustrating as it meant his CV wouldn’t be tarnished by the impending relegation. Anyhow, with four of the last five games being against Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, the task for a new manager was virtually an impossible one. Still, club legend Neil Adams was brought in as interim manager, and the rest is history.
So, here we are facing a new season. Adams was officially appointed as manager, a decision that rankled with a large section of the Carrow Road contingent due to his inexperience. We lost Robert Snodgrass’ to Hull City, but despite rumours surrounding Fer, Redmond and Alexander Tettey, there hasn’t been a mass exodus of our ‘top’ players. The club also appear to have recruited wisely - Lewis Grabban and Kyle Lafferty are hardly what you’d call ‘marquee’ signings, but they are proven goal-scorers.
The only worry, squad-wise, is that there have (at the time of writing) been no defensive reinforcements brought in. Centre-back Sebastien Bassong’s worrying drop in form has now led to him training with the academy squad (along with forgotten striker, Luciano Becchio). Martin Olsson, our star performer last season, is currently out injured and his replacement, Javier Garrido, has hardly kicked a ball for the last 12 months. Adams seems to favour Russell Martin as a centre back, a position he adopts for the Scottish national side. This arrangement means that Steven Whittaker fills in at right-back, which will be a concern for many Canaries fans, as although he’s certainly a handy player going forward, he looks more than a little suspect defensively.
Midfield though is where the club will really make its mark on the Championship. I read a blog from a Derby County fan, suggesting that their midfield was arguably the best in the division. I watched a lot of Derby’s games last season, and whilst I agree that they have a great midfield, with Norwich dropping down a division, I think Derby fans will have to settle for second best in that regard (of course, bias has also played a part in this conclusion too!).
I watched Norwich absolutely demolish OGC Nice 5-1 in a pre-season friendly a matter of days ago, largely thanks to the perfect blend of power, pace and creativity in midfield. Four out of the five scorers were midfielders; Redmond, Andrew Surman, Bradley Johnson and Elliott Bennett (Grabban scored the other, FYI). Wes Hoolahan looked up for it too, and put on a sparkling performance. We were also treated to fleeting glimpses of the talents of Republic of Ireland international, Anthony Pilkington, and the promising youth players Josh and Jacob Murphy. In addition to those already mentioned, our squad is blessed with Leroy Fer (on extended leave following his World Cup outing with the Dutch squad), Jonny Howson (due back from injury shortly) and Alexander Tettey.
Add the proven experience of players such as John Ruddy, Michael Turner and Russell Martin, and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid Premier League squad. What remains to be seen is how the players will adapt to a complete change in playing style, with more emphasis on attack – which will come as a relief to the Norwich fans that have endured almost two full seasons of bland, uninspiring dross.
I don’t think there’s too many fans expecting Norwich to bounce straight back, but we’d like to think they can at least make the play-offs. If they can manage to retain the services of most of their key players until the end of August, I think come the end of the season, they will be there or thereabouts.
Article by Ray TEMPESTA
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