Two successive promotions and a remarkable 12th placed finish in the Premier League last year, is a commendable achievement for any football club. The last day of last term saw the Canaries round off a delightful first season back in the big time, but also the cliché, ‘if they can cheat with you, they can cheat on you’ comes to mind. It was a little over 3 summer’s ago which marked Bryan Gunn’s last game in charge, after Paul Lambert’s Colchester decimated Norwich at Carrow Road, 7-1.
A few weeks later and Paul Lambert begins his reign as messiah at Carrow Road, the start of the rise of one of Britain’s finest young managers. Three years later would see Lambert take charge of the last team he beat with Norwich, Aston Villa. This leaves Chris Hughton with the task of moulding together a new philosophy, as we have seen with the switch to a traditionally British 4-4-2, a new squad as well maintain Norwich’s status amongst the elite in English football. Sounds like an easy task given the comfort of the Canaries in the last campaign, surely?
On the one hand, the only predominantly yellow-shirt wearing team in the Premier League face an uphill struggle in ensuring that crucial 3rd year of Premier League survival, and this can be attributed to two main causes. The first and certainly most fundamental, is whether or not Chris Hughton can transform the old team & new signings, with the former being so accustomed to not only Lambert’s 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-2-1-2 formations, but also himself as a manager as he brought in the majority of players you see now, into a team of graduates from Tony Pulis’ ‘How to solidify as a Premier League Club’ master class come the 2013/2014 season.
I believe a lot of the new signings will struggle. The first is Harry Kane, for all his comparisons to Teddy Sheringham are worth, only made his league debut this year, and before that, had only played half a season in the Championship with Millwall, so this season may be no more than an experience-builder for the Spurs youngster. Both Bassong and Turner are no more than relegation-threatened Premier League players. Both players at best are mediocre players who have often given numerous below-par performances which would not indicate that Bassong is formerly a Spurs player or that Turner once had his name in the England selection hat. Javier Garrido is a strategic loan signing, bringing with him a wealth of experience and dodgy over-lapping runs.
However, the former Man City left back again is far away from the quality of player needed to take point’s week-in-week-out in the Premier League. Jacob Butterfield has only ever been a mediocre player for Barnsley which speaks volumes in itself as regards his ability to develop into a decent Premier League player, whilst Tettey, the new holding mid from Rennes, again looks like another mediocre midfielder, with the added luxury of being extremely injury-prone, as his time at Rennes would suggest. This pins all hope on Snodgrass; a reputable winger with an excellent eye for goal for both club and more recently, country, and Whittaker, another Scottish international who not only brings invaluable experience, but also is an exciting right-back with pace. This formulates a wider belief that Norwich only finished 12th as Lambert knew his players inside out, allowing for managerial experience to over-rule natural talent. Therefore, based on their summer signings and the fact Hughton must now gel those signings into the previous squad, which leaves Canaries fans perhaps worried, if you consider Southampton and West Ham just paid over the odds to land Gaston Ramirez and Andy Carroll respectively.
On to my second point, do the Canaries have enough to sustain Premier League survival this time round? New boys Reading, West Ham and Southampton all have marquee signings in Pogrebnyak, Carroll & Ramirez, QPR signed an arsenal of reject players across many of Europe’s top clubs, which although were very expensive, the majority are still talented players nonetheless, Welsh outfit Swansea have made confident steps under Laudrup whilst Martinez’s Wigan have proven themselves to be fighters as of when it’s required, where does this leave the likes of Norwich? Norwich must find a way to utilise Grant Holt to the fullest, which may be difficult as he now shares the striker role in the new 4-4-2 formation. Piklington and Snodgrass will no doubt serve as reliable assistants to whichever two strikers lead the front-line. The Canaries cannot afford a depletion of goals at any time this season, as Villa found out last season under Big Eck. Norwich appear to be limited up top. Should Holt get injured, Norwich would be without a recognised Premier League goal-scorer (if we can even call Holty that). This is where the relevance of the clubs around Norwich comes in. Ramirez isn’t going to be the new Kevin Phillips, however he will link up well with Lallana and create many chances for the Saints, who do have players who can score goals, most recently Ricky Lambert. West Ham look a decent team with Carroll in the side whilst Reading’s spirited efforts at Chelsea alone, marked by a sublime header from Pogrebnyak himself, show signs of a spirited and but very focussed club.
Therefore, Norwich must find a way to benefit from the weaknesses of those around them. I believe Norwich’s survival in the Premier League is reliant on their home form and their form in‘6-pointers’ both home and away. If they can nick a few points here and there on the road at a big club, as evident with the monumental 1-0 away victory at White Hart Lane last term, then this is a bonus, however the relegation battle looks as if it’ll be more open than ever before. For all their riches, QPR look a long way away from playing like a team containing 3 Champions League winners in Jose Bosingwa, Julio Cesar and Park Ji-Sung. Thus, it’s imperative the Norwich’s, the Wigan’s, the Reading’s notice QPR’s lack of confidence, and how a bad run will plunge them deeper into trouble, as was the case last season. Norwich must also recognize the intangible and priceless advantage of experiencing two promotions and a 12th finish in the Premier League all within 3 years. For the money a player is worth, you cannot buy team spirit or confidence, something which should seen in abundance at Norwich going into the 4th season of their noteworthy turnaround from League 1 to the highest tier in English football. I believe such experience allows Norwich to not just participate, but compete in nearly every game they play in bar the top 7. This means Norwich are in good-stead to nick points off the Sunderland’s, the Villa’s and the Stoke’s at any time.
Moreover, Norwich have an England international in John Ruddy, who was a pleasure to watch between the sticks last season, and this offers solidity to the team, so don’t expect to many blunders from the one-cap England international, however, the same cannot be said for those around them. Even QPR. The final argument in favour of my beloved Canaries is style of football Norwich play. Norwich move the ball around the a lot, especially to the wingers who enjoy cutting in and dragging opposition defenders, whilst they do not struggle to create chances. This puts them at an advantage over the traditional English long-ball to a big guy style at West Ham, the counter-attacking football of Southampton and Reading’s passing football which has lacked an end product across their first 3 Premier League games. I say this as Norwich know how to remain competitive in games, whilst they can also win games, clearly evident in the spirited 3-3 at the Emirates on the penultimate game of last season. If Norwich can continue their attacking and confident style of football this season, names on a team-sheet will count for nothing as the Canaries will certainly emerge as a mid-table club again, should Chris Hughton manage to find a winning formula, be it a similar one to Lambert or his own one, it must compliment the mindset and abilities of the players at Norwich City.
Going forward, the 2012/2013 season promises to warrant one thing from every Premier Club longing for success, whatever that may be: hard-work. It’s disheartening, but I do believe my adored Norwich will find themselves in a relegation scrap. However, Chris Hughton gave a monumental effort at Birmingham last season whilst he didn’t too badly in his time at Newcastle either, so us Canaries fans can take some confidence looking ahead at this season. The teams Norwich will be fighting against will be Southampton, QPR, West Ham, Wigan, Reading and maybe Swansea and/or Aston Villa.
My worries come from Southampton, QPR and West Ham. If Carroll and Ramirez can click, then both squads will have a striker who represents a country in the FIFA Top 10 world rankings at the helm of the attack. What’s more worrying is that Adkins and Allardyce brought in two players compliment both the Saints and the Hammers style of play monumentally, leaving the potential to elevate them to the next level; more in the direction of becoming the next Stoke. At the end of it all, I see the Canaries finishing no lower than 17th, should everything go to plan for us, with Reading, West Ham and Wigan going down. But this isn’t Football Manager and I cannot take over another club, sell me their best players on the cheap, and watch Norwich prosper from there on after.
Therefore, Norwich are subject to the cruel wrong-doings and injustices of football, and could find themselves in the Championship next year. With all that in mind, I have two questions to leave you with. Do you think Norwich will stay up? And which 3 clubs will go down this year?