Not falling in to the trap of complacency is key for Norwich after two consecutive Premier League midtable finishes. The Canaries hierarchy have evidently decided that this summer is the season that they look to press ahead. Whilst fans would no doubt be delighted to finish near the halfway point in the table, the enhanced squad certainly has the capabilities to trouble the top 10 and, at a push, maybe the top eight.
Last season’s 11th place finish was a one place improvement on the season before, with new manager Chris Hughton proving that former boss Paul Lambert was not too sorely missed. Lambert was often lauded as playing attractive football, but his reliance on getting the ball forward quickly to Grant Holt meant that this theory was often misguided. Hughton brings a more defensive-minded look to the team, although a goal difference of -17 last season may not give that idea. A few heavy defeats to some of the bigger Premier League sides heavily influenced that total; but on the whole they should keep more clean sheets this season.
Off the pitch, the board has cleared the debt at Carrow Road which has led to a summer spending spree which is expected to help the Canaries’ progression.
Last season: 11th
In: Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon, £8.6m), Javier Garrido (Lazio, undisclosed), Nathan Redmond (Birmingham, undisclosed), Martin Olsson (Blackburn, undisclosed), Carlo Nash (Stoke, free), Leroy Fer (FC Twente, undisclosed), Gary Hooper (Celtic, £5m)
Out: Grant Holt (Wigan, £4m), James Vaughan (Huddersfield, undisclosed), Leon Barnett (Wigan, £500,000) Jed Steer (Aston Villa, free), Chris Martin (Derby, free), Marc Tierney (Bolton, free), Simeon Jackson (Eintracht Braunschweig, free), Korey Smith (Oldham, free), Elliott Ward (Bournemouth, free), Tom Adeyemi (Birmingham, free), George Francomb (AFC Wimbledon, free), Lee Camp (released), Declan Rudd (Preston, loan),Andrew Surman (Bournemouth, loan)
Lots, actually. Out has gone last season’s captain, Grant Holt. The striker committed more fouls (82) than any other player last season and his bulky self will be backing into Championship defenders in a tight Wigan kit this season.
A list as long as your arm reads as a who’s who of others to have left the club this season including Leon Barnett, Andrew Surman, Tom Adeyemi, James Vaughan, Chris Martin, Korey Smith, Marc Tierney, Elliot Ward, Lee Camp and Simeon Jackson.
Coming through the Carrow Road entrance, in a pleasant queue one would hope, are a plethora of players. Former Birmingham winger Nathan Redmond and Celtic hotshot Gary Hooper ensure that the Canaries retain an English identity. Redmond came of age towards the back end of the Blues’ 2012/13 campaign and was the only England player to at least slightly impress during this summer’s pitiful U21 European Championship showing. His pace and trickery add another dimension to Norwich’s wing play, with Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington not being the quickest of wide men.
Hooper’s goal return last season was not as impressive as it has been during his time in Scotland, but 63 goals in 95 appearances is proof enough that he knows where the net is. Hooper has spoken of his desire to play for England and a move to the Premier League is his best chance to fulfil that dream.
There has also been a continental influx as Dutch duo Ricky van Wolfswinkel (don’t laugh) and Leroy Fer have joined Swedish winger Martin Olsson.
The £8.5m record fee for van Wolfswinkel means he is tasked with replacing the goals, but probably not the indiscretions, of Holt whilst a failed medical meant Fer’s proposed move to Everton broke down – but it’s the Toffees who will come unstuck as the energetic midfielder proves his quality.
Tactics – Starting XI
Hughton’s aforementioned defensive outlook mean that Norwich often line up 4-5-1, although some may see it as a 4-2-3-1 in phases. Either way, preference is for a lone striker, which means van Wolfswinkel and Hooper will battle to be the main man. The competition means that neither should rest on their laurels, but Hughton has a tough task keeping both happy.
The pace of Redmond and Olsson, combined with Fer’s energy, means that the Canaries should be able to support either striker with much more urgency, making them more dangerous on the counter-attack.
Having worked on the defence last season, Hughton has looked to address the attacking issues that Norwich suffered last season – it will be a balancing act that could backfire.
Leroy Fer. The former FC Twente man has waited longer than is necessary to make his Premier League bow and will be keen to make up for lost time. He has been compared to Patrick Vieira in his homeland and his box-to-box displays will certainly echo that sentiment on these shores.
The Dutch centre-midfielder signed a four-year deal at Carrow Road and will provide the physical presence that Norwich have lacked in recent years.
But Fer is not simply a bruiser, his creativity and ability to pick a pass make him an all-round midfielder and is certainly a signing to excite the City fans.
Keep an eye on
Redmond’s potential has been well-documented, so it’s time to look at the rest of the squad.
One man who ended last season with a flourish was midfielder Jonny Howson. The former Leeds man scored in the last two games of the campaign against West Bromwich Albion and, spectacularly, versus Manchester City. He has reproduced that goalscoring form in pre-season and with Fer providing a more emphatic presence in midfield, Howson could be the man immediately tasked with supporting the lone striker.
Ironically, that goal against Man City was the winner which enabled Norwich to finish 11th, netting them an extra £3m in prize money which has been spent signing a player who could replace him.
All eyes will be on the new signings as Everton visit Carrow Road to kick off the new campaign. A trip to Hull follows and they finish August with a home fixture against Southampton. Those three fixtures could quite conceivably see the Canaries with a trio of early wins which would take the pressure off of Hughton. A few goals for the new signings wouldn’t go amiss, either.
Where will they finish?
After two midtable finishes, the Canaries have recruited wisely and their added goal threat, combined with their defensive improvement last season should see them clear of the relegation zone again. A good run could see dreams of European football but, ultimately, they should fall just short of digging out their passports.
BPF Prediction: 12th