After a three year spell in the Premier League, Norwich will begin life anew in the Football League when they take on newly promoted Wolves on Sunday. A successful pre-season saw Norwich score goals aplenty, beating OGG Nice 5-1, before a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo. Now is the time for Neil Adams’s team to focus on returning City back to the Premier League.
Entire tomes could be written analysing the reasons for Norwich’s poor last season. Characterised by predictable football that lacked pace, intensity, tempo and creativity, they managed only 28 goals all season whilst shipping over 60 in reply. Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s lack of physicality certainly didn’t help the cause as his solitary goal was the only return on the club’s record £8.5m investment. The Dutchman has since been lent to French side Saint-Étienne.
But there is cause for optimism, as attempts to rectify those problems have already been made. The arrivals of the pacey Lewis Grabban from Bournemouth and Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty from Palermo already remind one of the days when Simeon Jackson and Grant Holt led City’s charge to promotion in 2010-11. Use of the diamond formation in pre-season also suggests that Adams is looking to Paul Lambert’s promotion-winning season in the Championship for inspiration. Wes Hoolahan’s decision to pen a new two-year contract, having appeared to be at the brink of departure under Hughton, represents further good news and should provide Norwich with some of the creativity that was dearly missed last season.
Some important questions remain unanswered ahead of the first game of the season, with Adams’ relatively limited managerial experience a key talking point. But if the former City player can master the tactical game – something predecessor Chris Hughton failed to do during his tenure – develop a back-up for when plan A doesn’t work, and ensure heads don’t drop when Norwich fall behind – as happened far too often last season – then prospects look bright.
Fans should certainly have cause for a cautious optimism after a promising pre-season. Against Nice, City created the right passing angles through fluid movement, exploiting the pace of tricky winger Nathan Redmond and responded well to Nice’s clawing a goal back by going on to score another three. Equally, when Celta Vigo came back from 2-0 down, the Canaries’ defence did not collapse and held firm for the draw.
The system is changing and goals look to be the order of the day – but what is left to do? Before the end of August, Norwich need to sign another centre-back. Skipper Russell Martin is much more capable at right-back, but looks set to be deployed in the centre alongside Michael Turner, with Ryan Bennett in reserve, the solid Martin Olsson at left back and Steven Whittaker at right back.
Norwich’s potential outgoings could be equally crucial. The club hierarchy began by stating that “We have no need to sell” which soon became “We have to be realistic”. The arrival of journeyman Gary O’Neil suggests a midfielder might well leave, with Leroy Fer in particular eyed by QPR after his performances at the World Cup.
So what to expect? Let’s hope for something akin to 2011 – when Adams was in the Radio Norfolk comms box. Passionate or what?