Sport

The Canaries Fly Back to the Top of the Tree

Norwich City Football Club have won promotion back to the Premier League.

With the greedy owners of the top flight’s ‘big six’ teams sheepishly retracting their plans for a breakaway European Super League before they really got underway, English football’s top stars will once again walk out on to the hallowed turf at Carrow Road next season. The Canaries have won promotion to the Premier League four times before and have suffered relegation at the first time of asking on three of those four occasions, but have legitimate reasons to be optimistic that a repeat of their former demises will not be on the cards this time around.

The last time that Norwich were in the Premier League, their defence got ran ragged by most of the other sides in the top flight, conceding an eye-watering 75 goals, as they finished plum last, cut far adrift from the rest of the pack. In fact, following Project Restart, the name given to the resumption of the Premier League after it was temporarily paused due to the outbreak of Covid-19, Norwich failed to claim a single point, ending their campaign with 11 consecutive losses in all competitions.

However, their promotion to the top division that time around came off the back of a season where German manager, Daniel Farke’s side shipped in 57 goals – more than 16th-placed Stoke – on their way to winning the 2018-19 Championship title. Such a leaky defence was never equipped to handle the world-class attacks present in the Premier League and Norwich lacked the funds to sufficiently strengthen their squad in those, or any other, areas of note.

It is telling that the only side that got promoted last season that looks set to stay in the top flight, bar some miraculous recovery from either of Fulham or West Brom, is the same team that had the best defensive record in the Championship in the season when they got promoted – Leeds United.

Contrasting to their 18-19 title-winning campaign, Norwich have had a much more stable backline this season, with only second-placed Watford possessing a better defensive record. Such defensive solidity will prove vital if Norwich are to have any hope of preserving their top-flight status and avoid cementing their position as a yo-yo club, that has been the cause of much mockery on social media.

Fortunately, the club’s prior, well-documented financial struggles look to be largely behind them, with Norwich returning to the top flight with arguably their strongest squad in several years. While fan favourites Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis were sold last summer to Everton and Newcastle respectively, they were shrewdly replaced by former Middlesbrough centre-back, Ben Gibson and Greek left-back, Dimitris Giannoulis.

On top of that, aside from the aforementioned pair of Godfrey and Lewis, Norwich were able to preserve the core of their Premier League squad and have reaped the rewards, setting the English second division alight. Finish striker Teemu Pukki has banged in 25 goals this season in the league, with his return only featuring one more goal involvement Argentine playmaker Emi Buendia, who has 13 goals and 15 assists to his name.

Admittedly, both struggled to make the transition to Premier League football last time around, with Pukki’s early season hat-trick against Newcastle being a stark contrast to his pretty average form throughout the rest of the campaign. However, both are now more seasoned players, with that year’s experience under their belt – even if it did end in relegation. They should be better equipped to handle the pressure this time.

All that being said, I do expect Norwich to get relegated next season.

Despite achieving promotion, Norwich’s main focus in the transfer market this summer will most likely be on retaining the services of star performers, such as midfielder Todd Cantwell and right-back Max Aarons – who has been linked with giants across Europe, including the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona. A continuation of the club’s conservative transfer model will force boss Farke to once more scour obscure European markets looking for bargains, in order to bring in reinforcements to his squad.

As a result, midfield maestro Oliver Skipp, who has been so influential for the men in yellow this season, will be unlikely to see his move to Norfolk made permanent, with Norwich not inserting an option-to-buy clause into the loan deal that saw him arrive at Carrow Road last summer.

Farke seemingly conceded his club’s chances of securing Skipp on a long-term deal, in an interview earlier in the year:

“We would never be able to sign a highly rated player like Oliver Skipp. Not on a permanent deal. It would be an unbelievable amount of money for our club.”

Even if Norwich were able to cough up a large transfer fee, there is little chance it would be accepted, as Skipp has his fair share of admirers at parent club Tottenham, who are expected to integrate the young Englishman into their first-team squad ahead of the next Premier League campaign.

Without Skipp, who has propped up Norwich’s backline at various points this season, their biggest argument for being equipped to improve on their past fortunes is completely eradicated. Bar working wonders in the summer transfer window, on a par with West Ham’s double signing of Czech internationals Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal, Norwich will not be returning to the Premier League with the same impressive defence that won them promotion.

Skipp’s absence is unlikely to cost Norwich so much that they end up 13 points adrift at the foot of the table, like they did last time they returned to the top level of English football. However, in my opinion, it does significantly reduce Norwich’s chances of survival, come May next year. With local rival Ipswich Town under ambitious new ownership, Norwich fans may rightly be fearful that an East Anglian Derby could well return to screens much sooner than they would like.

Nonetheless, Norwich’s relegation next season is by no means a formality, despite what social media may have you think. To that end, Norwich fans should just settle in and enjoy the ride.

Norwich will no doubt bring excitement to the Premier League next season, with the strides that they have made on the defensive end of the pitch not detracting from their free-flowing, expansive, brand of football. Farke’s side remain very easy on the eye, perhaps best epitomised by their 7-0 home win in the league against Huddersfield, towards the beginning of April.

For the moment, the city of Norwich should celebrate what is a great achievement, for their hometown heroes will be in the top booking of television slots on a far more regular basis next season.

They are back in the Premier League, where I’m sure many of their fans will feel that they belong.


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04/05/2021

About Author

Luke Saward



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