The Season Just Gone
Norwich City’s 2018-19 may have ended with the slightly absurd spectacle of the squad stuck on a broken down bus in the middle of a crowded street, but that was just about the only mishap that occurred as Daniel Farke’s supreme Canaries stormed the Championship, outlasting Marcelo Bielsa’s iconic Leeds United and edging out Chris Wilder’s pioneering Sheffield United.
Although bargain basement finds like Teemu Pukki, Emiliano Buendía and Tim Krul led Norwich’s promotion push on the pitch, Farke was the real figurehead and it’s his face on the masks fans wear to Carrow Road. The comparisons with Jürgen Klopp are obvious and easy to draw, and while Farke has some way to go before emulating his compatriot’s achievements in the game, his impact at Norwich rivals that of Klopp’s at Anfield.
Farke has fostered a team spirit and indeed a community spirit in much the same way as Klopp, bringing the whole city behind his side, and he has used smart, innovative coaching methodology and a buccaneering playing style to bring much more than what should be possible out of his unsung playing squad. A recent Athletic profile detailed the outstanding analytics work that went into identifying and signing Pukki and Buendía for minimal outlays, and with youth products like Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell effortlessly incorporated into a high-level squad fleshed out by underrated German imports, the Canaries slowly but surely morphed into a club worthy of the Premier League. The challenge is now to stay here.
The Transfer Window
Norwich didn’t let Premier League money go to their heads and invested in low-cost, high-potential options which have put the onus on the existing playing squad to prove that their growth as a team is no fluke and that they are capable of not just winning Premier League promotion, but ensuring Premier League survival.
As the aforementioned Athletic profile noted, it’s probably better to come into a top flight season with an inexperienced squad of players excited and optimistic about the challenge that lies ahead than a squad of jaded journeymen who’ve played and lost at these grounds plenty of times already, and who are untroubled by the feeling that they’re going to play and lose at those same grounds again.
Josip Drmić and Sam Byram are the most recognisable of the names signed and loaned in, while the wages of Matt Jarvis, Ivo Pinto, Steven Naismith and Nelson Oliveira have been taken off the books. From a financial point of view, it’s been a very lucrative summer, even without major transfer fees incoming.
The Season Ahead
Norwich have started as they mean to go on, playing on the front foot and going for the jugular. On the opening day they were dismantled by Liverpool, though to their credit they landed a good amount of punches anyway, while last weekend saw an instantly unforgettable afternoon at Carrow Road as Teemu Pukki’s joyous hat-trick sunk Steve Bruce’s Newcastle.
We should expect those games to provide the blueprint for the Canaries’ season. There will surely be plenty more examples of heavy away defeats and heroic home wins. If they can rack up enough of the latter, and their style of play is bold enough to suggest they will, they’ll survive.
Farke’s men line up in a conventional 4-2-3-1 and play with plenty of width, speed and adventure. They’re far from a balanced side, with attack prioritised over defence to such an extent that it may become dangerous in the long-term. Indeed, their unbelievable passivity was their downfall at Anfield, as Liverpool frequently found that their shortest route to goal was wide open and no-one in yellow seemed particularly bothered about closing it down.
That said, they’ll play some seriously sexy football over the course of the season and they’re sure to provide some memorable moments for the Carrow Road faithful, come what may. The combination play between Emi Buendía and Max Aarons on the right and Jamal Lewis on the left is something to watch out for, while Teemu Pukki will drive in behind the centre-backs from the first whistle until the last.
So early in the season it’s barely worth getting specific with stats, but it suffices to say that Norwich are adept at working the ball into very good shooting positions and, in Pukki, they have an equally competent finisher from that range. Their midfielders like to hit speculative efforts from distance if nothing else is on, but if they can work the ball further forward before pulling the trigger, they will. If Chelsea aren’t alert to the guile and eagle-eye of Buendía, not forgetting Todd Cantwell and supersub Mario Vrančić, they will get carved open.
At some point, they will have to come up with a gameplan that isn’t “we’re gonna score one more than you!” In one half, Liverpool showed them what will happen week after week if they continue to allow teams time and space to play, while even a beaten and broken Newcastle were able to play right through them to create a simple shooting chance for Jonjo Shelvey’s consolation goal last weekend.
Daniel Farke hasn’t settled on his preferred midfield partnership yet, or given much consideration to new signings, but after such a thumping, positive win, he still won’t.
Chelsea have rested up and should be far better here than they were last weekend, following their Super Cup exertions. Expect a full-strength XI. The only question is whether Olivier Giroud or Tammy Abraham will start up front. (Ed.note: and if Kanté’s passed fit.)
As José Mourinho and Jonathan Wilson have observed in recent weeks, Frank Lampard still looks unable to organise a midfield that can control a game, so Norwich will probably have the space to play and to hurt Chelsea in front of a partisan home crowd. At the same time, Norwich probably won’t bother too much about stopping Chelsea playing, and Chelsea have far more quality than Norwich. 3-2 to the Blues.