Most footballing folk accept that pre-season is all about the players honing their match fitness and the manager embedding his plans for the season ahead. Therefore, results are by and large meaningless – unless, of course, you have a good one.
And yesterday’s win against FC Augsburg was a good one.
The Germans will be competing in this season’s Europa League, courtesy of a fifth place finish in the Bundesliga, and, along the way, managed to pick up a 1-0 win in the Allianz Arena.
(Although beating Bayern Munich away is really no big deal).
But the point is, they’re no mugs and friendly or no friendly they’ll be gutted at losing to little Norwich, especially little Norwich who were all decked out in their fancy green, yellow and orange deck chair shirts.
A defeat for City wouldn’t have been the end of the world – for all the reasons stated above – but there is no doubting a win of yesterday’s ilk puts a spring in the step. And when one of Alex Neil’s most potent weapons in the early part of the season will be the momentum borne of a glorious promotion that’s important.
The last thing he’ll want is for the current confidence and feel-good factor in the squad to evaporate thanks to a collision with the buffers.
Things are not perfect of course – let’s not get carried away – and with less than a fortnight to go before the big KO the manager has already spoken of his frustration at not having a few of his transfer targets already embedded in the group.
Thankfully Alex Neil does at least appear blessed with a modicum of patience, unlike a Scottish manager who has gone before him, and his on-the-job crash course in the realities of a Norwich City-style transfer window so far looks to have served him well.
But, post-match, he confirmed he is still on the lookout for more bodies – three or four in fact – which will include a keeper, a left-back and a striker. Interestingly, no mention of a centre-back.
So, once the dust settles – and it doesn’t settle until September 1 – we should expect to operate with a maximum of six new faces, including Graham Dorrans. And to me that sounds about right. Evolution not revolution.
I’m unsure if I’m permitted to mention Watford, given the fractious relationship their fans have with this site (nice one Russ ;-)) but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that, to date, ten new faces have been acquired over the summer by the Pozzo family.
Much was made of the unique relationship Watford’s ‘class of 2015’ enjoyed with the club’s supporters, their partying with the fans to celebrate promotion being cited as evidence of that bond, but one wonders how those same players are feeling now. Ten new faces means ten unhappy ones.
There was an interesting interview on talkSPORT this week, when Alan Brazil (yes, I know) spoke with former Tottenham and Liverpool director of football, Damien Comolli.
The topic of conversation was naturally Liverpool and their spending of the Sterling money, but the gist of Comolli’s message was that for the second consecutive summer, Brendan Rodgers is playing a high-risk game by making so many changes. Effectively, he’s dismantling the core of the squad that was assembled at such cost last summer and replacing it with another this time round.
Instead “subtle adjustments” would be Comolli’s preferred way forward for the Reds, with Chelsea and Arsenal offering – in his view – a better model of how it should be done.
Of course it would be wrong to lump City in with the elite (and Liverpool) – and two new faces is probably a little too subtle when you’re gearing up to tackle the Premier League – but I like the fact Neil and co are looking to enhance what we already have rather than rip it up and start again.
I also like the fact Alex is continuing to take no prisoners.
A friendly it may have been but he appeared a disgruntled figure on the touchline for much of yesterday’s first-half. “Too much respect” was his no-nonsense conclusion as to why City were second best in the opening forty-five and the half-time message sounds like it was an unequivocal one.
In the second period, City upped the intensity, upped the tempo, showed their opponents little respect, afforded them little time to settle on the ball and were generally excellent; all courtesy of the ‘wee word’ or words that were passed from manager to players at half-time.
And that bodes well.
Among several decent performances, two that stood out were from players who were not part of the Class of 2015.
Harry Toffolo continues to do all that has been asked of him and more, and has played himself well and truly into his manager’s thoughts, regardless of whether that bloke whose name I’m fed up of typing eventually arrives from Hull.
And then of course there’s Youssouf Mulumbu, whose stock continues to rise with every passing game. West Brom fans remain incredulous that he was allowed to depart the Hawthorns with so little resistance and the evidence so far suggests they have every reason to question the decision making of Tony Pullis.
We thought we were getting an alternative to Alex Tettey, one with high-energy and who could protect the back-four. What we appear to have is an all-rounder with an eye for goal and who can pick a pass.
Early days though and, yes, I’m probably getting a little carried away again.
But, with West Ham rocking up in the old place on Tuesday night, the squad looks in decent fettle and appears physically prepared for what lies ahead. And don’t just take my word for it.
Upon arriving back in Blighty, Gary O’Neil tweeted: ’32 years old and quite possibly the fittest I’ve ever been! Good season ahead!’
Bring it on.