MFW columnists predict: time for Mystic Mick and the team to look ahead to the next ten monthsMon 1 Aug 16 by Gary Gowers
It’s that time again – time for the MFW columnists to dust down their crystal balls and look ahead to 2016/17, trying in the process to see what the next ten months have in store for the Canaries and the Yellow Army.
Historically, the tea leaves fail us and if you’re looking to lay money on City’s fate I’d advise steering well clear, but for what it’s worth…
Work will be ongoing up to August 31 to strengthen but does the squad in its current form looked equipped for the task? If not, where does AN need to strengthen?
Steve Cook: At the time of writing, we are desperately ’short’ up front (not a dig at Wessi). Even if we had managed to complete the signing of McCormack, the loss of both Mbokani and Bamford means we would still have had to bring Lafferty back into the fold or look to replace him. I’d favour the latter.
Russell Saunders: For a top six finish, we look to have a strong first-team with solid backups for injuries/suspensions. Clearly we need another striker and I think the club has been trying quite hard in that area! I just hope the likes of Hoolahan and Howson avoid any injuries, otherwise we’ll struggle to create enough. Of course, if Brady does go, that leaves a hole which will be tough to fill.
Stewart Lewis: With the addition of another striker, City’s squad looks good to me. Keeping Klose a huge boost. When assessing players like Jerome and Russ, got to look at their Championship records rather than last year.
Ed Couzens-Lake: It looks to me as if we might be tinkering with the 4-6-0 formation this season given the rather lightweight look at our forward options and plethora of midfielders. It’s hardly a new concept – Carlos Alberto Parreira said it was the formation “of the future” back in 1994 – but it is one that is hellishly difficult to play against and with the onus in football now seeming to be “don’t lose” rather than “do win”, we won’t be the first to try to dominate games through a dominant and creative midfield. That said, the forlorn chase for McCormack indicates Neil does want support for Jerome within the squad although, given the possibility that we are going to be a midfield rich team this season, McCormack – who needs someone alongside him to be really effective – was an odd choice.
Mick Dennis: Some really good business has been done: persuading Timm Klose to stay and getting Alex Tettey tied by a new contract are major ‘signings’ for instance. Both will be critical to our defending. Last season’s acquisition of James Maddison will bear fruit sooner or later in midfield. But I’m not sure he’s physically strong enough yet for the Championship. The critical issue, though, is that City need more options up front. Everyone knows that — including the club board and the recruitment team.
Robin Sainty: I think we’re nearly there. We just need a striker unless someone other than Brady leaves. A centre back would be nice but not as essential.
Gary Gowers: There’s no escaping that we do, even if we finally manage to get AN Other in, look a little light of options in the attacking third. Cameron Jerome was great last time round but was ably assisted by both Grabban and Hooper. We need options up top. A shiny new centre-back would be nice too but perhaps I’m being greedy.
The summer window Norwich City-style: a necessary slog, or the club being indecisive… again?
Steve: Buying a football player isn’t the same as nipping down the shops to buy a loaf of bread. Whilst I understand and share the frustrations that our business isn’t concluded within minutes of the season ending, it’s a reflection of the complexities of the transfer market. However, despite the admission of mistakes last summer, the McCormack deal is horribly reminiscent of last year’s efforts to land Afobe (amongst others). On face value, lessons are not being learned. Whatever happens between now and the transfer window closing, I suspect that this summer will be judged as much on who we managed to keep as who we managed to bring in.
Russ: Never easy to get your man in early – Burnley were 4/5 games in last season before they got Andre Gray, who made all the difference. I don’t think the people at the top can be accused of being indecisive – they know their targets and how much is reasonable to pay for them. £15 million is not reasonable for a 30+ Championship striker but maybe they’ll push the boat out for him. Would have liked to see us go for Kemar Roofe but Leeds got him for peanuts (£3 million).
Stewart: A necessary slog, sadly. We’re not Bournemouth and have to get the best deals (not just headline fees but payment terms etc). Those who wanted us to cough up £15m for Brady should accept we probably wouldn’t now have Klose.
Ed: A slog because we are Norwich City. Simple as. Even at Championship level we are hardly the most attractive prospect out there and any player we approach is going to see two PL relegations in recent years rather than two promotions. We now have Villa and Newcastle strutting the Championship stage in with the sort of pre-season bullishness that had they done the same this time last year might still see them in the Premier League. There is also cash to spare at Derby and Sheffield Wednesday to name but two whilst Brighton will be seen as an attractive option for some. Players and agents hold all the aces whilst selling clubs have a good hand as well. It’s a scrap if you want to buy, no matter who you are – and there are no exceptions to that.
Mick: The internet is a toilet wall for which everyone has a felt-tip pen. But even by the normal standards of unrestrained lunacy there was a remarkable amount of tosh posted when City were gazumped by Villa for Ross McCormack. Radio Norfolk’s Rob Butler tweeted: “Never understand fans who say a transfer fee is too much.” Yet presumably he wouldn’t pay £100million for a striker. So we all agree there is an upper limit and only argue about where that limit is for Norwich. The McCormack deal will cost Villa about £21m, because you have to include his wages. Norwich weren’t indecisive. They did not lack ambition. They weren’t tight. They were simply outbid by Tony Jiantong Xia. I was bitterly disappointed. But if there is anyone alive who thinks that we should have punted £21m, then I don’t think that person should be allowed out without a carer.
Robin: I think its easy (and lazy) to blame the club without knowing many facts. If they were indecisive over McCormack (which I don’t think they were as the player and his agent seem to have strung things out in the hope of getting more money on the table) they certainly weren’t over Pritchard which was classic smash and grab!
Gary: We certainly have a style all of our own when it comes to opening and closing (or not closing) deals but it’s out of necessity that we operate in such a way. Money is not the only tool for success but it doesn’t half help in the transfer windows. Others strut and swagger. We plod. And I’m OK with that as long as the end result is one we’re comfortable with.
Newcastle are predictably the bookies’ odds-on favourites to win it but who else should we be worried about?
Steve: Most Championship seasons become a battle for promotion between those who were relegated from the Premier League; those who made the play-offs last year and who are looking to go one better; and a surprise package. See question 7…
Russ: Sheffield Wednesday will put up a very strong challenge after going through what Middlesbrough did 2 years ago. Derby, Brighton and outside bet Bristol City will be pushing hard too. I hope both Villa’s and Wolves’ Chinese revolutions go belly up.
Stewart: Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday were clearly on the up last season and should be in the mix this time. There’s always a dark horse from the pack (like Norwich under Lambert); could be Bristol City.
Ed: Newcastle have to be the favourites for next season. Then there is Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Brighton. Leeds might come good as well; Monk was a good appointment for them. They’re my outside tip as possible play-off winners.
Mick: One of the promoted teams will ride their winning momentum well. I expect it to be Wigan. Brighton were in last season’s top three for all but ten weeks of the season. If Chris Hughton can lift the players after the way their season ended, they will threaten again. Similarly, Derby are packed with decent players who understand the Championship’s demands.
Robin: Other than Newcastle, I can Brighton, Derby, Villa and Birmingham being up there.
Gary: I’d love the Toon to crash and burn but, alas, can’t see it happening. They’ll be up there, bullying their way to the top of the table like the 15-year old Mike Ashley once did to get to the front of the dinner queue, but it’s Derby who I’m most fearful of if it’s to be a battle for second.
Key players for City this season?
Steve: You can’t underestimate the importance of a strong spine within the team. So Klose, Howson and whoever finally takes the coveted 9 shirt will be key. Wes appears to be in the form of his life and may prove to be our talisman. But our last experience of the second-tier demonstrated that the whole squad needs to contribute. It’s set to be a long hard slog and if we’re lucky, one or two of the current crop will do a Bradley Johnson and discover a Midas touch
Russ: Wes, Klose and Howson are the class acts but if Jerome can rediscover his shooting boots, then all the better. Somehow we need to replace Bradley Johnson’s goals from midfield.
Stewart: Klose, Howson – and the new striker. At times, Wes.
Ed: The key for me is that the spine plays regularly and plays well regularly – that, at present, would be Ruddy-Klose-Tettey-Hoolahan and Jerome. If they can achieve and maintain high standards throughout, we’ll do all right.
Mick: The new striker or strikers we sign before the end of August! Cameron Jerome arrived, unheralded, on 20 August two years ago and it was his goal and Wembley alertness that took us up. But I have concerns about how you can effectively deploy any combination of Steven Naismith, Wes Hoolahan and Alex Pritchard. All three of them operate best in central positions behind one or more strikers. Each of them has played on a flank with permission to roam, but I always worry about that ploy. If we lose possession in the enemy third, we are vulnerable on the flank that Wes/Naismith/Pritchard has deserted. I think finding a formation that incorporates our best players will be the real challenge. Most teams will effectively have two systems. Without the ball they’ll be in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Once they win possession they will switch to a 4-2-1-3 in which at least one fullback will be encouraged to get forward. We’ll have to be versatile and flexible too, and that means a lot of work on the training ground.
Robin: Klose, Naismith, Hoolahan, Pritchard, Canos, Howson and Tettey all have key roles to play.
Gary: Am going to go out on a limb here and chuck Graham Dorrans into the mix. While last season was something of a nightmare for him, he proved last time round that he’s more than comfortable in the less rarefied air of the Championship. I expect more of the same this season and can see him, accompanied by Howson, Tettey, Wes, Pritchard and co being key in City controlling games. Key too will be Klose and our new number 9!
Tricky one – crystal ball needed – but who’ll be lifting the Barry Butler?
Steve: Timm Klose – for performances both on the pitch and on social media. Set to become a real fans’ favourite… even if he disappears in January!
Russ: If his knees hold out, I can see Timm Klose lifting the trophy.
Stewart: Two in a row for Jonny Howson.
Ed: I’d love for it to be Wes – and if we’ve had a good season then there’ll be a very good chance it might be. Maybe Pinto will be in with a shout as well.
Mick: If Wes plays a significant number of games this season in a role that suits him, then I for one will vote for him. He has stayed with us now after three relegations. I love him almost as much as my wife does.
Robin: Timm Klose
Gary: Wes – must be his turn!
What will be the aggregate score v Ipswich?
Steve: 17-0. Wessi with a triple hat-trick at Carrow Road that spawns a new terrace chant… “He scored nine goals against the scum…” Back in the real world, any result that maintains the bragging rights against our ‘neighbours’ would be very welcome.
Russ: Hmm, dangerous. They’ve had a terrible preseason which worries me. They seem to make a good start and fizzle out after Christmas. I’m calling a 0-0 at their gaff and a 2-0 for us at home.
Stewart: A little more modest this time: 3-1 to City
Ed: 2-1 to us. 0-0 at Portman Road, 2-1 at our place.
Mick: We have to remember that we beat them home and away in 1994-95 but were relegated. We shouldn’t get fixated about them. They’re not significant. The law of averages says they have to beat us one day. OK, that’s all the logical stuff. But the 9-2 ‘demolition derbies’ of 2010-11 were about as much fun as is possible with one’s clothes on, so I’ll go for 4-0 to the great club from the fine City.
Robin: 5-1 City. 2-1 there, 3-0 at home.
Gary: Have a horrible feeling about this. The cyclical nature of football virtually guarantees that they’ll beat us sooner rather than later. We’ve made hay over the last few seasons – big time – but at some stage their teeth will find their way to our backside. Head ruling heart… 3-3.
Steve: Newcastle, Norwich, Derby, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, Brighton.
As much as I’d love another trip to Wembley, I can see a two-horse race developing between us and the Geordies which sees us both pull clear. Leeds are my ‘wild-card’ this year.
Russ: Sheff Wed, Newcastle, Norwich, Derby, Brighton, Bristol City.
Stewart: Newcastle, City, Brighton, Sheff Wed, Derby, Leeds (not Villa).
Ed: Heart says 2nd place for City - head says 6th. So let’s go for the mean – 4th.
Mick: Newcastle, Norwich, Brighton, Derby, Wigan, Forest
Robin: I think we’ll win it.
Gary: Newcastle, Derby, Sheffield Wednesday, City, Ipswich, Brighton.
As you can tell, a re-emergence of that lot bothers me. Would love to see us sneak second but my head tells me it’ll be the lottery of the play-offs again
Steve: Rotherham, Preston, Burton Albion.
We could (and should) find ourselves singing ‘we’ll never play you again’ to the Burton fans but football being football, there’s every chance we will… in 17/18?!?
Russ: I said Leicester last season so can’t possibly humiliate myself anymore this time can I? Rotherham, Barnsley and Blackburn.
Stewart: Burton, Huddersfield, Barnsley or Rotherham.
Ed: Rotherham, Barnsley, Burton Albion (who I’d really like to see stay up).
Mick: Rotherham, Wolves, Ipswich
Robin: Rotherham, Burton, Wigan
Gary: Preston, Barnsley, Rotherham.
But supporters of those three can take comfort in the fact I really have no idea!
So, there it is. The definitive view on what probably won’t happen. But, I’ll be revisiting these predictions at the end of the season and see who’s closest (Note: it won’t be me).
“On the Ball City…”