Ahead of her becoming part of the MFW team for the new season, Emma James has penned a guest blog looking at one area of the City squad for which we remain grateful to Alex Neil…
During the 2014/15 Championship campaign, Norwich had the third best attack. They scored a total of 88 goals, with only one team of the top five best attacking sides failing reach promotion or the play-offs – namely Derby County. City averaged at 1.91 goals per games, with Cameron Jerome top-scorer.
In last season’s Championship, City had the third best attack. They scored 85 goals. This time round two of the top five best attacking sides failed to reach promotion or the playoffs – Brentford and Norwich. They averaged 1.85 goals per game with Cameron Jerome again top-scorer.
Putting aside the defensive failures of last season, City are certainly an attacking threat in the Championship – though sometimes our squad may not give that impression compared to our promotion rivals.
As Daniel Farke begins work trying to rectify and strengthen City’s backline, he must also look to replicate a similar attacking threat to previous seasons to be in with a chance of promotion by May. Yet this is where Alex Neil’s love for the one-upfront formation has seemingly served up City’s strike-force on a silver platter for the German.
Farke and his background team have had to do very little in changing that structure implemented by the new Preston North End boss. But one thing we have learned is that German used to be a forward, so is likely to pay particular attention to that department. It’s an area he’ll be doubly determined to get right.
His first signing was a striker – Marley Watkins on a free transfer. And forgetting any speculation, he’s kept two proven Championship goal scorers in Jerome and Nelson Oliveira on City’s books, while Carlton Morris has left to gain experience at League One side Shrewsbury Town – perhaps opening up room for another signing.
So what can we gather seven pre-season games into Farke’s career at Norwich? The answer: Everything leads to one identical solution.
Farke has played three formations during pre-season – 4-1-4-1, 4-1-2-3 and 3-4-3 – each seeing the German switch between Oliveira and Jerome playing as the sole striker up front, whilst Watkins has been used mainly as a right winger.
That’s because the ex-Barnsley man does not fit into the category of lone striker or, at least, he hasn’t been given the chance to. He rarely played as a sole striker last season for Barnsley; his goals tending to come from a 4-4-2 formation, as did the majority of his assists.
The same can be said about his time in the Scottish Premiership with Inverness Caledonian Thistle; he was preferred to be supporting the striker by playing out wide. It was only towards the end of his time there that he was used upfront on a regular basis – though he racked up seven assists to the one goal in that position.
The thing with Watkins is that he’s not your typical striker but maybe that’s why Farke opted for him – and not just for the free transfer. He scores goals – he scored ten last season – and while maybe he won’t ever score 20+ goals a season, if you look at his record season-on-season his assists almost equal the amount of goals he scores. It’s clear to see what was going through Farke’s mind when he brought him in.
We already know from pre-season and Farke’s history (and I’ve mentioned it enough times) that he prefers to play a sole striker upfront formation but for that to work it relies heavily on the delivery into the box and support given from the likes of Josh Murphy, James Maddison, Alex Pritchard, Wes Hoolahan and Steven Naismith.
Add in to that mix Watkins’ almost guaranteed contributions, and with many fans in little doubt about the quality of those just mentioned, Farke has options as his disposal.
So with Watkins likely to support whoever wins the battle out of Jerome and Oliveira (or anyone one else that may join) to lead the team – how well do they meet Farke’s requirements?
Throughout last season, Alex Neil used a 4-2-3-1 more often than not and Jerome scored all but one of his 16 goals in this formation. When you mention his name, fans divide. He didn’t have the best goalscoring record before coming to the Canaries; he failed to fully grasp the requirements of the Premier League; yet he also proved fans wrong by being City’s top scorer last season.
Jerome’s work on the pitch is second to none but, rightfully, fans argue that hard work means nothing if a goal is the difference between a win, a draw or a loss. But there’s the other side of the argument – he knows his way around the Championship; age seems to be working in his favour if the past Championship seasons say anything. He can score 15+ goals and he can provide a decent amount assists (eight last season).
The one-up top formation is made for Jerome’s physique and ability, and while people can be highly critical of the 30-year-old, I, for one, am content to let the statistics talk. Compare him to Chris Wood and Glenn Murray and, whilst they may have scored more goals and played more minutes, their averages are near identical – whether that be shot accuracy, pass completion, chances created or total shots a game. Yet it’s Jerome’s ‘should have scored’ moments will take the forefront of most arguments.
One player who is already a fan’s favourite is Nelson Oliveira. He’s spent the past season waiting patiently to get the minutes and though he came to Norfolk suited to the 4-4-2 formation used at Nottingham Forest, he seems to have adjusted easily to what’s been asked of him.
Similarly, to Jerome, all but one of his 11 goals for City last season came from the 4-2-3-1 formation – but when you consider he played less than half of the minutes played by his counterpart, you can only be optimistic.
Oliveira’s six goals from seven pre-season games certainly gives off the impression that he is a man in form. Farke will, however, expect less from the Portuguese man when it comes to assists compared to Jerome or Watkins, though it’s hardly a concern from the selection of players he has at his disposal.
The appointment of Farke has certainly brought optimism – but we won’t know the total extent of the change until we begin the season. And although he has kept the basis and structure of Neil’s frontline intact – there’s clear evidence that it’s a case of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.
If Farke’s tape and glue works in defence and our strikers can find their form early, there’s every reason to be optimistic about what the season can bring.