Progress can be a tricky thing to judge.
Sometimes, when your football club signs Steven Naismith for £8 million, you think they’re making progress when, actually, they’re probably not.
On the other hand, they can replace him with a German whose name begins with far too many consonants to pronounce and things can start looking decidedly peachy.
Statistically, City have not improved on last season. The class of 2017 amassed 70 points, scored 85 goals and conceded 68. This season, Norwich are on target for 63 points, 50 goals and 53 conceded. It isn’t, technically, progress. But you have to take one step back to take two forward, right?
Norwich have gone backwards then, and are now well on track (congrats everyone). Now it’s time to take the two steps forward. I’ve been holed up with Stuart Webber ever since the full-time whistle blew against Reading and we’ve come up with a five-step plan (other ideas are welcomed). Here it is, from least to most important:
5. Hope Southampton don’t get relegated
Cast your mind back to the start of the season, before Tom Trybull was found to be Michael Ballack’s second coming. Harrison Reed was our new midfield maestro, earning himself two Man of the Match awards as he went. Since then, the Ginger Iniesta (I’m coining it) has been more understated and has been supplanted in midfield by Trybull. Alex Tettey and, more recently, Moritz Leitner.
As it transpires, however, Reed is loving his time in Norwich. Speaking to the EDP last month, he said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. From the first day I walked through the door the boys have been brilliant and I’ve really enjoyed being in the city.” The 23-year-old is contracted to stay at Southampton for another three years, but he has made it clear he wants first-team football. Why not here? At just 23, he could likely be our best midfielder within a couple of years.
4. “GET ON THE OVERLAAAAAAAP”
It doesn’t take a football genius to realise Norwich have been crying out for more width this season (It took Daniel Farke about six months, but he got there in the end.) Farke has now started to flit between a 3-4-3 and a 4-2-3-1 with Onel Hernandez and Josh Murphy playing out wide. Hernandez, in particular, has looked especially deadly since joining us in January and the extra incisiveness he has given us shows the value of having that added dimension in attack.
When City have played three at the back, however, they again lose this width. Ivo Pinto has always been terrific at getting forward, even if his end product often leaves much to be desired. When Jamal Lewis and Reed were our wing-backs for a few games not long ago, however, they were barely offering any output going forward. Lewis, in particular, is an incredibly promising player and also has considerable pace to burn. If he can offer more on the overlap then not only will the team improve, but he will too.
3. Win something with kids
One thing Stuart Webber must be praised for is overturning the old, long-standing playing staff with a much more youthful bunch. The starting XI for City’s last league match with Reading had an average age of 24.4 years old, while the starting line-up for Norwich’s 4-0 victory over QPR on the final day of last season was on average more than three years older, at 27.5. Moreover, that team had four players aged 30 or more, while Timm Klose, at 29, was the Canaries’ oldest player last Saturday.
If we could, somehow, get Angus Gunn back for another year that would be fantastic, but it is more than likely Pep Guardiola will now want him to continue his development with a Premier League club (let’s face it, he’s ready.) However, his replacement, in Remi Matthews, is ready-made. Matthews has conceded just 19 goals in 19 games for Plymouth in League One this season and is getting rave reviews (especially considering Argyle have lost just three times since Matthews joined in October – they were bottom of the league then and are now sixth.)
Shrewsbury, meanwhile, have been flying high in League One all season. Ben Godfrey has played in every game for the Shrews this season since joining them (excluding the most recent, for which he was injured). It is widely expected that he will take Tettey’s place as our primary holding midfielder next season – a wise decision on the face of it. Carlton Morris, meanwhile, has scored six goals and set up four in 35 appearances. These aren’t remarkable figures but he’s playing every week for a successful team – it will be interesting to see what Farke makes of him in the off-season (he’s still only 22).
Last but not least, Todd Cantwell has made a very impressive start to life in the Dutch second tier, having been involved in three goals in six games already.
2. Sort out the strikers
I won’t be as blunt here as to say Norwich need to necessarily buy a new first-choice striker. We have all seen what Nelson Oliveira can do while at his best, and Dennis Srbeny was directly involved in 17 goals (nine goals and eight assists) in just 15 games in the German third tier this season.
These are clearly good players, and both have the potential to score 20 goals in the Championship next year. They have to be helped out though. Norwich, as a whole, have to be more direct, more fluid, simply much more threatening going forward. Yes, Oliveira should have been more effective this season, but any striker City could afford would have struggled in this current set-up. I wouldn’t give up on either of these two just yet.
1. Lock James Maddison in a cupboard or something
Maddison has been directly involved in 24 of City’s 41 goals so far this season – that’s 59% (FIFTY-NINE PERCENT). He has three years left on his contract and he already knows the value of first-team football for players his age. Ask him for one more year and then he can go wherever he likes – hopefully he’ll choose his newly-promoted Premier League club.
Easy eh? Let us know what you think.