Two weeks away from the start of the new Premier League season and on the back of the two, mid-week friendlies and this afternoon’s trip to the Ricoh, one or two points are already in the bleedin’ obvious class.
Firstly, Norwich will need each and every body to be on deck for the next nine months; already James Vaughan, Elliott Ward and Anthony Pilkington look all-but certain to miss the start of the season.
New-boy Pilkington might have a chance, but it would be a big, big ask to throw a player straight into the Premier League fray when his last competitive outing was in League One. In March. One suspects, he will be gradually bedded into Paul Lambert’s thinking rather than thrown in at the deep end.
So there are three, likely senior starters already to be found in the treatment room – and all with three pre-season games to go before that trip to Wigan in a fortnight’s time.
Secondly, goals will be like goal dust – which is why the loss of Vaughan comes at an awkward time. Everyone seems to say the same – in front of goal, the kid’s a natural. He just needs a break injury-wise. Alas, thus far this summer Mother Nature hasn’t yet deigned to smile.
The fact that City have failed to trouble the score-sheet against first Palace and then Southend isn’t, of itself, wholly alarming.
Look at the way that Lambert set up his side – particularly for the trip to Roots Hall – and you wonder whether or not the canny Canary chief isn’t grooming a particular horse for a very particular course – namely don’t get beat at Wigan.
Lambert is nothing but the arch pragmatist and it is one of his more favoured footballing mantras that if you can’t actually win a game, just make sure you don’t lose it.
I suspect – deep down – he’d apply the same thinking to the opening home game against Stoke City.
Hands up who would take two 0-0s going into the away trip to Chelsea?
Ideally, you nick a point at Wigan and nick three at home to Stoke. But the latter won’t be looking to come to Norfolk for an open, attacking game of football. They will look to physically batter the Canaries. Only with bigger and technically, slightly better players than they did back in the Championship.
Same, brutal style, just more substance to it. Again, it’ll be a tight, nervy contest won as much in the mind as much as on the floor. Can I keep my wits about me as Rory Delap winds up to take a throw?
That ‘first-don’t-lose’ philosophy will underpin many a match this first season back in the Premier League. With points on the door and confidence flooding through the limbs, then you can start to open up the game and play the kind of expansive football punters still expect of a Norwich side. For now, however, let’s just not get beat.
With that in mind, sling one up top – and see what level of mobility Steve Morison gives you in that role. See how much the balls sticks to him; or does it ping straight back? Keep it compact and solid immediately in front of your back-four; so sling a Johnson and a Fox in there; stop little balls into the channels between the back four.
And the re-positioning of Russell Martin into a more central role was equally interesting – one, it suggests that ol Harry only let Master Naughton out to play on the basis that he would be starting the majority of games on the pitch, not off it and, two, that marshalling a new-look defensive formation away at Stamford Bridge, if not the JJB, will require a high-level of organisation.
It’ll need a ‘voice’ – and an organiser. Someone to keep everyone on their toes for first minute to last. From a distance, Martin would appear to fit that bill; he could yet prove to be Lambert’s ‘command and control’ centre at the heart of his defensive unit.
One thing that the Canaries won’t be lacking for is pace and athleticism. Naughton – potentially – looks the full, Premiership thoroughbred in that regard. Pilkington – when fit – looks to have the frame and the engine for the top flight. Ritchie de Laet is quick; ditto Leon Barnett.
After that, it’ll come down to organisation. Or rather, who organises it all. See above.
The other interesting point – and it may come more to the fore in the two games against continental opposition next week – is the time and space afforded to the likes of a Wes Hoolahan and an Andrew Surman in the highest flight.
In years gone by, I’ve always wondered about the wisdom of playing a nicey-nicey, tappy-tappy game of ‘After you, Claude…’ against foreign opponents when your first mid-week away trip of the season was away to Gillingham.
This summer, however, and there is a chance that Parma (h) has slightly more relevance in the sense that City will get more freedom to play in the Premiership than they have in the Championship. Not every week; not against every opposition. But you don’t get hounded as much in the centre of the park as much.
People are prepared to let you play; keep possession for a while longer – and see if you can hurt us.
It isn’t the 100 mile an hour frenzy that is the Football League. The question then is whether or not the likes of a Hoolahan and a Surman can use their clear footballing ability to ever greater effect? Can they make sweeter music at, say, a White Hart Lane than they can at a Priestfield Road?
Probably. So, thus far, I’d guess things are ticking along OK. It would just be nice if the footballing gods for once gave Master Vaughan a break. Goals will mean everything in the coming months.