As ever, it is the season for predictions. That one week in the summer when ‘experts’ up and down the land, tell the rest of us where they think so-and-so will finish this season.
I will be no different. In 800 words time, I’ll say I think will Norwich survive. Where they’ll actually finish is anyone’s guess. But I’m guessing not in the bottom three.
The Guardian’s football writers beg to differ. They have – ‘on average’ – City to finish 18th. Only Reading and Southampton will finish below the Norfolk side. Apparently.
Sunderland, by contrast, can be expected to finish 13th. It is worth reading those two previews side-by-side. Or one after the other, this being the web.
Louise’s rationale as to where Sunderland’s Achilles Heel lies appears to make sense – they lack goals. And height. And Martin doesn’t fancy Bendtner much.
‘With Asamoah Gyan having made his bizarre loan move to Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates permanent and Nicklas Bendtner returning to Arsenal at the conclusion of his stint, O’Neill’s side are not only light in the attacking department but extremely short of an aerial threat up front.
‘This not only explains a series of underwhelming pre-season results – four defeats in six and only four goals scored…’
A reliance on Wes Brown’s knees and Titus Bramble generally also causes Ms Taylor some concern, but Martin’s magic dust will see them 13th.
Norwich – fresh from effectively re-signing arguably one of the strongest aerial threats in the Premier League in the shape of Mr G Holt – are on the slide; the fact that J Butterfield’s name doesn’t warrant a mention suggests a slight lack of research.
For me, if the kid is half as good as the Barnsley faithful maintain, he could yet prove to be the wild card no-one on The Guardian’s sports desk has catered for.
But there is one line from that Sunderland preview that does bang a nail straight on its head. It came somewhere in the comments – and, basically, said what I’ve long come to think. That there are eight clubs who you know won’t go down. And about 12 who could finish anywhere.
I’m not sure there’s anything much between a Fulham and a Reading; a West Brom and a Swansea; a Norwich and a Sunderland.
The two in Manchester, the two in Liverpool, the three in London and the one in Newcastle. They will not be gracing The Championship any time soon.
After that, grab a pin. And shut your eyes.
Why not Norwich? Well, they have G Holt at one end of the team and J Ruddy at the other. And on his performance for England this evening, you wonder how many of Chris Hughton’s counterparts among said ‘dirty dozen’ would take those of your hands in an instant given half a chance.
Marvellous Martin and P Lambert included.
Clearly managers have a bearing on all this; that given the wafer thin lines that exist between 19th and 9th, the tactical master-strokes that Lambert could muster seemingly at will can make all the difference.
And they can.
But you still have to the right players sat on the bench to make such tactical switches work.
Norwich, to large extent, still have the same deck of cards that Lambert enjoyed; only now with one or two jokers up their sleeve – Master Butterfield principal among them. Vaughan looks a player with a point to prove. Whether that proves to be in Norfolk, of course, remains to be seen.
Hughton and his coaching staff might play said cards in a different order; might not always come up with a late, winning hand. But at least they still have the cards to play.
How will, for example, Sunderland look to go long and direct late in a game if their ever more urgent pursuit of Steven Fletcher, for example, doesn’t yield fruit?
At which point, I must add, I’m not expecting Sunderland to go down; O’Neill doesn’t do relegations.
But nor – for now – do I see a half a dozen place difference between O’Neill’s Black Cats and Hughton’s Canaries.
The other point to this is that – nine times out of ten – the Premier League finds itself a basket-case; one club that implodes; is that full of poison and bile, that the result is inevitable.
Blackburn were the prime example of that last year; they stank in terms of ‘togetherness’. It was civil war at Ewood. And they are where they now are for the forseeable.
Who this year’s Blackburn are is hard to judge immediately; hands up, I had Newcastle as the one for last season and Alan Pardew duly proved me and a thousand other doubters completely wrong.
But I don’t see Norwich being that basket case; not from the position they are now in. People are getting on; the odd, gripe and groan, but the Yellow and Green Army won’t be out on the streets demanding heads to roll as they have been before.
Stable ship, effectively organised and led – and with goals at one end and an England keeper at the other. And who knows what in-between?
It doesn’t, to me, sound the recipe for impending disaster. But, heh, what do any of us ever really know?