With just seven days to go before the agony of pre-season is over the usual routine is to scribe a piece that expresses my hopes and fears for the season ahead. It usually ends with a prediction that proves conclusively I’m the world’s worst tipster.
The first part is easy – top six or automatic promotion. But the latter – a prediction – with 29 days still to go before the transfer window slams shut is virtually impossible.
As things stand City look in decent shape and – if Friday’s final friendly against Celta Vigo is anything to go by – they appear reasonably well equipped to handle anything the Championship can throw at them.
That the Spaniards drew 1-1 with Wolves yesterday afternoon in a ‘feisty’ encounter (I appreciate that’s hard to believe of Molineux) offers little by way of clues as to what may unfold in seven days time.
But with Neil Adams hoping for a tough workout to conclude what has been a pre-season of varying intensity his wish was thankfully granted. The Spaniards offered technically adept opposition who were good at keeping the ball and who asked questions aplenty of his back four.
That City’s back line creaked a little won’t have gone unnoticed but overall it was a good test.
Interestingly the diamond made no appearance on Friday and instead Adams opted for a 4-2-3-1 – Bradley Johnson and Andrew Surman the chosen two to sit in front of the back-four. But the one common denominator in both formations is a diminutive Irishman strutting his stuff just in behind the striker(s).
It appears Wes Hoolahan has fought back from the brink and is now central in his manager’s thoughts. While in the horses for courses world of the second tier he may have to be sacrificed on occasions, it seems that Wes ripping the Championship apart 2011-style in still fresh in Adams’ mind.
If indeed 4-2-3-1 is to form Plan A, the diamond certainly makes a good Plan B if the opposition’s set-up permits. Mick (Dennis) made an excellent point in his MFW piece of last Wednesday when he noted the flaw of the narrow midfield diamond if opponents line-up with a back three and wing-backs.
While the ‘let them worry about us’ approach is laudable, there will be occasions when – particularly away from home – Team Adams will need to be flexible. To have a Plan A, B and even C will be a must. To know when to switch will be another – an art that was missing in the Hughton era.
That the manager appears to have a plan and method in mind is promising, but the personnel who carry out said plan appears far from set in stone.
For starters Ricky van Wolfswinkel appears St Etienne bound in a season-long loan deal that, in truth, suits all parties.
The French club acquire the services of a striker with a healthy goal ratio on the continent; the player gets the chance to resurrect his career in a setting far removed from the Fine City; and Norwich get to free up his not inconsiderable wages for ten months while they watch their investment, hopefully, increase in value from its current lowly base.
The latter of course relies on Ricky rediscovering the noble art of goal-scoring – the very art for which he was originally purchased. And if he is able to do so, who knows. Perhaps his time in Norfolk isn’t at at an end. As things stand however, it’s difficult to see him featuring regularly in the yellow and green anytime in the future.
But stranger things etc. This time last season I was calling time on Surman’s City career as he packed his bags for the South Coast.
And there will be other departures. The agents of Leroy Fer and Alex Tettey are clearly working overtime as we speak in order to execute their client’s Norwich City exit plans. Neither, for differing reasons, have yet to properly kick a ball in anger this pre-season and one wonders if they’ve both adorned the canary yellow for the last time.
Gary Hooper is another whose absence in the starting XI suggests that the manager is planning for life without him – but this one makes me a tad nervous. While last season was a struggle for the former Celtic man, his goal-scoring credentials in the Championship are unquestionable.
To go with the new boys – Kyle Lafferty and Lewis Grabben – as first-choice strikers with only Jamar Loza and Luciano Becchio as back-up leaves us a little lightweight in that department. If Hooper is to depart he needs to be replaced on a like-for-like basis in my view.
Martin Olsson and Nathan Redmond are both, naturally, on the Premier League radar but I remain hopeful that both will still be City players on September 2. Both have figured prominently in pre-season and are clearly central to the manager’s plans. And, just as crucially, both appear – at least from the outside – to be happy to be here; no whispers or underhand missives from their agents.
I sincerely hope David McNally enforces the ‘we have no need to sell’ mantra when enquiries are made with regard to those two, rather than resort to the more recent version of ‘everyone has a price’ . The chief executive’s forward defensive has stood us in good stead over the last few years. I don’t see the gap between bat and pad starting to appear now.
In terms of incoming traffic all we have at the moment is Gary O’Neil, who looks almost certain to be signing this week. While some have been quick to question the signing of a 31 year-old free agent, he comes with a good CV and a recent Championship promotion tucked up his sleeve. He’ll do a job for us and will fill one of the midfield slots vacated by either Fer or Tettey.
So, plenty of water to still pass under the bridge before Adams can confirm his hand. And if there are departures, which seems inevitable, we can expect a similar number of arrivals.
Let’s just hope a cavalier left-back and a flying attacking-midfielder aren’t among them.
A centre back appears to be a must, as the Russell Martin experiment still has huge question marks over it, while Whitaker at right back seems much more adept in attack mode than in the primary retirement of defensive mode! OTBC.
Shiny Shoes says
I’m a bit worried at the amount of players we’re putting in the ‘not good enough for the Prem but should be OK in the second tier’ bracket. If we have aspirations to bounce straight back, which absolutely must be the target, then we need a squad with better quality than our Championship rivals, rather than equal to. Of course we need to ‘cut our cloth’, but we must be careful not to diminish our ambition.
With that in mind, I think hanging on to Martin Ollson is essential.
I was one of Hoolahan’s biggest fans back in the day (I even contemplated putting WESSI on the back of my shirt!), but that was back in the day. Midway through last season fans were lamenting tha he hadn’t been given a chance, but the stats showed he’d played over 600 minutes, 0 goals, 1 assist. I just question whether he’s good enough any more. I hope he proves me spectacularly wrong, of course, but I’d rather see Howson fill that number 10 role. He’s been injury prone though, so I’d like to see us sign another playmaker. That would really cement Adams’ commitment to attacking football.
Pint of Mustard says
Agree with Gazza, a new CB has to be an addition before the season starts. Bassong has been left out in the cold and rightly so in my opinion after last season, we desperately need cover in defense. It is obvious that Fer is gone, just hope we get a decent price for him. Keeping Hooper and Olsen is a must if we want to mount a serious challenge this season. Would be nice to see a couple players coming in this week but doubt the board comply. Looking forward to the season starting, hope to see some entertaining football, OTBC.
Gordon in Oz says
Yes there has been a definite lack of discussion about defenders which is of concern. Personally I would like to see two defenders coming in unless Bassong is to resume his place as solid and mistake-less in the defence. We have seen nothing of Seb who had a great first season so that means we have three. Martin has been a stalwart at NCFC and no one can doubt his heart and passion but whether or not he is the man to be the long term pairing for Turner remains to be seen. Bennett R will need to step up this season and fulfill the potential he has shown. But defense is an issue for us.
That said…I feel a lot happier at this time this year than I did last with some solid pre-season performances that do not need excuses after every match, like they did last year.
Looking forward to seeing the NCFC we know and love…and getting back to the Premiership. OTBC
Burnhan canary says
The squad is adequate for the new season but a number of the early decisions are puzzling. Ryan Bennett should surely be ready to claim a regular starting place. Hooper should be getting regular games as proven performer at this level.
The injury to Howson is unfortunate as he has the potential to be a star in the Championship and the Premier League. Going back to players who starred in the last promotion campaign like Hoolahan and Surman looks safety first rather than ambitious.
Let us hope for a good start as that will rekindle the confidence so sadly dissipated under Hughton. Enough good players remain but they need to be given the motivation to go out and show that they can still perform on the big stage.
Ben K says
I’m looking to the new season without either of Fer and Tettey in my thoughts, even though neither have left yet. The funds from their sales could instigate players coming in. Although I can’t help but feel the board are being very tight. The club is in a strong financial position, with no external debt and parachute payments to come, yet we’ve seen two strikers come in for small amounts (which would suggest other players will be leaving) and a free agent taken on. I remain hopeful that I’ll be surprised by a signing or two, with one of them being a decent central defender.
Hopeful but not all that confident. The main reason being the dearth of talent arriving in January. There were injuries and a lack of spark in a team that needed something extra. Other clubs in similar positions made signings that made a real difference, whereas Norwich signed a (much needed) centre-half who covered one position and Jonas Gutierrez, who added almost nothing at all and spent most of his time on the physio’s table. Hughton would surely have appreciated some decent players coming in, and the paltry offering is not something you can blame on him. Those responsible are still at the club.
Those responsible are the ones whose efforts led to the appointment of a man with no experience of managing a club getting the job of manager of the club. Extensive interviews were apparently carried out and it’s easy to wonder whether transfer policy (sell to buy? Adams has pretty much said so)/available budget were the reasons some said no.
The current arrangement is at best a gamble, and one that I hope pays off. I’d love to discover that my pessimism was ill-founded and be proven completely wrong. I couldn’t help but notice, however, when buying my ticket for the first home match, that far more seats were available than I’d expected. Having left it nearly a week after the on-sale date I was able to choose three very decent seats, all in a row. That hasn’t happened for as long as I can remember. There might not be that much confidence in the gamble out there.