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.