With no actual football to talk about, the next couple of months will be full of the usual rumours and speculation as we wait to see how City will fare on their return to the top division after three seasons in the Championship.
At this point we don’t know who will be coming to the club – despite some of the ridiculous guesses masquerading as genuine stories on websites where veracity comes a poor second to the need for hits – so I’ve been entertaining myself by comparing what City currently have before any additions with the players who kicked off their last Premier League season.
Interestingly, of the 18-man squad that was named for City’s game against Crystal Palace on the 8th August 2015, only one player remains at the club less than three years later, which illustrates just how drastic the “Webberlution” has been. So let’s have a quick run through section by section to see how the “then and now” match ups compare.
In goal that day was John Ruddy, a keeper who in my view was never quite the same after his serious thigh injury and who developed a worrying susceptibility to low shots later in his career. I would probably place him roughly on a par with Tim Krul who, whilst more agile, is also subject to the odd gaffe.
The fullbacks are no contest. I don’t think any sane Norwich fan would consider taking Steven Whittaker over Max Aarons, and Robbie Brady was never a genuine fullback, producing his best form for City (such as it was) when played on the left of midfield.
Of course, Martin Olsson would play left back for much of that season, but while his forward runs might rival those of Jamal Lewis his defensive frailties were all too obvious, particularly on far post crosses.
A comparison of the centre backs is more difficult. On the one hand, we have the vastly experienced Russell Martin and Seb Bassong and on the other the promise of Christoph Zimmermann and Ben Godfrey (with Timm Klose hopefully also in the mix).
Ironically there are several parallels, given the solid nature of Zimmermann and Martin and the pace and occasional brain fade exhibited by Godfrey and Bassong, but one pair had peaked, and the other has yet to, although we will have to wait and see how well they step up a level.
The holding midfielder and the only squad member who is still a Canary was Alex Tettey, who now plays second fiddle to Tom Trybull with the German probably edging a comparison in terms of mobility and passing range.
The four who played in front of Tettey against Palace were Wes Hoolahan, Bradley Johnson, Graham Dorrans and Johnny Howson; a line up that offered plenty of effort but depended massively on Wes for a creative spark.
Johnson would soon be shipped off to Derby allowing Brady to move forward, while Nathan Redmond would offer a pace option on the right and Gary O’Neil was also to figure in the central positions, but it remained a largely predictable unit.
This midfield is the area where I think the current squad is significantly better. The current crop of Emi Buendia, Moritz Leitner, Mario Vrancic, Onel Hernandez, Kenny McLean and Marco Stiepermann offer Daniel Farke both a range of skills and no shortage of goals. The 2015/16 midfielders contributed just 18 goals; this season’s produced a whopping 41.
Close down Wes in 2015/16 and you largely closed down City, but it’s a much more complex problem facing opposing managers now.
As for the lone striker position the temperamental Lewis Grabban hardly bears comparison with Teemu Pukki, either in terms of commitment or goal-scoring prowess, although the former was soon replaced by Cameron Jerome and then the barely more energetic Dieumerci Mbokani.
In fairness, the way Alex Neil set up his side meant that the striker was much more isolated than Pukki has been, but can you really imagine Grabban or Mbokani sprinting 30-yards back to the edge of their own penalty box to win a tackle?
While Jerome was more likely to do so, his impressive work rate had to be balanced against his frequent inability to hit the proverbial cow’s arse with a banjo.
Overall I think that while Neil’s squad was undoubtedly far superior in terms of experience Farke’s offers much more variety and flair and, more importantly, the capacity to improve, but it is always going to be a slightly fatuous comparison until we have the chance to see how they react to that step up in quality.
However, the fluidity of how the current squad play and the assurances from Farke and Stuart Webber that there will be no major change of approach in the Premier League means that I for one am much more confident – even before the inevitable upgrades this summer – that City will be capable of survival at the very least next season.
It does seem that the smaller clubs are slowly cottoning onto the fact that dour defence is not the only way to stay in the Premier League and if that is indeed the case then City could be at the vanguard of a more attractive approach.
martin penney says
A good article Robin – and a brave one too if I might say so!
I remember the early 1990s when both “it’s just like watching Brazil” Barnsley and Swindon Town tried to take on the big boys with an expansive game. Swindon featured possibly the first diamond I can remember.
Both shone briefly, then crashed and burned.
I think we’ll fare rather better than that tbh.
I agree with every point you make and would only add that Bassong and Martin (when the latter was played at CB) gave me the shivers every time they paired up whereas Zimmermann and Godfrey (include Klose by all means) have the opposite effect.
A good read.
Gary Field says
The player to player comparison for the respective squads is fair, but where I think the latest version is likely to score favourably is with ball retention, which is far more important in the Premier League compared to the Championship.
Alex B says
An enjoyable read and I agree with your comparison but in some ways, it’s like me and my son arguing about past players.
Recently he mentioned what he called the so-called greats of today Kane, Salah, Mane, and how they would run rings around Greaves, Smith, Law and Charlton for fitness and tech skills. My argument was to look at the pitches they played on and the conditions.
Snow, rain, mud, didn’t stop a game, no diving happened and crunching tackles from behind and Prima Donna’s didn’t exist.
I wonder with your comparison would City have succeeded last season if Paddon, Culverhouse, Powell, Stringer, Forbes, Reeves, Crook, Gunns, and Huckerby were in their prime and available to Farke.
More questions than answers or choice of selection, times, fitness, strength, awareness. Alex N had a successful short period and his tactics were soon found out, recruitment was haphazard we now have a long term plan instead of shortsightedness.
Tettey I hope gets a last crack along with Klose at the Premiership, and that incomings embrace the club new found culture.
Onwards and upwards
martin penney says
My two cents is that Ian Crook would have thrived in a Farke side.
I’m not too sure about your other mentions. Huckerby was understandably selfish to the point that Adam Dury always had to defend our left flank on his own. And he did it bl00dy well.
I never saw enough of Reeves to judge him properly, but I’m sure we could find a place for Martin Peters!
Culverhouse and Bowen were sublime back in the day.
I truly believe Crook and Bowen were well ahead of their time.
You’re quite right about both Tettey and Klose.
Alex B says
Yeah slipped my the Great Martin Peters another was Jimmy Neighbour a sorry miss to this wirls.
Memories plays tricks in some ways players from long gone areas always seem better than they were just like old girlfriends seem better looking now that then.
Would Keelan be better in goal than Woods or either Gunn, as Robin said Ruddy v Krul both fave flaws but both have preformed miracles when required to do so, foresight or hindsight.
Opinion Forbes/Stringer or Klose/Zimmermann- Hanley/Godfrey what parings to choice from?????
David Bowers says
Why are we comparing a Championship season to a Premier League season? Of course the midfield will score more in The Championship, A better comparison to this season’s 41 goals would be the midfield from 14/15, which scored…. 41 goals (in TC)
“Close down Wes in 2015/16 and you largely closed down City, but it’s a much more complex problem facing opposing managers now.”
” a line up that offered plenty of effort but depended massively on Wes for a creative spark.”
And the current team without Buendia looks an entirely different team too.
I think there are pros and cons to both squads, but I don’t think you’re being very fair or objective.
Gary Gowers says
To be fair, Dave, I’m not sure Robin was intending to be especially fair or objective. Instead, it was just a very quick look at how the two sides compare as things stand – and we’re all acutely aware there will be new faces and possibly departures. Just an interesting paper exercise as to how the two sides differ IMHO.
David Bowers says
Well, he does slam other sites for not having veracity.