It’s safe to say that Christos Tzolis’ arrival at Carrow Road has been eagerly anticipated, and there must be a reason for all the fanfare. So, what convinced Stuart Webber to spend €11million on a 19-year-old, and what will he bring now he’s in the Fine City?
Tzolis style is not dissimilar to that of one Emiliano Buendia, and for all the talk of Milot Rashica as the Argentinian’s replacement and the lazy assumptions, the Greek looks much more like a direct Buendia substitute.
Tzolis’ work is done at a faster pace than Buendia’s was at Carrow Road, the Argentine’s slower tempo significantly owing to the fact that Daniel Farke’s sides like to retain possession high up the pitch and hem opponents in. There is a certain Emi-like flare in the way Tzolis jinks between players but he is a different entity to his claret and blue counterpart, and resembles more of a traditional winger.
This again hints at a more counter-attacking tactical setup in 2021-22, although Saturday’s dismantling by a fairly average Newcastle United side has highlighted the potential pitfalls in that approach when Grant Hanley has played zero pre-season minutes and City are yet to recruit an improvement on Christoph Zimmermann. It may well be typical Farkeball until the first international break- as much as possible in games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester.
The 19-year-old does naturally bring the ball inside given that he’s right-footed and plays on the left, but his starting position is much wider than traditional Farke wingers.
Where Buendia and Todd Cantwell come inside or drop deep to look for the ball, Tzolis will likely stay high and wide, looking to receive the ball closer to the opposition box. Dimitris Giannoulis’ perfectly timed bursts forward will be key because of this, as the left-back will only see the space to run into once Tzolis dribbles inside.
It may be a difficult task for Giannoulis but it’s one that can clearly be done, given both were significant threats for PAOK Thessaloniki during the first half of the 2020-21 season.
Alternatively, Tzolis will likely sprint into the box and take up a poacher-like role when the ball is on the other side, ready to tap-in or fire home low crosses as he did numerous times with PAOK.
Efforts have been made this summer to increase City’s goalscoring output from midfield areas after Teemu Pukki took up the majority of the goalscoring burden during the Canaries’ last Premier League campaign. Cantwell netted six times but no other player scored more than once in the top flight.
The hope is that Tzolis will help ease this burden. He scored an impressive 16 goals in all competitions last season, and City’s four attacking midfielders- Tzolis, Cantwell, Rashica and Kieran Dowell- will have had terrible seasons if they don’t muster double what their alternatives at this stage in 2019 did; Buendia, Cantwell, Marco Stiepermann and Onel Hernandez scored 7 league goals between them in 2019/20.
The ‘wonderkid’ is also used to setting goals up. He registered 10 assists last season and boasts the ability to play a perfectly weighted pass. Having lost 16 assists from last season’s Championship walkover, this is a key area of recuperation for Farke’s side.
Tzolis is also a signing that’s been made with the future in mind. Included in a UEFA list of ‘ones to watch’ that included Jude Bellingham and Euro 2020 star Pedri, the Greek has the potential to become another record departure from Carrow Road.
It is believed that Tzolis will add enough to significantly improve the chances of Premier League survival, and he’s certainly no Przemyslaw Placheta in terms of the amount of refinement needed to nurture raw talent, but the expectation is that the former PAOK winger will grow as time goes on. Whether City can grow parallelly remains to be seen.
One thing is for certain- City are trying everything they can to make sure that Tzolis is available for this weekend’s Premier League opener. His vaccination status means forgoing any isolation requirements, and while at one stage he was expected to feature in PAOK’s crucial clash with Bohemians this week, this issue was dealt with.
According to Razvan Lucescu, head coach at Thessaloniki: “Norwich wanted to sign Tzolis immediately so as to be available for the game against Liverpool. It was the right time for the player to leave.”
Cantwell’s availability after a small knock in training may well determine how big a role his new Greek teammate plays against Liverpool, but it seems unlikely that Tzolis would be excluded from the matchday squad if available, and City fans may get a taste of what he’s like in yellow and green earlier than expected.
After weeks of speculation, Norwich have got their man at the perfect time. Their creative, exciting, goal scoring and potentially Buendia-replacing new man.