The real test of whether Norwich City can survive in the top flight begins at Carrow Road tomorrow.
Before we come back and expand on that, a brief detour to Watford – the club closest to where I live, though not to my heart.
My Watford-supporting friends assure me I’m safe to write this column. I won’t, as last year, have to tear it up and start again because The Hornets have changed their manager.
Between gritted teeth, I have to admit: though chopping and changing managers rarely succeeds, Watford seem to have it down to a fine art.
The biggest illustration is last December, when they sacked a reigning Manager of the Month to bring in Xisco Munoz. His record for the rest of the season was W19, D3, L5: 60 points from 27 games, equivalent to 100 points for a full season.
No wonder he’s safe (for now).
During the summer window, Watford was positively tranquil compared to Norwich. One major signing is midfielder Imran Louza (for £9million from Nantes), replacing Will Hughes who’s moved across the Thames to Palace.
Their most important piece of business, surely, was keeping winger Ismaila Sarr – a player who’s caused problems to many teams in addition to City. (Over to you, Brandon Williams.)
This game and the next few, though, are really about Norwich City.
Our destiny won’t be determined by how we fare against Liverpool, Man City, Leicester and Arsenal. It will hinge on how we do against Watford, Burnley, Southampton, Palace and the like.
Saturday isn’t a must-win game – no game in September could possibly be called that. But it will be a test, not least a physical one.
Watford have ‘doubled’ us in both of the past two seasons, just as Burnley (who we visit in a couple of weeks) doubled us last time in the Prem. Both out-muscled us.
That point is part of the reason for my headline and opening sentence. As Stuart Webber acknowledged in the summer, we needed to beef up if we’re to compete effectively this time.
The signings of Tzolis, Sargent, Rashica and Gilmour are exciting but don’t achieve the need for extra muscle and aggression. If we hadn’t secured a strong defensive midfielder and a powerful central defender, it would have been hard to feel optimistic about our chances.
The final days of the window, though, saw us tick both boxes with Mathias Normann and Ozan Kabak.
Their late arrival in Norwich precluded any sensible introduction of them at Arsenal but Daniel Farke will have been delighted to have a proper week to prepare for Watford. Given those two players’ qualities and the reasons we signed them, it will be a surprise if we don’t see their debuts on Saturday.
They’ll be pivotal, surely, to our chances – not just on Saturday, but from here to May.
Normann’s arrival should allow Billy Gilmour – who also couldn’t start against Arsenal because of his international exertions – to play further forward. We’ll appreciate his creativity in that position as we continue to try and fill a Buendia-shaped hole.
The greater defensive solidity I expect to see as Kabak and Normann settle into the team should generally give our attackers more scope to express themselves. I’m expecting the talented Milot Rashica to be increasingly effective.
Some guarded optimism, then, about our prospects going forward. It may not all click straightaway, but I’m looking for a significant haul of points from the next ten games.
The immediate uncertainties and unknowns make me reluctant to predict Saturday’s outcome. But I will anyway, of course – it can’t be any worse than my usual track record of forecasts.
City to break the recent Watford hoodoo, then. Norwich 2 Watford 1.