The international break gives Norwich City a chance to take stock and reflect on what has been a stuttering start to the new campaign .
Twelve months ago, City spent this international break mulling over a 4-0 defeat to Millwall, at the Den. Looking back, they were dark times, fans were calling for Daniel Farke’s head, despite being just a handful of games into his tenure.
However, City were two points better off at this stage last season and after three transfer windows and an awful lot of talk about transition, it’s time for the patience afforded by fans to be reimbursed in the form of results, or at the very least, visible progress.
This international break is not just a chance to reflect on the season so far but also functions as a reminder of the realities of being a self-sufficient club.
If you can forget results on the pitch and position in the league table for just a moment, the development of talent is without doubt a huge positive for the club.
Developing talent is not just a process that allows for greater first team personnel but also allows the club to plug financial holes, which we saw in the case of James Maddison with his transfer fee from Leicester almost single-handedly covering the loss of parachute payments.
The club also received in excess of £20 million for the Murphy twins, not only highlighting the efficiency of academy production but also Stuart Webber’s ability to negotiate a fee which reflects the importance of the player to Norwich City.
The development of Jamal Lewis is another positive for the club and its fans.
Lewis has only played twenty-six professional games but has already become City’s first choice left-back, justifying his involvement with the Northern Ireland squad. Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill has praised the development of Lewis , challenging the twenty-year-old to nail down the left-back berth for his nation.
The latest prospect from the academy production line is Max Aarons.
After a goal-scoring debut against Cardiff in the last round of the Carabao Cup, Aarons earned himself a starting spot against Ipswich in the East Anglian Derby, no small feat for a nineteen-year-old. After positive performances in both matches, Aarons found himself rewarded with a call-up to the England u19 squad and made his debut earlier this week against Belgium.
However, for every positive surrounding the development of younger players, there is a contrasting story concerning one of City’s older, more established players. The micro-management of Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan has been questionable and that’s not to say they have been slighted by the club but, the mutual termination of one of the clubs more dedicated players always has the potential to disgruntle fans.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that the ruthlessness with which Stuart Webber conducts transactions is not borne out of disrespect for long-serving players but, the need to cure the financial hangover the club still carries from the Premier League days, this is something of a necessity for Webber and is done with the club’s best interests at heart.
It will now be interesting to see if Farke reintegrates Nelson Oliviera to the squad.
It is no secret the Portuguese is on his way out of Carrow Road in the near future, with the club actively looking for a buyer but, to have a player of his ability not featuring in a match-day squad seems unwise – regardless of it taking game time away from other players in the squad who appear to be part of the clubs’ long-term plan.
When you consider that before the close of the transfer window this time last year, Swansea reportedly bid around £12 million for the striker. At that time, so close to the window shutting, very few fans would have supported the decision to let him go, in hindsight, rejecting the bid was poor decision but considering both the club and the fans wanted to keep Nelson, the decision to reject the bid is probably justified.
Tactically, City have showcased more attacking variety so far this season.
At the risk of belittling Daniel Farke’s tactical awareness, at times last season, the plan revolved around giving the ball the James Maddison and allowing him to create a chance for himself or a team mate.
This season City can exploit; the pace and skill of Onel Hernandez, the vision of Mo Leitner and Emi Buendia, the combativeness of Jordan Rhodes and the goal threat and creative ability of Teemu Pukki. Ultimately, City now have more ways in which to beat opposition; possession, counter at pace or, if needs be, long balls.
But whether this variety will translate in to a greater attacking output than the efforts of James Maddison remains to be seen.
Statistics after the first six games show that City are still keeping possession for large parts of matches, averaging 53% (6th in the division), as a direct result of Norwich’s passing accuracy 76%(7th).
A criticism of Norwich City last season was a lack of goals, solving this issue will be high on Farke’s agenda and so far this season has experienced early success, averaging 13.5 shots per game (5th). Elsewhere, City are ranked 6th for average dribbles per game (8.8pg) most of which can be attributed to Hernandez, Pinto and Lewis.
Despite the improved efficiency in attack, City’s defensive statistics make for grim reading. The twelve goals Norwich have conceded ranks them 23rd in the division, coupled with 6.8 interceptions per game (22nd) and just 26 aerial duals won per game (16th) there is certainly room for improvement defensively.
With Norwich City sitting in 17th place in the table with just five points, the first handful of matches have not quite gone to plan, however, six games into a new season does not feel like a reasonable amount of time in which to judge the performance of a team in a forty-six-game season.
City have five games in September, one of which is a Carabao Cup fixture away at Wycombe but, nonetheless City will have played 20% of the season by the time September is over.
With away fixtures against bottom team Reading, the equally poor QPR and Wigan at Carrow Road, this is a month in which you would expect Norwich to pick up points and begin moving up the table.
For context, I am very much invested in the project, ‘in the boat’ as Daniel Farke would say.
I realise that the unprecedented development of the clubs’ younger prospects is crucial to the club’s business model and in order to succeed we must have a manager that promotes academy graduates and is able to deal with the loss of them if it is financially prudent.
It’s also worth noting that Farke has had to sell his best players to combat the loss of parachute payments, not only has he not really mentioned this but he has supplemented the loss with more varied attacking output.
However, City’s standing in the table and a lack of convincing results so far this season has raised questions over the success of this project, the pressure is only going to increase.
Nonetheless, the month of September has the potential to be a crucial one and everyone associated with the club will have a better idea of the direction Norwich City are headed in after ten games.