Norwich City are returning to the Premier League following a three-year absence from English football’s top tier.
Securing the 2018/19 Championship in their penultimate match of the season with an exhilarating 2-1 win over Blackburn at Carrow Road, the Canaries will be keen to follow in the footsteps of previous Championship winners, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Ending the season in seventh place and qualifying for Europa League play-offs, Wolves’ opening spell in the Premier League has been highly applauded and it doesn’t look like they are going to fall from these new heights any time soon particularly with star players like Raul Jimenez and Diego Jota in the mix.
But Norwich City have their own talismanic players too. The likes of Teemu Pukki, Marco Stiepermann and Max Aarons will all have a vital role to play if City are to avoid relegation, let alone finishing in top half of the table. Afterall, from Norwich’s six seasons spent in the Premier League- four of them have ended in relegation.
The Canaries started last season’s campaign dreadfully, picking up four points from a possible eighteen. Despite the shaky start, Norwich soon became the dominant force of the Championship and as 2019 commenced, Daniel Farke’s side came into their own, providing spectators with fast-paced, entertaining football. On 27th April, after an incredible run of results and a point tally of 94, Norwich City were crowned Championship winners.
This was no easy feat. When Daniel Farke was appointed manager in May 2017, City fans were, understandably, doubtful over his lack of experience in the English football. But the former Borussia Dortmund Reserves boss succeeded in transforming Norwich from a club who sat in 14th place at the end of the 2017/18 season into a trophy winning team. An extra 34 points in comparison to the previous year along with almost double the amount of goals.
With a limited budget, free transfers and youthful talent were the key to providing Norwich with the fire power to top the division. With high-pressing full backs, imaginative midfielders and a relentless striker, Norwich were proficient in creating free flowing, aggressive football.
Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis were important features in the Canaries’ attacking style of play last season.
The 19-year-old right-back Aarons, who joined City’s academy in 2016, has developed into one of England’s most promising players. Like most modern day full-backs, Aarons was successful at tearing up and down the right wing and delivering superb crosses into the opponent’s penalty area, laying it on a plate for the 2018/19 Championship Golden Boot winner, Teemu Pukki. Aarons too was rewarded for his performances, bagging the EFL Young Player of the Year award.
On the opposite side of the pitch Jamal Lewis offers an alternative style. The Northern Irishman also surges up and down the pitch with astonishing ferocity, but cuts in from the left wing, allowing him to play clever passes in behind rival’s defences into potential goal-scoring areas.
Speaking of goals, Norwich found the back of the net 93 times last season; more than any other Championship side. Averaging 3.26 goals per game, the Canaries’ matches averaged more goals than any other promoted side in over a decade.
A lot of this is down to Finnish striker, Teemu Pukki who scored 29 over the course of the season, the most since Glenn Murray recorded 30 goals for Crystal Palace during their successful 2012/13 campaign where they secured promotion. Signed on a free transfer from Danish team Brondby in June 2018, Pukki has established himself as a natural goal-scorer for the Canaries and has since, to the relief of City fans, renewed his contract until 2022.
But there have been other goalscoring talents in the form of Stiepermann and Vrancic, each with ten goals and seven assists to their names. They are joined in the midfield by Emiliano Buendo, the Argentine who, was brought to Norwich in the hope of replacing James Maddison, has provided creative flare on the right flank which brands him as a game-changer, able to craft chances and deliver important final-third passes.
City thrived under Daniel Farke’s predominantly attacking-based style in the Championship. But how will they fare in the Premier League? With three of the top six in their opening five fixtures, the Canaries will not have an easy start.
Unlike Aston Villa, Norwich have not invested heavily and have instead focused on extending the contracts of their star players. They have brought in goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann from Schalke on a season-long loan to compete with current keeper Tim Krul who tended to make nervy mistakes. £750,000 has been splashed out on right-back Sam Byram from West Ham while Josip Drmic from Borussia Monchengladbach and Patrick Roberts from Man City, have been recruited as reinforcements for City’s attacking line-up.
The lack of signings means that the players should be well integrated by eight o’clock on Friday as they field their opening team at Anfield.
But there are big concerns over City’s defence. They had the 8th best defence in the Championship last season, conceding 57 goals. With such a young, inexperienced backline, bar perhaps Christoph Zimmerman, will Norwich be able to deal with some of the world’s top attackers? Surely, Farke will have to restrain his full-backs from playing so high up the pitch. The likes of Salah or Sterling would effortlessly exploit the space left behind by Aarons or Lewis.
Pukki and Norwich’s attacking midfield will also be restricted and forced to change their style of play. They will not be afforded the same goalscoring opportunities when competing against tougher and well-organised defences. Defensive responsibilities will have to be prioritised rather than the offensive football which had become commonplace last year.
Norwich City will struggle to compete this season. With a tricky list of opening fixtures, it is possible that, with a frail defence, the Canaries will receive a few thrashings right at the start of their Premiership campaign. They will have to prove to both themselves, their fans and outsiders that they are a resilient force who are unwilling to give up against title-favourites Liverpool. They have to show, from the offset, that Norwich City are not a team to be dismissed.
Final Premier League Position Prediction: 16th