Paddy Davitt takes a look at how Norwich City have started the season
PUBLISHED: 09:38 10 September 2013 | UPDATED: 09:38 10 September 2013
Chris Hughton's assertion after Norwich City's forgettable Premier League defeat at Hull that the Canaries were still five goals better off than the same stage last season was a gross understatement.
Disappointing as that first away trip was to Humberside, this re-modelled vintage has come a long way from a chastening Craven Cottage experience 12 months ago.
City were pummelled into submission by Fulham in a portent of early difficulties to come prior to that breakthrough Premier League win over Arsenal in late October.
Norwich’s response to fresh adversity with wins over Bury and Southampton ahead of this latest international shutdown merely illustrates the manager has a very different squad at his disposal. A summer recruitment drive the envy of any of his predecessors both in ambition and financial scale have equipped the Canaries with a richness to their playing resources evident in Hughton’s match day line-up against the Saints.
To omit a player with the international class of Martin Olsson and keep the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Russell Martin and Anthony Pilkington in reserve felt like a tangible sea change; another statement of intent viewed alongside the arrivals of high class foreign imports such as Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer and one of the most exciting domestic prospects in Nathan Redmond.
The attendant rise in expectations is a charge that has shadowed Hughton and the club’s hierarchy with each fresh addition and astute piece of business. Hughton and his assistant Colin Calderwood have sought to publicly embrace the perceived extra pressure that comes with those prohbitive price tags.
Norwich’s supporters expect progress after two excellent mid-table Premier League finishes and lavish close-season outlay. In that regard they are no different to those in positions of power at Carrow Road. The Canaries have genuinely sought to inject renewed forward momentum across every aspect of the club.
But the evidence of their opening three tests and in the wider pan-Premier League context with early struggles for well-established rivals such as West Brom and Sunderland suggest growth will prove no less challenging.
The positivity engendered from beating Southampton was an antidote to Hull where the manner of City’s labours to make the most of a numerical advantage was alarming. Everton on the opening day was a fusion of both; Norwich ceded territory and possession faced with the Toffees’ greater craft and guile in midfield on the firstweekend, but a 2-2 draw could rightly be portrayed as promising beginnings. The studious Hughton will have processed plenty of information from watching his side’s defensive circumspection and expansive intent in phases of both the Everton and Southampton home games and arguably their worst in struggles against the Tigers.
These are early days, but the spine of Hughton’s preferred line-up is emerging. John Ruddy’s reassuring presence will earn Norwich plenty of points over the course of their third consecutive Premier League season. Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner’s first coupling of the new campaign brought a first clean sheet. The link between the two should be abundantly clear. Turner’s robust approach complements Bassong’s refinement and unerring calmness in tight confines. Fer and Bradley Johnson look another productive union, albeit on the relatively small sample of one afternoon’s industry, as they dominated Southampton’s Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin. Fer’s athleticism and technical ability may in time propel him into the upper echelons of all the midfielders to have graced the same shirt.
The unveiling of his Dutch compatriot in early July answered any lingering doubts surrounding van Wolfswinkel’s pedigree or demeanour to handle the record fee. The striker’s debut goal against Everton suggested he will become a productive outlet. The instinctive header and cunning movement inside the Toffees’ penalty area was the work of a high class predator.
Hughton and his management team would accept there are inevitable areas to address. The creative deficit was exposed at Hull, when City had to switch from their counter-attacking ethos to try and force the play against the newly-promoted hosts. Van Wolfswinkel will clearly require sustained support in central avenues as well as down the flanks to avoid periodic isolation.
But everything since survival was secured against West Brom last May and then embellished at Manchester City creates the impression Hughton is now working on the upper floors – the foundations are firmly in place.
Norwich’s boss can focus on nuanced change and subtle alterations rather than the wholesale brush strokes that characterised his opening months at Carrow Road.
City on and off the pitch must continue to develop at an accelerated rate. Evolution is not simply desirable, it is imperative to retain their place in the Premier League.
All three promoted clubs reached the international break with top flight victories. Widespread forecasts the former Championship trio would be cut adrift appear premature at this stage. The empirical evidence from the first month indicates the Premier League will be just as fierce as in the past two seasons. City experienced that first-hand at the KC Stadium. The response since tells you much about the latent potential Hughton is striving to unlock within his new-look squad on a consistent basis.