Canary In A Coal Mine: Where To Now For Norwich City?

This image is a derivative of Norwich City club crest, Carrow Road - May 2017 by Along time ago... (CC BY 2.0)

The definition of a ‘Yoyo Club’ is one that constantly bounces between the top division and the league below, never really finding a place in either. It’s also the perfect description for Norwich whose EPL season is already in disarray and where yet another top-flight relegation appears inevitable.

Currently the Canaries sit rock bottom with just the one win, a gaudy -21 goal difference and with the Stats Insider futures model assessing them as a 81.5% chance of playing in the Championship next season. 

The Norwich board have reacted to their wretched start by firing manager Daniel Farke after four and half years in the job and bringing in Dean Smith, himself the victim of the EPL’s most recent round of bloodletting.

To survive relegation, Smith is clearly having to get results (and quickly), but with a side devoid of top-tier talent and whom currently lack any real identity, just how can the former Villa gaffer pull off a Norfolk miracle?

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Get the best out of their best players 

It was never going to be an easy road to survival for the perennial relegation contenders. To counteract this, they desparately need to get the best out of the minimal talent and x-factor they do have. 

The likes of Todd Cantwell, Christos Tzolis, Adam Idah, Billy Gilmour and Milot Rashica have all had minimal game-time this season which has contributed considerably to Norwich’s struggles. 

Tzolis and Rashica were bought in for a combined 22 million pounds this off-season and have started a combined 7 times so far. They both offer blistering pace and very good dribbling ability- crucial components for a side that looking to counter-attack and make bigger teams weary about leaving gaps for them to exploit. 

Take their recent 7-0 loss against Chelsea for example where neither started and which contributed to Chelsea being able to put the foot down and effectively end the game before halftime. Norwich’s attack didn’t strike any fear in Thomas Tuchel, so the Blues were able to go all-out attack and punish a weaker Norwich outfit.

Norwich has created the least number of shot-creating actions this season producing just 14.82 per 90-minutes. Tzolis and Rashica, alongside the likes of Todd Cantwell, will go a long way in bumping that number up and generating some threat for Norwich going forward. 

Alarmingly, their average distance per shot being is highest in the league at 20 yards illustrating their dire inability to break teams down and achieve any form of consistent penetration.

Secondly, the continued persistence with Teemu Pukki and the constant omission of Adam Idah could also be a contributing factor to their stagnation. Idah isn’t the savour by any means, however Norwich has the least amount of shots so far this season (111), the worst shot on target percentage (23.4%) and the fewest amount of goals (5) as well. So maybe the switch to a more youthful, dynamic and unknown striker could provide some success, or at least play them together as a partnership, where the experience of Pukki and the dynamism of Idah could perhaps work well together. 

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Develop a system that can be competitive with the best

Dean Smith doesn’t have long to salvage what is already becoming another wasted season in the top flight. 

Under Daniel Farke, Norwich had no identity and no real system. The German initially tried to play an expansive game style, which looked to control possession and dominate games against sides similar to them. However, he couldn’t implement that to his full ability and employed a more cautious approach and one which ultimately contributed to his firing. 

While Farke’s philosophy was to play a possession-based system, he didn’t understand the basics in how to set up a defensive side - hence the change to a 5 at the back system that led to a 3-0 loss to Liverpool, a 2-0 loss to Everton and that 7-0 smashing at the hands of Chelsea.

In possession, they shortcomings were even more obvious, dialling up just a 35% number inn their solitary win this season against Brentford. In that match they completed just 24 of their 77 longs balls indicating a team which was neither good at keeping the ball and lacking all manner of composure when executing. The lack of identity can be seen furthermore by their measly 12 build-up attacks (attacks that end in a shot and contain 10+ passes) and 15 direct attacks ranking 13th and 15th respectively - highlighting their lack of game style. 

Thankfully Dean Smith is well versed in implementing a successful counter-attacking system, the likes of which are essential in the EPL. With Villa his side was the quickest side in progressing the ball upfield with 2.05 Meters/second. While this didn’t exactly suit the ambitions of his former side, this is precisely what Norwich need right now. Smith is a manager who can sort them out defensively, make them hard to beat and use the talents they have upfront to their fullest. He’s been well-renowned for playing compact football throughout his managerial career suggesting this appointment could be a very shrewd one in the long term.

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They need results- at any cost

Smith has been brought to Norwich to get points by any means necessary. 

Somehow, the Canaries already finds themselves in a near unsalvageable position just eleven games into the season. The old saying goes that you need 40 points to guarantee survival - so Smith needs to find Norwich at least 30-35 more points by any means necessary. 

With Aston Villa, Newcastle and Watford all experiencing a similar ‘new manager bounce’, this could make the relegation battle this season very competitive, making each point even more vital. 

Smith has a massive job on his hands, but should he somehow save Norwich from their pending relegation, it’d make for a famous achievement.

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Ari Stamatakos

Ari Stamatakos is a high school student and aspiring writer who's passionate about the sports he loves. An Avid Carlton, Melbourne Victory and Chelsea Fan, he currently writes for Carlton fan page BlueAbroad.com.auYou can check him out on twitter @Ari_Y_Stama

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