Here we go again. 2018/19 starts on Saturday, so here's Tom Parsley, Andrew Lawn, Jon Punt and Ffion Thomas to give you their (mostly) uninformed insights into the new season.
Signing you're most excited about seeing in action?
Jon: I think it's fair to say Norwich's summer transfer business has, on the face of things, been pretty decent. All the identified gaps have been plugged and upgrades in the right areas have been purchased. That said, the last time I felt this confident about our close season wheeling and dealing it all resulted in season tickets being thrown at a club legend, so what do I know?
In terms of who I think may have the biggest impact, it's difficult to ignore Felix Passlack. A mainstay of German international youth sides, with impressive club pedigree in the Bundesliga. In short, Passlack is nowhere near the fourth tier German imports that so many 'fans' like to bang on about. In addition, the German should offer some genuine quality down the right flank, which was lacking last term. Both Ivo and Reed worked hard, yet their final ball often failed them - the assumption is that won't be the case this time around.
Andy: If you put the experience and fading memories of Russia 2018, along with Lucciano Becchio and Jonas Gutierrez in a box marked 'ignore', then there is something innately exciting about signing an Argentinian playmaker. Whether Emi lives up to this is yet to be seen, but it highlights where the true excitement of this summer lies for City fans; the unknown.
I follow football fairly extensively, especially the Bundesliga and Bundesliga II, but even Felix Passlack is little more than a vaguely recognisable name for me from this summer's intake. This for me is a very good thing. Will we see Brondby Pukki or Celtic Pukki? Nobody knows and that's exciting.
Oh, and Mo. Of course. What a signing he is.
Tom: The goalkeeping, striking and James Maddison departments all needed restocking as priorities. Before a ball is kicked in Brum, it does look like the right focus and effort has been made in each area. Whether we genuinely have two options up front now depends on whether Pukki and Rhodes can stay fit and deliver the best of their former glories, I always welcome signings with a point to prove. Watching Mo be more in charge and stepping out from Madidson's shadow at set pieces is my pick for signing to watch.
Ffion: From what I saw of pre-season, Pukki has been the one I've most enjoyed watching - he's seems to have what we've been lacking in being a reliable finisher of chances, but he also has a bit of inventiveness and combines well when we're attacking in numbers. It looks to me like the Pukki - Rhodes combination could be a pukka road to go down. Sorry.
Farkelife or Farke Off - discuss?
Jon: Farkelife, obvs. Given he had to manage wholesale change during his debut campaign the jury is still out to an extent. Yet Farke has addressed City's biggest deficiency they've suffered from for the last few years, namely a leaky defence. Now that's organised and resolute, his attention switches to becoming more progressive and incisive in the final third. Farke had to juggle many offensive players he'd inherited when he arrived, a couple of whom were overtly suggesting with their body language that they didn't really fancy the new regime. Now Farke has his own men (or at least those that he sanctioned) up top, a fairer judgement can be made as to the head coach's ability to balance defence and attack.
So give him the season, let him tinker until he finds a magic formula, enjoy what we're trying to do and see where we end up. Obviously that all goes to shit if we're bottom after 10 games though.
Andy: A question meant for one correspondent I think this... Gather up your toys Tom, they won't fit in that pram with you.
Has Farkelife been perfect? No. Has it been interesting? Yes. Would I prefer us continue down this path rather than return to the managerial merry-go-round that so many other clubs are riding? Yes.
Tom: Are you sitting comfortably? Let me begin. I start the season with optimism and hope. To earn a full season of trust from me, the first three months need to show Farke can:
It's a results business. If we are more than 12 points off the play-offs any later than 1st December he has to be replaced. His contract is up at the end of the season and no noises are being made about an extension so I feel the club is in the same boat as me on this, you have August to December to show you can make us more competitive than lower mid-table, we need to be in the play-off discussion at the very least.
I would love a manager to be here for 15 years and build a style and dynasty, but unless he shows more tactical ability and that it's him rather than just the players' ability that is affecting results, I can't see how he has earned any more patience so far. No more excuses this season. You're not new, these are your players, they've had ages to learn your style, deliver or depart.
Ffion: It's only a few months and no competitive games since I last answered this question in the ACN season review, so not much has changed. What we have had to judge him (and Webber) on since then is a transfer window, and on paper I think everyone can be pretty positive about how it's gone given the budgetary constraints we're under.
Where are the Nodge gonna finish?
Jon: Expectations might just be a little more tempered this season, which in turn could help the side no end. In my view the outside prospect of a play-off berth isn't out of reach if some of the classier operators in our side stay fit. And that's perhaps the biggest caveat here, in that is it realistic to expect a full season from the likes of Leitner, Trybull and Tettey given their respective injury records?
If we can find that balance and a consistency around the first XI, then I'll plump for a plucky effort, eventually finishing seventh. That will be definite and tangible progression and might just see Farke's deal extended beyond 2018-19 to let the #project continue.
Andy: For me this is another season which could be anything. I imagine we'll win some games we aren't expected to and lose some that on paper we'd expect to win.
Where that leaves us depends strongly on how a squad that continues to be overhauled gels. Having done our summer business early, the hope is they have the time to do so and the huge swings from sublime to ridiculous of last season (and in fairness the season before under Alex Neil) can be avoided. Jon mentions "tangible progress" and I think that is a fair assessment. To be in sight of the top six as we approach the home straight has to be the aim - just like it is for probably 20 other sides in this division.
Tom: Injuries are the biggest concern based on how thin a squad we have (because of what we can afford). Keep our best players fit (maybe don't over train them causing muscular injuries like happened in pre-season eh Farke) and I think this squad with this manager can finish 10th. This squad and a better manager could just about pierce the top six.
Ffion: Higher than last season. It would be nice to still be in the chase for the play-offs, by, let's say, Easter...and that's a lot later next year than it was this year.
Who'll win it/get relegated?
Jon: I tipped up Boro last season and they failed to deliver, yet with a full pre-season for Pulis to get his side ready for ultimate shithousing I think they might just make it. Of the sides who were relegated West Brom may contend too.
In terms of who'll drop out of the league, I've got a couple of left field picks. Both Steve McClaren and Alex Neil tend to grate on you after a few months. I can't help but feel QPR's and PNE's players might feel the same and they could both struggle. Beyond that, Rotherham's lack of resources will more than likely see them at the foot of the table unless Paul Warne can pull a miracle from somewhere.
Andy: Boro have a settled squad, which could go one of two ways; stable or stale?
I don't see any clear-cut favourites this season, with all three relegated sides having some serious issues to resolve. Of the three, West Brom look the best bet to me. It may be unpopular but Leeds and Bielsa hooking up makes me smile and I'd like to see them go well.
Rotherham are this season's Burton and survival would be a massive achievement. I think Hull will struggle again as their off-field woes continue to bite, while QPR are surely due another amusing descent.
Tom: A second baby, the World Cup and a pending house move this summer have meant that I've not really followed who is in turmoil and all the transfers yet. So I'll tip Boro to win it because Pulis, and Leeds for second because I'd love that (lived there five years and have a soft spot for them). Millwall to go down because they've been punching above their weight for a while now.
Ffion: As usual, it's wide open. West Brom look the best of the relegated sides, while it might be Leeds' year at long last. At the bottom, only Rotherham seem likely to fail on the simple basis of resources, but Reading had a very poor season last year and don't seem to have done much to improve their squad.
Dark Horses/Biggest flops?
Jon: All of the Midlands sides will all be eager to gain the bragging rights, given there's more teams than ever before in the area who could genuinely contend or just fall flat on their arse. I suspect the 'Battle of the Bruised Bottoms' might just be made up of Villa and Derby. The Villains' financial difficulties are well documented and they'll need to cut their cloth accordingly. Frank Lampard's appointment at Derby could be inspired or terrible. He talks a great game as a pundit, but that didn't translate for Gary Neville and when the lustre of his fresh new suits starts to wear off we'll see what he's made of.
Forest could be the surprise package though. The money being spent isn't of Wolves proportions, but it's the same greedy agent who's got his finger in the Forest pie. Expect them to be up there.
Andy: Forest are a good shout here, plus my aforementioned Leeds. I like the look of Bristol City and Sheffield United, who had spells last season where they were excellent before fading away. I also think Blackburn and Wigan will be in and around mid-table and could surprise a few people.
Swansea look like a shell of a squad, who have lost their identity and I can see spending a generation out of the top-flight. Then there are the media darlings in claret and blue, who I would really enjoy seeing slide down the greasy pole they tried to buy their way up last year. The only downside would be if Terry jumped ship before enduring it with them.
Tom: I think Lamps' contacts will come through for him with emergency loans if they get into trouble so Derby will finish beaten play-off semi finalists. Sheffield United will go down, with Wednesday finishing just one point above the relegation zone, the two of them will be scrapping it out to stay up all year.
Ffion: Forest have spent money but not wasted it, so will be a force to contend with, while their rivals Derby might not even challenge enough in the table to have their traditional mid-season collapse. Ipswich could go either way - their fans seem reinvigorated, but not much has changed in their squad, so it depends on how good a manager Paul Hurst actually is.
Which young gun will make the biggest impression?
Jon: Maximillian Aarons (why wouldn't you use his full name when it's so awesome?) is clearly highly thought of and could be the Jamal Lewis of this season if Passlack doesn't quite take to English football.
Andy: A returning Louis Thompson could be just what we need to provide a solid backbone when Tettey can't play every other day especially, alongside the returning-in-a-different-way Ben Godfrey. I'd also love to see Todd Cantwell get a few games under his belt, he looks a real player. Also a final shout-out for Adam Idah, who continues to tear it up in the U23s and might just get a few games.
Tom: I second Godfrey, he has already shown versatility in pre season, played a bunch of games last year getting kicked at a lower level. As injuries set in, he could become a Reed style sensation, cropping up somewhere unexpected, holding his own then holding down the job long term.
Ffion: Louis Thompson will be desperate to finally grab his chance properly this season, while Todd Cantwell is a classy player who clearly got a lot out of his loan move and might benefit from another if his position is oversubscribed in our own first team.
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