The Along Come Norwich Season Preview 2020/21

04/09/20

It’s finally time for the Along Come Norwich season preview! Where we attempt to expunge the last six months from our brains and return to the, ahem, optimism that only a pre-season can provide. Here’s Nick Hayhoe, Maddie Mackenzie, Ffion Thomas, Adam Brandon, Jon Punt and Terri Westgate with the words:

What would you like to see Farke do differently this season?

Nick: Look, let’s face it with no romanticism and no messing about, we were absolutely dreadful after lockdown and at times it was up there with the worst I have ever seen Norwich play. Not only were we getting rolled over literally every match, we looked so out of our depth I often wondered at times if we will actually be able to recover from it for several seasons. A perfect storm of Lots of Bad Things all came together at once. There was the bad luck of course (lockdown removing home advantage, injuries etc etc) – but also player confidence being shot to pieces, a manager scrambling to recover from bizarre tactical errors, some bad signings and very poor individual performances. Fortunately Farke has already done what he needed to do differently, simply freshening the place up with some new faces and a ludicrous squad depth. The learning experience tactically will have been a tremendous one for him, and he’s the sort of man who will learn properly from the whole grim saga – rather than place blame on others and look to bail like some other managers may have considered. In fact, if you think about it, staying around to rectify it all speaks volumes about the man and his backroom team.

Maddie: Fashion-wise I’d like to see him change it up. The parka’s his trademark, yes, but it’s also a symbol of the old era. According to the messages coming from the club we’re meant to be putting the last few years behind us and his choice of coat needs to reflect this – I think he’d suit a nice duffle coat, obviously with an ACN badge on the collar. I know he’s superstitious when it comes to his coat but I think after last season he needs to admit that it’s lost its luck. If we’re talking football I’ll go for the obvious answer, which is to be a bit more active with his substitutions. Despite his first three seasons all being completely different to one another, his attitude to substitutions has been fairly consistent, so I’m interested to see if a year’s experience in the Premier League and a greater level of squad depth will have changed that at all.

Ffion: Obviously I would like us to have a good season and win all our games and the title, but as most of us probably aren’t going to be in the stadium to see a lot of it, I’d be grateful if he could make it as much of a dull procession as possible and nothing like our last Championship campaign. Let’s save the Millwall-esque 97th-minute winners until we’ve got a full Carrow Road and away fans again.

Adam: A greater variation of attacking plans, which the signings and pre-season showings suggest is on the way. If we keep our stars, we´ll have an incredible amount of attacking options now and we’ll be able to vary our style and line-up for different types of opposition. I’m looking forward to us pressing the opposition a lot better too – something we’ve done well in pre-season. I also think we should employ a specialist set-piece coach, but that doesn’t look like it is happening anytime soon.

Jon: The consistent criticism levelled at Farke throughout his tenure has been his ability to effectively coach a team to defend set pieces. In a game of fine margins, and with a management set-up that seems to be meticulously into the detail, it amazes me we haven’t made strides in this area. I won’t get into the whole zonal versus man-marking nonsense, as it’s a red herring as far as I’m concerned. Both systems have their merits and can be successful, in fact zonal statistically is probably my preference. However, you have to deploy the system properly, and to my untrained eye it seems like it’s more about timing and desire, something which coaching and repetition should be able to address.

Terri: I am not one of those people who, despite never being employed in any capacity within professional sport, think I know how to manage a football team better than someone experienced and qualified to do so. Farke will have had a good reason for every decision he has made, and I put my faith in him again. I hope he continues to trust the youth, and sticks to his footballing principles.

Which new signing is going to have the biggest impact?

Nick: With a squad list getting to the size it has, I think we are all going to have to create a spreadsheet just to keep track of who is who. Hugill will offer a certain Grant Holt style “street smarts” (aka “shithousery” if you’re not a Match of the Day commentator) that evaporated last season and I, for one, welcome this into a squad that was (oh no he’s going to say this word – Ed) naive a lot of times last term.

Maddie: This has been a strange transfer window for a number of reasons, one of which is that all our signings look really, really good. In the style of “on loan to the Endsleigh League” I honestly think we’ve got one of, if not the strongest squad in the Championship. That being said I’m going for Hugill, who on paper seems the least attractive of our signings. He’s a very physical 28-year-old centre-forward, his career got off to a pretty slow start, and he’s had a lot of clubs with a number of loan spells. These might sound like red flags, but another player who once fitted into those categories is now in our Hall of Fame. I think he’s going to bring a level of physicality to our attack that we haven’t had in many years and could end up becoming a cult hero very quickly. Although I’m not sure I’d like to see him as a pro wrestler.

Ffion: Placheta looks rapid enough to get fans up off their seats, at which point they’ll probably be breaching the Code of Socially Distanced Football Conduct and will need to immediately sit down again.

Adam: Oliver Skipp. The Spurs loanee looks an upgrade to what we’ve seen in defensive midfield in the last year – an area of the side that desperately needed improving. I knew all about his passing ability, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see just how tenacious he is as well. There isn’t one signing we’ve made for the first team that I would completely write off having a massive season for us, nearly all of them have impressed me in pre-season, but then again so did Simon Whaley in 2009.

Jon: With the supporters? Probably Jordan Hugill, fans love a no-nonsense striker who’ll headlessly chase down lost causes. Pashun buh. On the pitch, Placheta seems quite likely to give Norwich another dimension. Onel’s pace is great, and he’ll often take City up the pitch quickly, but his unpredictable end product can be an issue. Judging by pre-season, Placheta might just be a bit more considered in that regard.

Terri: What I love about new signings is the hope. You believe that all of them will succeed, and enhance the team, and become vital to the squad. Of course the law of averages mean that some won’t, and we were all burnt by the disappointment of the Big Bad Wolf. I had no idea that Pukki would turn into a 30-goal-a-season striker, or that an unknown defender from the lower leagues of German football would end up being my favourite player for decades. So I have no idea who, but one of the batch of new arrivals will be a hero come next summer. Not knowing who is what makes it so exciting.

Who’s going to win the Barry Butler?

Nick: I keep waking up in the morning and looking at my phone to expect that we’ve finally sold Emi/Lewis/Aarons/Godfrey or whoever and yet, as a result of some sort of Webber magic, they’re all still here. So if no one leaves, then the answer to this question may be quite different to if they all do. Emi will win POTS if he stays, Pukki will win it if he doesn’t. With the 40 league goals he’s going to score, then you can’t really give it to anyone else can you?

Maddie: There’s a pretty big gap between what I think and what I hope. I think, as long as we have the season I hope we have, it’ll be whoever scores the most goals, but I hope it’s Josh Martin. I would love for him to be our next big thing, to have a ridiculous breakthrough season – to be this season’s Max Aarons. It’d also be great for him to get a youth call-up so we can continue our gradual infiltration of the England national teams.

Ffion: If he stays off the carpeted stairs and has a decent, injury-free season, Onel has the charisma to win plenty of votes.

Adam: Emi Buendia if he stays. If not then I can see Skipp or Hugill in the running.

Jon: Grant Hanley. After a triumphant return to fitness in October he remains in the starting XI for the remainder of the season, forming a partnership with the incoming Ben Gibson which solidifies City for the first time in years. He also secures Norwich’s promotion back to the top flight in what can only be described as Admiral Michael Nelson-esque fashion.

Terri: No idea. But I will probably be voting for Christoph Zimmermann again.

What won’t you miss about the Premier League?

Nick: Everything. Quite literally everything about it. What an absolute shithouse the Premier League has become. When we were last there, English teams were performing poorly in Europe and the usual smug self-satisfaction of the league had been taken down a peg or two. Now though, it is back with a vengeance. The reward for one of the great and unforgettable Norwich seasons was everything that blights the modern English game, from VAR to a financial imbalance that is now actively being celebrated. Lockdown football was, without question, my least enjoyable time watching football in 28 years. Even if you’re getting relegated fun in the stands, epic away trips and, yes, watching some astonishingly talented players in person usually make up for all of the Premier League’s nonsense and then some, but going behind closed doors caused us all to be badly openly exposed to the Premier League’s toxic radiation and, on a number of occasions, has made me consider the darkest question a football fan can ask themselves: “What’s the point?”.

Maddie: Blimey, where do I start? There are so many things I hate about the Premier League, but I’m really looking forward to not having to pretend to care about it. I couldn’t care less about who finishes in the European spots, or who manages to avoid relegation despite losing 9-0 – it’s a dull, soulless league. You can generally roughly predict which team will finish where, and the title winner is rarely a surprise. It’s the antithesis to the Championship, where using a random generator to perform your start of the season table predictor is the best chance of getting anywhere near the final product. Give me the drama of the Championship over the latest “which stupidly rich club is going to win the title and claim it had nothing to do with being stupidly rich” saga any day.

Ffion: People talking about their Fantasy Premier League teams. And VAR obviously.

Adam: VAR. Also England internationals at big clubs getting preferential treatment from referees.

Jon: The quest for some kind of football news, no matter how salacious or inconsequential, neverendingly regurgitated by the latest rent-a-gob shithouses that TalkSport can find. It’s so fucking tiresome, and most of it is just plain bullshit. The media forget about you in the Championship, apart from that nice Colin Murray chappie. Just the way I like it.

Terri: Not sure I’ll miss anything, to be perfectly honest. I miss the Premier League of the 1992-93 season, I have little interest in the current vintage. The best away experience was in the Cup, at Spurs. I won’t miss VAR, I won’t miss the big team bias, I won’t miss the ridiculous money acquired by dubious means by unlikely owners. There were great results, like beating Man City, but we had so many great moments the year before in the Championship that I know you don’t need to be in the top flight to experience those highs.

You’re the President of FIFA for a day and you can only do one thing. What do you do? 

Nick: I would immediately ban anyone who is in any way connected to ruling or governing a country from owning a football club. The Thoroughly Depressing Saga of last season was the Saudi Arabia (184 state executions in 2019 according to Amnesty) takeover of Newcastle discussion that saw an obviously seriously harmful potential move for English football – wherein a 130-year-old football club was going to be the puppet in a dystopian sporting proxy conflict the Saudis are having with Qatar and other gulf states over the sort of nonsense that only rich bastards who like to shoot people by firing squad care about – boiled down to a petty culture war between Newcastle fans, who have seen their football club completely ruined by an apparent disaster capitalist over the last decade and are desperately looking for some sort of way out of it, and journalists who seemed to think it was all the fault of Newcastle fans for the fact it looked like it was happening – despite the fact the people actually in charge were all waving it through. Quite how football has got to this point will befuddle many (clue: money), but we urgently need to rectify this lest it completely falls off the precipice.

Maddie: The charitable thing would be to ensure leagues have better rules surrounding ownership to guarantee that no club could ever be run into the ground by a ludicrously unsuitable owner, but I’m hoping someone else will say that. I’d put a blanket ban on any footballer using the “SOON ON TOP” emojis, purely because I cannot stand Dean Henderson.

Ffion: Move the 2022 World Cup away from Qatar. As it’s already scheduled for November and December, if they want similar weather I suggest inviting the Eden Project in Cornwall to host – it has a nice temperature range of 18-35C inside the biomes and is apparently the size of 30 football pitches, so that should be more than enough for all the matches and training sessions.

Adam: Scrap VAR.

Jon: I mean, everyone is gonna say ditch VAR, right? So we COULD do that, or we could look at multi-ball sudden death extra time. Essentially, in cup tie stalemates, introduce another ball onto the pitch every five minutes until someone scores, sending them through.

Terri: I’d disband FIFA, and start a new, democratic and altruistic organisation in its place, run by a diverse collective who care more about the grassroots of the game than money. It’s a lot to get done in a day, I admit.

What’s your wild “Watford will get a Champions League spot” prediction for football this season? 

Nick: Continuing the grim “modern football is a depressing ultra-capitalist shitbox” theme, I think several teams in England will go bust this season and it will lead to a ham-fisted re-organisation – with Premier League under-23 teams playing in either a new geographical Tier 4 separate from the Football League (called the Betty McBetFace Super League or something) or a new “League 3” within the existing EFL structure. For no reason whatsoever, the idea of there being “too many professional clubs” has suddenly gained credence among broadsheet football journos, and will no doubt subsequently be picked up by the powers that be in that they believe anything written in an intelligent way must be correct. We must fight any excuse that Covid has given them, and if you think it won’t happen – just think about what has changed already…

Maddie: Luton will go from ninth to sixth on the final day and go on to get promoted, at the expense of Nottingham Forest who, having sacked their manager two months in and replaced him with Chris Hughton, will finish ninth after another final day defeat.

Ffion: A Wes Hoolahan-inspired Cambridge United will win the League Two title.

Adam: We’ll win the FA Cup in front of 90,000 at Wembley to complete a unique double and help usher in a post-Covid-19 world full of sunshine and rainbows.

Jon: Stoke to win the league. You heard it (incorrectly) here first.

Terri: Wimbledon mark their return to Plough Lane by getting into the play-offs in League One. They then beat Ipswich in the final at Wembley and get promoted to the Championship.

What’s your favourite Norfolk attraction for a free Sunday?

Nick: Banham Zoo.

Maddie: UEA.

Ffion: Carlsburger.

Adam: Coast.

Jon: Houghton Hall.

Terri: Just get outdoors – the amazing coast, Thetford Forest, the Broads, the mid-Norfolk countryside. Go get lost, away from the crowds, surround yourself in nature. It’s a beautiful county, all year round. From snowdrops and bluebell walks to warm, golden beaches and beautiful autumnal woods. I love it.

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