Norwich City Season Preview: the Webberlution

Norwich last season were the Championship’s joint-top scorers and yet finished eighth. Were fans pleased with the entertaining games, or disappointed to have missed out on the top six?  And is there more to come from them this season under Daniel Farke? The Football Lab spoke to Canaries fan Ryan Wilson from Accumulator Tips to find out.

Heavily disappointed to miss out on top six. Minimum expectation was a top six finish, so even if we scored 500 goals and missed out, we’d have been frustrated. High scoring wins at the end of the season gave us hope for the upcoming season, at least.

Borussia Dortmund II’s Daniel Farke has been appointed head coach by new Sporting Director Stuart Webber. Are those two the types of characters that could re-energize the club?

In a word, yes. Stuart Webber has really put his authority down since arriving. He’s clearly not afraid to make the big decisions and his early leadership decisions have resulted in us looking and feeling like a whole new club, which is a positive. And it’s certainly not been a walk in the park for him in the initial stages. As for Farke, he’s still very unknown to us. The stories from Germany are promising while his persona is quite gentle. The football he wants to play is becoming clearer – a deep, powerful defensive line and a high pressing, energetic midfield look key. I’d still like to reserve judgement until we get the season underway.

Angus Gunn joins Norwich, his boyhood club for whom his dad played 390 games. Given these emotional factors, this must be quite a daunting job for a goalkeeper who has not yet played professionally…

I’d argue that moving back to the club he spent much of his youth career with should be quite settling, along with returning nearer to home. We’ve shown great confidence in Gunn by letting John Ruddy and Declan Rudd go and Webber is confident that Angus is a good enough player and a strong enough personality to show us why. I’ve seen Gunn several times for Man City’s EDS and he looks a great shot stopper, a strong communicator and a big influence at the back.

Farke worked with centre-back Christoph Zimmerman at Dortmund II. Was it important to get at least one experienced pro like Russell Martin signed up, to provide some continuity?

Martin gets a lot of flak from our fans, but I’ve always been a fan. He isn’t always head and shoulders above the rest, but he’s been the most consistent of our central defenders for quite some time and is clearly a huge character in the dressing room. He’s also capable of slotting in at right back. Honestly, I don’t understand how he merited such criticism considering some of the dross he’s had partnering him. With Klose, Zimmerman and now Marcel Franke in, we’ll get an idea of what Farke thinks of Martin.

You’ve not been able to get Mitchell Dijks on a permanent deal from Ajax. Fair to say Harry Toffolo and new signing James Husband aren’t the ideal left-back options at this level?

They’re not at Dijks level, but it was always going to be tough to sign Dijks permanently. I wrote about how he was good enough to play in the Premier League a few months back and still maintain it now. Toffolo is a good player and I’d be delighted if he got the chance, though he’s probably going to be second fiddle. He played at centre back in our Youth Cup success in 2013 and looked a cut above back then; he looked so intelligent and tactically astute compared to his defensive counterparts. As for Husband, he’s spent a whole lot of time out injured which is worrying, but the outlay can’t be much and Webber is clearly a big fan – he also played a big part in loaning him in at Huddersfield, too. Fulham fans claim Husband looked fantastic on loan there, but Toffolo could be superb with game time – it’s not a bad situation to have.

Ivo Pinto was one of the best attacking right-backs in the Championship last season. Do you like the partnership he has struck up with Jacob Murphy?

Pinto really kicked on last season after a concerning start in the Premier League. He’s still all over the place at the back – his positional sense is really quite poor. Nonetheless, he’s always a terror going forward and his passion is captivating. His partnership with Jacob Murphy was superb, though strong rumours of a Newcastle move are planting seeds of doubt in that continuing. Jacob had a fantastic season and showed his character, but I’d also argue that Pinto’s enthusiasm would rub off on any winger in front of him – notably Josh Murphy. He’s a very good attack-minded full back-cum-wing back.

Mario Vrancic played the fifth-most key passes in the Bundesliga last season as well as reasonable defensive contributions. A good replacement for Jonny Howson?

Vrancic’s statistics from Darmstadt are fantastic and I, for one, am very excited to see what he can do for us. On paper, he looks an ideal replacement for Howson, who I’ve always been a big fan of. He’s already earned plaudits in the opening pre-season games, which is great to see. I will miss Howson though – he was a great leader, we were better with him in the side and he gave us everything for five and a half years. Up the Vrancic!

Loanee Harrison Reed looks closer to the mould of Graham Dorrans, who has gone to Rangers. Are you encouraged by his reports at Southampton?

His reports are intriguing, that’s for sure. I’ve read that he’s a real grafter, full of life, with a strong passing range and copious levels of courage and self-belief. He sounds like the mould of player Farke wants in his side and I like signing players that fit your system rather than just signing the best name available. Dorrans was angling for a move to Rangers, while Webber and Farke both seemed happy to let him go. We moved to plug the gap quickly and that’s a real positive sign.

Alex Pritchard finished last season in sizzling form. Are his performances something you’d give Alan Irvine credit for?

Yes, probably. It’s more of a case that Alex Neil spent £8m on a player he didn’t really know what to do with. Playing behind the striker, Wes Hoolahan was our player of the season, so it would be wrong to criticise Neil profusely. It was just baffling how often he would play Pritchard, we’d see what he was capable of and then he’d mysteriously be dropped for the next few games. Irvine gave Pritchard a solid run of games to impress and he did it – as we knew he would really! He’s a fantastic player – if we don’t go up this year, I’d be amazed if a Premier League club didn’t come calling.

Reports suggest Farke will play 4-1-4-1 to give these young, attack-minded midfielders freedom. Who is best suited to playing as a lone striker – Nelson Oliveira or Cameron Jerome?

I don’t see it as a case of one or the other really – they each suit particularly games. Jerome is a real battler, chases everything down and gives 100%, while Oliveira is all about eye for goal, along with a ridiculously impressive technique. Oliveira is naturally gifted, can play with both feet and has unbelievable ball control – he’s another we will be lucky to hold onto should be miss out on promotion. Jerome has his weaknesses for sure, but he’s a handful for most defenders and has bagged 18 and 16 in his last two Championship campaigns. We’re quite lucky to have both on board.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think there’s five or six teams that are above the rest – us, Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby, with Aston Villa and Middlesbrough coming in behind as wildcards. Derby will be up there under Gary Rowett for sure and Fulham looked fantastic under Slavisa Jokanovic. Every man and his dog knows that with a sturdier defence, we’d have been in the mix last season – so why not fancy our chances this year?

Where will you finish?

Would like to say first, though I’d be delighted to simply get promoted. Realistically, top six has to be a minimum. I said the same last season, but it’s even more important this time around to avoid deteriorating as a club.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Energizing leaders are now in place at Norwich, who boast some of the Championship’s best attacking quality with Pritchard likely to shine. If Gunn settles quickly and the defence improves, this new era at Carrow Road could get off to a promising start. 3rd

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