A week that has provided fresh impetus for Norwich City fans

When we finally get to look back on this season of change I suspect that this last week may prove to be a significant staging post on the journey towards a new-look Norwich City.
Despite expectations that the January transfer window would be quiet at Carrow Road, it seems that the dismantlement of the old squad and its crippling wage bill has accelerated, even if some of the outgoings are only on loan, and the ground has been cleared for a younger, hungrier group of players.
While the squad was at its most threadbare last Saturday, the arrivals of Onel Hernandez, Moritz Leitner and Dennis Srbeny this week have both provided reinforcements and generated new fan interest as we await to see how they adapt to Championship football
Realistically, I also think that last Saturday was the final conclusive proof that, while Daniel Farke’s team are developing, they are realistic play-off contenders this season, and that the priority now should be to use this window and the one in the summer to build a squad that can mount a genuine challenge next season.
The fact is that when everyone is fit City can beat anyone, but the squad has lacked the strength in depth necessary to cope with the inevitable injuries that the Championship helter skelter brings.
That is particularly true in midfield where City’s performance seems to hinge on which defensive midfielders are available. Tom Trybull and Alex Tettey have been the most effective pairing, but on Saturday the partnership of Tettey and Harrison Reed was a major factor in City’s under-performance.
Neither is an incisive passer, and both prefer to sit just in front of the back four, and as a result there was too large a gap between them and City’s attacking players, space that Sheffield United made full use of to take control of the opening half hour.
While I admire Reed’s work rate, for me he flatters to deceive on the ball by completing lots of short passes that take the team nowhere and encourage opponents to press higher up the pitch.
Compared to the games at Bristol and Chelsea, City lacked the ability of Mario Vrancic to keep the ball moving and put some impetus into their attacks and as a result were once again much too slow in getting the ball forward.
It didn’t help that James Maddison had his least effective game for some time, and it was perhaps a salutary reminder after he has been hyped to the heavens that he is only just 21 and playing his first Championship season. He looks jaded, and why wouldn’t he?
City’s other young star, Jamal Lewis, will also have learnt a valuable lesson from the needless concession of the corner that led to United’s opener. However good you may be on the ball there are some situations where Row Z is the best option rather than trying to play in the wrong areas. That said, Alex Tettey’s gaffe for the decisive second goal showed that experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee good decision making.
In fairness to Sheffield United, they had a good game plan and executed it perfectly. Maddison was buffeted by whichever United player was on hand, and they were abetted by a weak referee who took way too long to cotton on to what was happening, but they started on the front foot knowing that getting the first goal would be vital against a tired side.
They may lack flair, but they’re organised and committed and fully deserved their win.
It was a bad end to their latest unbeaten run, but City must pick themselves up and dust themselves down because today’s game against an in-form Brentford team will be just as tough. However, if they can reproduce the grit shown at Ashton Gate and Stamford Bridge there is no reason why they can’t produce a result.

Reality bites in the corridors of power at Carrow Road

After the emotional highs of the derby win and the performance at the Emirates it’s been a week of reality checks for City fans.
A fall in income of 25pc, largely due to loss of broadcasting revenue, and significant sums going in redundancy packages, have left a black hole in the club’s finances that has only been partially filled by the summer sales, resulting in a loss of £2.7m.
While the payments to Alex Neil and Jez Moxey will stick in the throat of many fans given the limited playing budget this season, most of us wanted change, but it’s the board that have to deal with the financial realities of those decisions. Imagine the outcry if either had done well then gone elsewhere with no compensation to the club? Contracts work both ways.
With parachute payments ceasing at the end of this season it means that further cost cutting may well be required in the summer if promotion isn’t achieved, but that’s an inevitable consequence of such a far-reaching restructure of the club and its academy. However, what’s really interesting is that the club had its record wage bill last season, emphasising the extent of the failures on the pitch but torpedoing the popular theory of lack of boardroom ambition.
In some respects, the fact that City have been able to bring in players of the quality of Christoph Zimmermann, Marco Stiepermann and Tom Trybull cheaply, as well as shrewd loan acquisitions, is reassuring, but there is no doubt that Stuart Webber’s continuing ability to find talent for relatively little outlay is going to be a defining factor in terms of the club’s future development.
However, an equally important factor is fitness, with the last two games showing the toll that the club’s injury list and the glut of matches have taken on its relatively small squad. I’ve seen more mental errors from City players in this week’s games than in all of the previous eight combined and that is largely down to fatigue.
For example, Trybull had been virtually faultless throughout the unbeaten run, but was a shadow of that player on Tuesday, and the same is true of several others.
While City gave a good account of themselves against Derby and were unlucky to have lost the game, the fact is that they were totally outclassed by Wolves and were fortunate that the margin of defeat wasn’t greater.
Their performance was flat and almost totally dependent upon James Maddison for any form of inspiration and, whilst the quality of the opposition must be factored in, it did nothing to dispel the growing suspicion that City’s ponderous build-up play is too easily negated by visiting teams.
However, whilst it’s disappointing that an excellent run has ended in such a fashion it’s important not to overreact or rush to judgment. This week’s injury update suggests that we may not be too far away from seeing a City side with both Nelson Oliveira and Alex Pritchard fully fit, and it is only then that we will be able to really assess what this squad is capable of.
A realistic assessment would be that City are currently an upper mid-table team with play-off potential, and while we’d all like more, it’s a big improvement on the situation two months ago. Developing teams always have blips and, given the mitigating circumstances, I hope that this week proves to be one before the squad kicks on again.
A win today and players returning to fitness would mean that we’ll all be feeling happier by the time the action returns, so come on, City!