Connor Southwell: Lewis’ time to shine has arrived after frustrating spell
PUBLISHED: 09:33 21 February 2020
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It hasn’t been the season that Jamal Lewis imagined following his starring role in Norwich City’s Championship triumph.
Many anticipated that City's full-back areas would remain unchanged after the exploits of Lewis and Max Aarons in that record equalling season.
The Northern Irish international, for the first time in his senior career, has had to display patience after the emergence of Sam Byram in City's starting XI.
In the basking September sun at Turf Moor, Lewis faced adversity for the first time since he burst into Daniel Farke's first-team squad. His misplaced passes were the subject of ridicule from home supporters and Lewis seemed suitably flustered as the intensity of the criticism increased.
He grew into the fixture and responded to his critics via his level of performance, after all, he wasn't the only Canaries operator to struggle with the rigours of the Premier League.
That Burnley fixture took place after one of the most historic victories in City's entire history, where an injury-ravaged squad conquered Pep Guardiola's gladiators and took a hammer to every footballing convention ever written.
Yet, whether the episode at Turf Moor left Lewis bereft of confidence or not, the left-back found himself on the periphery due to the impressive form of Byram.
The ex-West Ham United full-back has impressed since joining last summer. His consistent performances and ability in the tackle has played a significant role in ensuring he retains his position at left-back.
Byram lacks the physicality and athleticism that makes Lewis a threat in the attacking phases but, unlike the majority of City's squad, he possesses genuine Premier League experience.
What he does possess is the defensive nous and pragmatism to contribute with effectiveness should CIty opt to deploy a more defensive gameplan.
Lewis is one of four academy graduates currently occupying the first-team squad. Injuries have played a part in his struggle for consistency this season but the 22-year-old could yet have a major part to play in City's survival mission.
As Byram limped off against champions-elect Liverpool last Saturday, the left-back was provided with a brief moment to collect his thoughts.
Being propelled into a game as a substitute isn't an easy proposition routinely, but that's increasingly difficult when the opponent you're left to contend with is Mohamed Salah.
Despite City eventually being defeated, Lewis contained Salah expertly by reducing the space available for him to drive into.
By the same token, for 60 minutes plus, he played a pivotal role in City's defensive shape that limited Liverpool to a mere six efforts on target.
Yet, in spite of his minimal involvement for City's first-team, still speculation persisted of interest from Crystal Palace.
His game has been forced to develop in the top tier, as has been seen with City's other full-back prodigy, Aarons. The emphasis on defensive productivity rather than how they contribute in the offensive phase has been stark.
Where City's full-backs could previously step into midfield and aid the creation of overloads in central areas in order for City to assert their possession-based style, now they have to deal with threat posed by consistently high-quality wide players.
City's full-backs positional freedom has evaporated and what City require from their full-backs has adjusted out of possession.
That bullish, forward-thinking style that lifted City's side last season has been replaced for solidity defensively. The ruthlessness of the Premier League, and those operators within in, has altered Farke's deployment of his defensive blueprint.
Aarons has had to embark on a journey in development in the Premier League himself, with the need to harness his attacking tendencies pertinent.
Marcus Rashford's movement in Manchester United's 3-1 victory exposed his high positioning. Since December, the England under-21 international has improved his overall game.
Lewis now needs to go on his own journey of self-development. Emerging from the shadows, he will be thrusted into the limelight and tasked with injecting the same pragmatic defensive ability as Byram.
City's newfound defensive solidity has been aided by their strength in wide areas when they're out of possession.
His contribution to a side in desperate need in an upturn will be critical. The Canaries are in a precarious position, the need for risk has never been higher.