Lee Payne: City’s start has raised more questions than answers
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‘Several hungry new players, eager to impress – bring it on’.
Those were the final words of my column in the pre-season supplement. Norwich City’s dealings in the transfer market had acted as the aspirin to the hangover caused by Premier League relegation and filled me with that dreaded footballing delusion – optimism.
Three league games have been played, and Norwich have the full set – a win, a draw and a defeat. It feels like it’s already time to give the optimism I had before a ball had been kicked a bit of a reality check.
Eleven new players were brought to the club, but they haven’t formed the new Norwich City that I had been expecting. I thought Ben Gibson would be the centre back they desperately needed to tighten up the defence, yet he has been watching from the sidelines while Christoph Zimmermann and Ben Godfrey have resumed their partnership of last season. If you’re wondering how well that’s going, you just need to look at the second goal Preston scored at Carrow Road last weekend. You can’t afford to let a player have that much space in the box at any level of football.
Kieran Dowell is the latest victim of the injury curse that seems to hang over this club, ankle surgery ruling him out until the new year. There were rumours over the weekend that Todd Cantwell could be on his way out, but it would seem foolish in the extreme to let that happen now an attacking midfielder will be unavailable for several months. Unless, of course, City fancy dipping into the transfer market once more before the deadline.
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Xavi Quintilla, Oliver Skipp and Przemyslaw Placheta are three of the new signings who seem to have slotted into the first team and there have been promising signs. Quintilla can cross a ball, no doubt about that, and can take a corner as well as anyone I’ve ever seen in a Norwich shirt. However, he hasn’t yet shown himself to be a reliable defender and that’s the bread and butter of a left back. It is, of course, early days though.
Skipp has Premier League quality, a terrific passing ability, but you can see why he’s been sent on loan to a Championship club. The clumsy way he needlessly gave away the penalty against Preston was a sign that he’s not the finished product. Placheta missed an open goal in that same game, a moment that would have destroyed the confidence of a lot of players, but he showed his character by scoring the equaliser. There definitely looks to be more to come from the Pole.
There seemed to be a fair amount of excitement about the signing of Sam McCallum from Coventry, but he is now back there on loan – and he joins Melvin Sitti and Danel Sinani in making temporary moves away from Norwich without yet playing a game for them. Ones for the future? Or more players in the mould of Sean Raggett, destined never to make it with the Canaries? Only time will tell.
Looking at the squad, I feel the starting XI has got to be more fluid this season. The old cliché that you never change a winning team has to go, and the right players selected for the game ahead. For example, there surely will be matches that will be suited to the new recruit Jordan Hugill up front rather than Teemu Pukki. Pukki has obviously been a highly successful Championship striker for City, but Daniel Farke must not be afraid to put him on the bench if he thinks Hugill is right for the occasion.
Norwich City’s start has not been disastrous by any means but any suggestion that they would cruise through the Championship and back into the Premier League do appear to be wide of the mark. There is a lot of hard work to be done.