Six key issues to be considered as Norwich City return to the Championship
Following a major top-flight flop, David Freezer takes a look at what comes next for Norwich City after the end of the Premier League season.
1 - Form after break not acceptable
Survival chances were slim as the season resumed but City’s displays after their three-month break were far worse than pre-lockdown.
It was the same situation for all teams and only one came close to Norwich in terms of disappointing form after the restart in June. Palace took only four points but were already safe. Survival rivals Bournemouth and Watford managed seven points and Aston Villa grabbed 10 to earn their safety.
The Canaries managed just one goal. Palace scored five and four other teams were on nine, while Watford’s 20 conceded was the closest anyone came to City’s 23.
Sam Byram being unable to return and Christoph Zimmermann still being out until the penultimate game, combined with the fresh loss of Grant Hanley, of course did not help.
Yet the inability to grind out even one point or one clean sheet was a damning indictment on the way down, during a club record run of 10 consecutive league losses.
2 - Huge test of ideology has begun
There are plenty of negative facts and figures that can be dwelled upon. Farke and his players have been as honest as ever in admitting their shortcomings.
It’s all about learning lessons and bottling the anger of these failings now though, to be used for the attempts to get the project back on track and restore some pride.
It seemed like Farke and Stuart Webber had so much credit in the Canaries bank that they were untouchable in their positions. They are dangerously close to dipping into their yellow and green overdrafts now though.
Both have proven they can do the business in the Championship and have openly discussed their clear disappointments. City fans will be desperately hoping both can recover their poise.
But if they do somehow manage to reset and find more success in the second tier, some of that realism and talk of financial inferiority must be replaced by more optimism and determination to upset the established order.
3 - Balancing act will be so difficult
Clearly the rebuild is well under way already though and the brutal truth is that the last few weeks have just been a case of City trying to get to the finishing line without too much more damage being suffered.
While that wasn’t managed successfully, the arrival of Przemyslaw Placheta, Bali Mumba and Jacob Sorensen has already been added to the earlier signings of Danel Sinani, Sam McCallum and Melvin Sitti.
The Championship squad is starting to take shape and the new boys have some valuable time to get to know their new surroundings, ahead of an unusual pre-season schedule.
As Alex Tettey said during a recent interview, players need to be able to hit the ground running, coming into a squad which will probably be installed as one of the favourites for promotion.
Huddersfield finished 19th after the drop while Fulham and Cardiff at least made the play-offs. The challenge cannot be underestimated.
4 - Pukki can spearhead fight back
It seems City are hopeful that Teemu Pukki will stay and try to rekindle his status as the club’s star striker, after a difficult second half of the season.
To have scored nine goals by December and then to manage only two penalties during the 21 games which followed was a drastic downturn, with his wasted opportunity at Manchester City evidence of a classic breakdown in confidence for a striker.
Premier League statistics show 14 players missed more ‘big chances’ than the Finn’s 11 - and all bar two of them played for teams that finished in the top half of the table.
Yet playing on with a fractured toe and that cruel VAR decision against Spurs take some blame and the fans know how clinical Pukki can be. Many will back him to rediscover his form if better chances start coming his way again.
Fifteen next season would take him into City’s all-time top 20 scorers - and seal his status as a club legend.
5 - Academy success so important
Todd could learn from Villa star Looking to the future is the order of the day, with two academy products handed their debuts during the final minutes of the season.
Centre-back Akin Famewo and full-back Jordan Thomas arrived with the score already at 5-0, and Dan Adshead was also on the bench for the first time.
It was the 91st successive game in which at least one academy product has started for City. Often that has been four of course, thanks to the presence of Jamal Lewis, Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons and Ben Godfrey.
Some of that quartet may well be sold for healthy profits this summer thanks to their potential, which is the conveyor belt the Canaries need to work if they are to have any chance of success as a self-funded club.
It is how those big fees are reinvested that will decide success, but if the likes of Adam Idah and Josh Martin can make similarly rapid progress, then the academy will certainly be proving its worth to the long-term plan.
6 - Todd could learn from Villa star
It looks unlikely that City will allow all of their young talents to move on if those much-talked-about bids do materialise however.
Jack Grealish may well have provided a timely example, after scoring the crucial goal which sealed survival for Aston Villa on the final day of the season.
The midfielder was already being linked with the big boys when Villa went down in 2016 but after staying with his boyhood club for three seasons and becoming an integral player and captain, he now looks likely to move before his 25th birthday.
Cantwell, at 22 and a local lad for Norwich, may well be studying that story closely. After six goals in the top flight, the talented midfielder has boosted his profile hugely and become an U21 international for England.
Could he stay, play a key role in the Canaries’ recovery and become a local hero? His stock is high at the moment but he needs to keep playing regularly if he is to fulfil his top-level potential.