Paddy Davitt: Optimism never in short supply at this stage for Norwich City
Freshly cut grass, new kits, new players - but the same feelings of optimism tinged with trepidation.
Norwich City fans will hope for better than what was served up last season. Yet they are only too aware trying to predict the outcome in the Championship is a hazardous pursuit.
Who would have had Sunderland to go straight down to League One this time 12 months ago? Or Preston, under former Canaries’ chief Alex Neil, mount a sustained play-off push right until the final two league games? Or for Ipswich Town to finish above their great rivals for that matter?
Plot twists of a fanciful nature, but there will be more of the same to come over the next nine months.
City’s squad makeover may not have rivalled the scale of Farke’s first close-season trading, after swapping Borussia Dortmund’s second team for the English second tier. Nevertheless, there has been enough churn not to make any bold predictions.
The squad, however, looks to have more depth and more variety. Those who followed Farke from Germany on the playing side have now been around the block a time or two.
Youngsters with promise are a year wiser and less wide-eyed after astute loan placements in most cases. Plus this summer’s transfer activity has tilted more towards the domestic market, with the likes of Ben Marshall, Jordan Rhodes and Tim Krul adding nous and experience of the terrain.
Moritz Leitner re-joined on a permanent deal, but whether he can bridge the gulf in terms of assists and goals left by James Maddison is one of the key issues that could dictate the scale of Norwich’s upward mobility.
The burden will not only rest on Leitner’s shoulders, given Kenny McLean has already shown a penchant for the headlines with a stunning early pre-season free-kick goal at Lincoln City. But in Farke’s world, his compatriot is the creative pivot; the player with the vision to unlock defences and maximise the goalscoring threat of a Rhodes or a Teemu Pukki – along with the raw but exciting potential of Onel Hernandez and Emi Buendia.
History tells you not every new signing this summer will come off; Farke and Stuart Webber just need to have got the majority right. Norwich’s chronic lack of punch in the final third and a worrying predictability when faced with massed defences appears to have been addressed.
Concerns still persist perhaps that the more earthier approach of some Championship rivals will test their willingness to scrap and fight and earn points in ugly circumstances.
There was enough evidence last season they do possess such traits and in solid oaks like Grant Hanley or Ben Godfrey, or in the tigerish promptings of Alex Tettey and fit-again Louis Thompson they can mix it when required.
The opening month will demand both faces are on display. Garry Monk has a reputation for cultured football but St Andrews is never an easy assignment. West Brom provide the first visitors to the newly-relaid Carrow Road playing surface. Darren Moore’s charges are rightly among the promotion favourites after opting for a degree of continuity following relegation from the Premier League. How quickly they can clear their heads is the imponderable.
Then it’s Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United and a reprise of the Battle of Bramall Lane, before the street fighter Neil brings Preston back to Norfolk. None of those looks routine at this stage, but that is the challenge to be embraced. A fast start is essential for momentum and to inject renewed belief into a support who had to watch City tail off in the closing weeks of Farke’s debut tour. Much was made of a transition campaign. That will not wash this time around.