Steve Sanders: A five-point plan for Norwich City’s survival in the top flight
PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 August 2019
Norwich City kick off their Premier League season on Friday night with survival the first thing on their minds. Steve Sanders, the man behind @NCFCNumbers, takes a look at the figures from Premier League seasons past, to see if there’s anything we can learn.
Don't break up the band
It was getting to a point in July where you'd be disappointed to go 24 hours without a new contract announcement from Carrow Road.
Fourteen of last season's first team have signed on the dotted line since the last time Norwich City played a competitive game, with 78pc of all the league starts from 2018/19 from players who are now tied down to long-term deals. Excluding loans, that means that no player with more than four league appearances last season has departed.
That bodes well when looking at the Canaries' three other promotions to the Premier League. In two of those they've come straight back down after dispensing with key players: Malky Mackay in 2004/05 and Bradley Johnson in 2015/16. Both played key roles in the preceding season, making 45 starts.
In the remaining successful season (2011/12), Korey Smith was the only player to make more than five appearances in the Championship and then not feature the following season, and that was due to injury rather than being moved on.
The moral of this tale? Keeping the gang together could well be a smart move.
Money doesn't always make you happy
While squad security has settled the fanbase down, the lack of investment on new personnel has made a few twitchy. It's only natural to glance over at what your promotion rivals are doing, and while Norwich City make up one third of the promotion party, they account for only 2.1pc of transfer expenditure between the three.
If you need someone to reassure you that it's all going to be okay, then I'll do my best. Only once in the last six seasons has the promoted team with the lowest net spend in the summer window ended up finishing below both their promoted counterparts. Typically, Norwich City are that outlier, trying to tempt Everton with magic beans for Steven Naismith in 2015/16 while Bournemouth and Watford were smashing their transfer records.
Speaking of transfer records, remarkably the last four occasions Norwich City have broken theirs (Jon Newsome, Dean Ashton, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and Timm Klose) have come in their last four relegation seasons from the top flight.
Stuart Webber doesn't seem the type to give credence to curses, but he'll be well aware that Norwich City's history has often been a case of mo money, mo problems.
No need to fear a slow start
How about those first few games then?
The fixtures computer (surely they do it on a tablet now?) has thrown up Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City in the first five matches, with the not-inconsiderable task of turning over West Ham at the London Stadium thrown in for good measure. Fail to win that first home game against Newcastle and we're looking at the kind of disaster movie intro you need Tom Cruise to fix, right?
Well just hold on there, because Norwich City don't tend to do good starts - anyone paying attention to our two seasons under Daniel Farke will know this - and when they do it tends to herald the falsest of false dawns.
In the last four Premier League seasons, they won their first match in game two in 2015/16 (relegated) and game three in 2013/14 (relegated). The two of those where they stayed up, it took them until the fifth game in 2011/12 and not until game eight, that famous 1-0 win over Arsenal, in 2012/13.
If by September the season hasn't clicked into third gear, don't panic.
Away form is vital
"They'll need to win their home games and turn their ground into a fortress if they're going to survive."
So said any pundit on Match of the Day/Soccer Saturday/Talksport between now and the beginning of time - but those rare gems in the guise of away points are likely to hold more leverage. Of the 18 teams to have gone down in the past six Premier League seasons, only Hull in 2014/15 picked up more than 13 points on the road.
Compare and contrast that with the home form of QPR in 2015, who took 23 points at home but finished bottom, and Newcastle in 2016, who were relegated with 28 points from games at St James' Park (which was top-half form). When the Canaries dropped under Chris Hughton in 2014, they conceded less than a goal a game at Carrow Road but it made little difference.
Hardened Norwich City fans hardly need reminding that wretched away form can be terminal anyway. In all four seasons where City have gone down from the Premier League, they would have stayed up on home form alone.
Treasure Emi just as much as Teemu
The nature of football dictates that the goalscorer is the kingmaker, the MVP.
However, the Premier League is littered with instinctive sharp-shooters who have fallen to the second tier. Andy Johnson famously managed 21 for Crystal Palace in 2004/05 (we'll overlook how many of those were dubiously-earned penalties) and there have been a whole lot more since.
Taking the last 10 Premier League seasons, 10 players have scored 11 or more goals for relegated sides, with Charlie Austin for QPR (18) and Yakubu for Blackburn (17) the highest.
If a goalscorer won't guarantee safety then a midfield magician might.
In those 10 seasons, no player has ever been relegated having assisted more than eight goals (Wes Hoolahan was one of those unlucky few to go down with eight in 2015/16).
So while it's tempting to join the Norwich City fans praying for the continued good form of Teemu Pukki, consistent creativity from Emi Buendia (17 assists in all competitions last season) might be even more critical to a second year in the top tier.