It won’t always be horses for courses
So, we’re now 180 minutes into the Premier League season (I’m going to leave Tuesday night to the four paragraphs it deserves elsewhere on this page) and what have we learned so far about the country’s elite league and Norwich City’s chances of staying in it?
Quite a lot actually.
In terms of Norwich City Football Club our first two games have only reinforced my view that we have nothing to fear in this division.
A fortnight ago I talked about how there were at least seven other teams who Norwich could arguably claim to be competing with in their own mini-league.
If we can finish on top of that league, not only would relegation have been avoided, we would have secured a highly-respectable mid-table position.
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Granted it is very early days, but nothing from those seven so far, namely Swansea, QPR, Blackburn, Wigan, Wolves and Aston Villa, has changed my mind.
In fact, at a push I could bracket Everton, with their threadbare squad, and perhaps Stoke and West Brom, as clubs who are unlikely to go down, but equally could be within our sights if we play to our potential.
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Those first two games have certainly shown that Norwich is not a club out of its depth and, as ever, that man Paul Lambert deserves much credit. He made it clear several weeks ago there would be no sentiment when choosing his first XI. His selections would be based solely on whom he identified as best equipped to win each particular game. And so it has proven with a staggering 19 players playing a part in the first two games of the season. Last term we used just 31 players in all games. While this tactic of changing the team to fit the conditions is likely to remain, I do expect that in time Lambert will settle on his preferred players. After all the only real way he can work out who can handle this league is by giving people a chance.
And I wonder if we can expect more changes ahead of Chelsea this weekend? Will Lambert feel that, unlike against Stoke, this game may suit the more continental-style of players such as David Fox and Wes Hoolahan?
In terms of the start of the season as a whole I have been less than impressed with what I think has so far been an anti-climax.
And, as is so often the case, it feels like football’s governing bodies are to blame.
We all knew that television would dictate much of what and when we witnessed the action this season.
However, it staggers me that no-one within the Football Association can see that while it’s great to reap all of the financial benefits of kowtowing to the Sky schedulers, there may be a damaging long-term impact.
Take this weekend just gone when there were just three Premier League games on Saturday at 3pm. The rest were played out at various points over the weekend and Monday night.
Very quickly Saturday begins to feel less like the traditional day of football, but instead about those things you now do because there’s hardly any games on at that time to make it worth the effort.
It all feels very disjointed and with a fortnight’s break due after this weekend’s round of matches, we will enter September without it really feeling like the league has begun.
While I’m concentrating on negatives I think we have all quickly realised that a step up doesn’t necessarily equate to an improved level of accuracy from not just the referee, but their assistants as well, who have to take a share of the blame for the key mistakes made in our first two games.
That said it does feel great to be back in the Premier League, and to be honest also a little surreal to watch teams such as Manchester United and Chelsea and think that their results now directly impact on our own fortunes.
• FAB FOUR
1. Somewhere in a parallel universe Norwich fans are no doubt being forced to watch games like Tuesday night week in, week out as City continue to struggle to recover from relegation to League One. Fortunately, in this universe Paul Lambert came along and we probably haven’t seen such a below par performance since his first cup game as Norwich boss, a 4-1 defeat to Sunderland in the same round of the same tournament. I have never subscribed to the argument that a cup run can be an unwarranted distraction – it does after all provide clubs like ours with the only real chance of securing meaningful silverware. However, Lambert’s decision to rest many of his first XI was spot on because he should have been able to have faith that the rest of the squad had the quality to win. What he learned about the rest of the squad may be the only real positive.
2. I sense a growing backlash this season against Saturday night’s Match of the Day programme. The main problem is, I sense, that complacency has set in because for too long MoTD has been the go to for every footy fan not out on the tiles on a Saturday night. What particualrly bugs me about the programme is that so often they repeat certain moments in the game time and time again – I would rather see more of the rest of the match. Now the programmes’ reserves, Sunday night’s MoTD2, is proving you can be original with the footy highlights format, it will be interesting to see if, and how, the first-team responds.
3. Can we agree to make this the last time I feel compelled to write about the debate over whether John Ruddy deserves to be Norwich City’s number one? Just like last year the knives were out for him before the season had even began. Let’s hope that, also just like last season, a crucial penalty save on August 21 will convince those harbouring negative thoughts to put the knives back in the drawer where they belong.
4. Must confess to having missed Sunday’s game against Stoke due to a ticketing clash which saw me head to the Oval to watch England vs India in the cricket instead. To those slating me for such desertion, I did carry out a twitter poll of City fans which came out 60:40 in favour of the cricket, so I’m nothing if not democratic. Be reasured though that, when news of our goal came through, the sleepy Oval crowd (and probably players) were left in no doubt as to the score as I chose a quiet moment in play to stand up and proclaim “one-nil to the Canaries” to a few thousand bemused people. That’s commitment.