Connor Southwell: Why this City side is geared to survive in the Premier League
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
During his post-mortem shortly after Norwich City's dispiriting Premier League relegation last summer, Daniel Farke proclaimed his side would have to drastically improve the defensive side of their game if they were to thrive at top-flight level.
For a side that had excelled due to its colour and fun, it felt like he was sculpting a very different path back to the Premier League compared to the swashbuckling nature in which they conquered the Championship two seasons ago.
Externally, some will witness the Canaries' seemingly inevitable top-flight reunion and react with a sigh. This, however, is a very different City side coming up. One better equipped to achieve survival.
There may be surprise at City's position among supporters and those following the Championship from afar, simply because of how they've contended with relegation, but inside the corridors of power, Norwich know this was the plan all along.
When sporting director Stuart Webber and Farke dissected the season, an agreement was reached that improving the defensive structure was of paramount importance. Losing Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis hampered that plan, but the additions of Ben Gibson and, albeit later, Dimitris Giannoulis has solidified the back line.
It's worked. This City side is more robust, more mature and more efficient than its hyperactive 2018/19 sibling.
Whilst some will look at the side and witness a similar squad, the approach is radically different. The spine of the team is more robust, the defensive structure is solid but the principles have remained the same in-possession.
- 1 'Blown away' - Gibson reveals how City wooed him for Premier League push
- 2 MATCHDAY RECAP: Hornets frustrate City in title tussle
- 3 Webber reveals he turned down 'massive job' to stay at City
- 4 City ace Krul reflects on Premier League interest
- 5 Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from the Canaries' 1-0 defeat against Watford
- 6 City lose Giannoulis appeal; three-game ban stands
- 7 Spurs loanee Skipp discusses his future and potential of Canaries return
- 8 Pressure on Hornets for title-hunting City
- 9 PRESSER LIVE: City v Watford - Hanley, Pukki, Cantwell injury doubts
- 10 Norwich City v Watford: everything you need to know
Oliver Skipp has been a pivotal addition. Not only is he a tempo-setter, he has also allowed them to control counters with great success. When the full-backs push high, there is a greater chance of being exploited in transition, the Spurs loanee has shored up a City midfield that lacked physicality last year.
Gibson and Grant Hanley have established a relationship built on both experience but also quality. That can only succeed in a team with solid foundations.
This hasn't been a drastic step away from the philosophy Farke has been intent on developing since he arrived at Carrow Road, but it has been put in place to allow them to execute it at a higher level.
Efficiency and ruthlessness are the new ingredients and when coupled with defensive solidity, it creates a top-flight side. That is certainly what the history books suggest.
Admittedly, this is an overly-defensive division. Norwich have conceded 20 goals fewer than two years ago but have also scored fewer by the same amount. Farke has created an adept, pragmatic winning machine at this level, constructing a bouncebackability that refuses to switch off despite adversity.
There is a short-termism to the concept of being capable of out-scoring opponents. When success arrives and you face sides with better players, this becomes harder to sustain.
In the Premier League, you cannot concede a high volume of quality chances or you will be punished. Norwich can rely upon empirical evidence in that regard. Keeping themselves in games and then taking their chances will be pivotal.
If they are to sustain themselves as a Premier League club and break free of the 'yo-yo' tag that has haunted them throughout the last decade, then they will need to adapt. Farke is showing his willingness to make this side top-flight ready.
When you dive into the statistics, Farke's notion is right. In the last six seasons, only one team that has conceded the fewest Championship goals has failed to survive in the Premier League the following year. That was Middlesbrough back in 2016/17.
Despite Swansea being lauded for their defensive output in recent months, now City have only conceded one goal fewer on 25. This isn't a coincidence, this has been meticulously devised and designed.
If you pitted this current City vintage against their counterparts two years ago, this current crop would win. They are more balanced, cannier and even in many senses, duller. But they are geared for Premier League success, providing the steps that follow this promotion are followed.
They will need to improve their recruitment and, this time out, there will be deeper resources for them to use. The commitment to the Gibson and Giannoulis deals upon promotion proves that.
This success was planned. Norwich wanted to build a Premier League side in the Championship, evidence suggests that has been managed. Farke will be ready to continue his work in the top-flight next season knowing he has a more sustainable plan to stay there.
Teams promoted with the fewest goals in the last six Championship seasons and their Premier League finish:
2014/15 - Bournemouth (45 goals conceded), 16th
2015/16 - Middlesbrough (31 goals conceded), 19th (R)
2016/17 - Newcastle (45 goals conceded), 10th
2017/18 - Wolves (39 goals conceded), 7th
2018/19 - Sheffield United (41 goals conceded), 9th
2019/20 - Leeds United (35 goals conceded), currently 11th