City report card: Development continues but so do top-level links for Lewis
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s been a season of hard knocks and tough lessons for Norwich City’s youngsters. Connor Southwell places Jamal Lewis’ performances under the microscope in the latest edition of our report card series.
Key to Norwich City’s success during their Championship title-winning season was the swashbuckling nature of their full-backs. Both Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons utilised their physicality and athleticism to offer an additional dimension to the Canaries’ play in possession during the 2018-19 season.
Lewis’ rise in particular has been meteoric. Prior to his arrival at Carrow Road, the left-back wasn’t even convinced that football was the path he wanted to pursue.
Fast forward three years and the 22-year-old has 100 games under his belt and is a fully-fledged Northern Irish international.
This season has seen City’s stars suffer a series of setbacks - adversity and the Premier League often go hand in hand, Lewis had to cope with injury, losing his position in the side and facing players with similar athletic qualities to him.
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Rolling with the punches is an intrinsic part of an academy graduate’s education - prior to this season, Lewis’ only first-team experiences had been positive.
In the long-term, the lessons learned this season will help to further refine the full-back’s game. His ball retention and combination play on the left side helped City possess a relative amount of solidity down that flank in the second half of the season.
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Adaptation to a division that prevented Lewis from gallivanting forward at every opportunity proved testing. A trip to Turf Moor in September saw the crowd pick on the Luton-born left-back, every pass was the subject of ridicule, the scrutiny was something Lewis hadn’t been forced to contend with in his career to date.
Lewis has been forced to learn to become more balanced in his approach. From attacking at will and possessing an advanced position, to suddenly having to pick his moments to support attacks and being alert to the risk of being caught on the counter.
Making mistakes is encouraged at Carrow Road, Daniel Farke invites his young players to express themselves in the knowledge that education will see them learn and improve.
Farke’s approach has created confidence within Lewis, as he explained earlier this season.
“He made me feel like I was his first choice when he came in and that gave me a world of confidence,” he said. “You can then show what you can do.
“As a young player you can play simple, because you don’t want to make a mistake in front of your team-mates and just want to get through the game, but when you have the type of manager who pushes you then you are not afraid to make those mistakes and you can shine.”
The high point of the season on a personal basis was undoubtedly his volley in the Canaries’ 1-0 victory over Leicester City - his first ever league goal for City.
The second half of the season saw a series of more composed and balanced performances from Lewis. Endeavour is never in short supply - but improvement in the final third will be next on the agenda for the youngster.
Impacting games in the final third, whether that be through ball retention or intelligent runs, is the next layer of his game Farke and his coaching team will be keen to enhance.
Lewis’ improvement since his debut has been stark - and the left-back reflected on the step-up from the Championship to the Premier League earlier this season.
“I was always ready for the step up. I knew it would be another level but maybe I underestimated the mid-to-lower teams in the league. I didn’t think their quality, both individually and collectively, would be as high as it is. We played some teams at the start you might have felt we could compete with and we would be on top for 10 minutes and then they would score and shut the game off.
“Last year in the Championship we were used to bringing back games and we always had that hope, but these teams can take that away from you by spoiling the game or just knowing how to win.
“Every opponent has top quality. It is a realisation. It is a humbling experience,” Lewis told the United Stand in April.
“You put in a lot of hard work, you believe in yourself and your team and what you are striving to do but there are levels and it shows you what they are.”
Like any other player, Lewis will hold ambitions of competing at the top end of English football.
Premier League champions Liverpool are said to admirers of City’s left-back - but a further year of development in the Championship seems like the best option at present.
Restoring his confidence and becoming a more productive full-back in an attacking sense will be needed before Lewis is ready for a starting berth in a top-level Premier League side.