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Fan Zone: Our Fab Four have their say ahead of Norwich City’s opener at Birmingham

PUBLISHED: 15:20 03 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:20 03 August 2018

Can Teemu Pukki hit the ground running in the Championship? 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Can Teemu Pukki hit the ground running in the Championship? Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

Our fantastic Fan Zone quartet – Jon Punt, Lee Payne, Jack Reeve and Matthew Howman – are back for the new Championship season.

New number one Tim Krul - a good addition to the squad Picture: ANTONY KELLYNew number one Tim Krul - a good addition to the squad Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Each week one of the Fab Four will feature with their views on all things Norwich City.

We started them off with a shared column ahead of the season opener at Birmingham. Here’s what they had to say...

Have City managed to replace the hole left by James Maddison's move to Leicester? Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdHave City managed to replace the hole left by James Maddison's move to Leicester? Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

JON PUNT

Many column inches have been written about City’s woes in the final third during 2017/18.

The reasons, of which there were plenty, have been the subject of fierce debate. Nelson’s attitude. Murphy’s attitude/final ball. Farke’s philosophy. An over-reliance on Maddison. The arguments quickly became about as stilted as the football on show at times.

The easy solution mooted by some was to play two up front, throw balls into the box and all will suddenly be well. It over-simplifies a conundrum which, if tangible solutions can be found, will make the difference between a successful or dreary campaign this time around.

Emi Buendia - is he a gem? Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesEmi Buendia - is he a gem? Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

The arrivals of Teemu Pukki and Jordan Rhodes, while very welcome, won’t be the instant fix some think. With last season’s goal-getters now settled in the East Midlands and Wales, City have to find a new way of prising open Championship defences. A way which suits the attributes of the current squad.

Nelson wasn’t Farke’s man, that was evident from the Craven Cottage carnage. Murphy’s prodigious talent was scintillating in full flight, yet the Norwich of last season rarely found a system which allowed him to flourish to the extent we’d all hoped. Maddison stole the headlines on an almost weekly basis, yet City’s play too often relied on the fact he could find the top corner from 25 yards.

2018/19 will be a tougher challenge without the youthful exuberance which sometimes threatened to turn a mediocre season into a more spectacular one. It’s not an insurmountable one though.

With technicians packed into the midfield engine room, focus needs to shift towards the pace and purpose of Norwich’s attacking outputs. The ability to adapt to his ever shuffling pack will be how Farke’s tenure is ultimately judged. The German has to find a new way, a better way, to score the goals City’s hopes are pinned on.

LEE PAYNE

The gap between City’s league seasons has felt pleasingly shorter this year thanks to what turned out to be an unexpectedly brilliant World Cup.

We were treated to a lot of very entertaining, high quality games full of goals and packed with surprises. It won’t have escaped your memories, either, that England made it to the semi-finals. Stick with me on this one, but I believe Norwich could take a leaf out of the national team’s book as they embark on another Championship adventure.

Look at the England squad – there was no one in the mould of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. No obvious stars. Norwich are like that now James Maddison has gone. The outstanding quality in the team is no more, and we are left to rely on old-fashioned teamwork and camaraderie. England showed that when everyone is pulling the same way, you can get results. So if you’re feeling disheartened by Maddison’s departure, take comfort in the fact City have good enough players to achieve things this season as long as they work together well.

When I say the World Cup was entertaining, I can’t avoid the fact that ‘entertaining’ was not a word I could use to describe watching Norwich last season. I was pleased to see the signings of Teemu Pukki and Jordan Rhodes, and I hope they will score the goals that will get us out of our seats at Carrow Road. Come on, City, be more like Russia 2018 – the tournament that made me remember why I love football.

The defence has had some work, too. I believe Tim Krul could turn out to be one of the signings of the summer in the whole division. Hopefully this means the improvements up front will be supported at the back. I go into this season with hope. I may not have bought a two-bed terrace on Optimism Street, but I’d say I’ve booked a couple of nights in a B&B there. Norwich have recruited well in my opinion – I hope there are good times on the horizon.

JACK REEVE

I’m really looking forward to this season – but I’m going to be slightly more reserved than I was going into Daniel Farke’s first season in charge.

On paper we look to have signed well, received good money for the players we’ve sold and played a slightly faster style of football in pre-season. Despite all of that, I still think we lack that final ingredient needed to really do well in this league.

The sale of James Maddison was always going to happen, but I’m unsure if the quality he brought to the table is replaceable. If it wasn’t for him last season we would have been in a relegation battle. If it wasn’t for Angus Gunn we would have probably been down. We don’t have either this time around.

What it does look like we have though is a bit of balance; defensively we look solid, the midfield has strength in depth and fingers crossed the signings of Teemu Pukki and Jordan Rhodes will bring the goals we so desperately missed last season.

I’ve seen a lot of early optimism from other fans and I love it – supporting your football club with a positive mind-set is far more enjoyable than seeing everything with your glass half empty. Sadly, I just don’t think we have the firepower to compete with some of the big boys. I like Farke, I like the team we’re constructing and I love the vision the club has, but I don’t think it’s enough to reach the play-offs. We’ll be close though.

So that begs the question, how much time do we give this self-funding model or do we just sit back and enjoy the mid-table Championship battle? The distance between the top eight clubs and the rest in the Championship is ever growing, and sadly it looks as if Norwich City are one of the teams in the pack chasing the leaders.

What do I know though? Not having to revolve your whole team around one magician could be what we needed? I’m excited, and you should be too.

MATTHEW HOWMAN

The line between the Championship and Premier League is becoming more blurred than ever.

For many football fans up and down country the Championship has always been cherished as a league of authenticity within the realms of English football. The Premier League is different; plagued by billionaire overseas investors, third-party ownership, rogue agents: you name it, it has it.

The second division was supposed to be different. Retaining a more physical style, more tackling, excitement and less nonsense... proper football. Identity. But all that is beginning to change.

It’s the season where the line between the Championship and the Premier League is going to become more blurred than ever before. The financial clout of the three relegated sides is now at a point where there’s less need to offload the majority of their squad to start their season in a lower division. The big stars will go, but clubs are under less pressure to instigate a clearout.

The top six or seven in the Championship are looking more like an overspill from the Premier League, and even if they fail to get promoted the parachute payments and investor cash will push them further apart from the rest of the division the following year; the cycle will continue and clubs living within their means are going to be priced out of being competitive. That puts sides like Norwich on the back foot before a ball has been kicked. After suffering relegation and failing to get back up in the following two seasons the club is shopping in Aldi after years of buying from Waitrose.

The Championship is in danger of becoming a two-tiered division like the Premier League, there’s a long season ahead but I hope Daniel Farke has picked up a gem in the bargain aisles because we don’t want to start next season, or the season after knowing that eighth is the highest spot we can ever hope to achieve.

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