Plugging Norwich City’s creative gap is a defining challenge
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Addressing the creative deficit will define Norwich City's Premier League season.
The Canaries' painful toil at Tottenham was hardly a revelatory moment. What unfolded at White Hart Lane just brought into sharp focus how difficult the transition is proving for Chris Hughton and his re-modelled squad.
A summer spent recruiting the likes of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper, Nathan Redmond and Johan Elmander was a tangible response to a glaring inability to meld defensive resolution with attacking potency for the majority of last season's ultimately successful Premier League campaign.
Grant Holt carried a heavy burden that in the man's own words may have hastened his departure from Norfolk. Whether Holt was still capable of leaving a dominant imprint on games at the highest level is another matter entirely. But Norwich's final flourish against the likes of West Brom and Manchester City masked those prolonged fallow periods.
The club's hierarchy have kept their side of the bargain, now Hughton and his coaching staff must assimilate that undoubted extra layer of attacking quality which was singularly absent in key advanced areas.
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Hughton faced an equally difficult conundrum at this same embryonic stage of the last campaign. City were too porous in the opening months and breached with alarming regularity. The harsh reality framed by those defeats at Fulham and Chelsea or Liverpool at home was that they looked a soft touch.
Hughton sought reinforcements in the shape of Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner before setting about developing a robust style of play erected on strong foundations from the back that underpinned a club-record Premier League response to such adversity.
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Those who criticise the manager now would not dispute that was an impressive legacy from his first year in the job at Carrow Road. The City boss was confronted with a problem and an inherent structural weakness that left unchecked would in all probability have consigned the Canaries to the Championship. Hughton's strategy bore fruit. Now he must bridge another fault line: to embellish the defensive discipline that is a staple requisite at this rarefied level with more than just a sporadic attacking threat.
To portray it as a stark choice between abandoning rigidity and regimented order in favour of flamboyant, reckless assaults to the sound of the trumpets appears wide of the mark.
Hughton talks often about the balances in regard to team selection and the make-up of his squad. There is another balance to be obtained in how Norwich approach the task of Premier League longevity. Results are the only spirit level required and at this point in the club's development there is little sense of any equilibrium between relative order and chaos away from the secure confines of Carrow Road.
This is less a theoretical debate about systems or personnel and more about honing a collective mindset and fostering a degree of expression that can be harnessed within sound fundamentals. Hughton's faith in the precocious Redmond illustrates he is prepared to broker that individuality and attacking flair within the team unit. Yet Andre Villas-Boas' post-match dissection of what he had expected from the Canaries and how they intended to nullify the visitors was a brutal reminder Norwich must continue to evolve. Predictability seems the preserve of a blinkered approach that over the course of time can only act as a handbrake to the steady growth this ambitious club is clearly striving to achieve.
That much can be derived by the scale of the Canaries' summer recruitment. There must be a similar ambition in their outlook.