Chris Hughton’s talented Norwich City squad gets a stamp of approval
In the second of a three-part series previewing the Canaries' Premier League season, which starts at Fulham this weekend, EDP Norwich City writer Paddy Davitt assesses the squad at Chris Hughton's disposal.
They are the bane of the Premier League managerial fraternity, but the latest round of international friendlies should double as the perfect yardstick for measuring the quality within Norwich City's ranks.
At the final count, Hughton has spent the first few days of this week planning for Craven Cottage minus the services of John Ruddy, Russell Martin, Robert Snodgrass and Steve Morison.
Add to that the Republic of Ireland's courting of Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington for their game in Serbia – both remained closer to home after being deemed unfit to travel.
Then add the probability Steven Whittaker would have joined compatriots Snodgrass and Martin on Scotland duty were it not for an untimely ankle ligament injury on his first return north of the border last month.
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The conclusion is that Hughton has a large rump of coveted footballers on his hands. Experimentation may be the motivation for many a national manager at this embryonic stage of the new season, but the point stands that Hughton possesses a core firmly on the respective radars of his international contemporaries.
That is not to be accused of parochial self-interest; or Norfolk-induced bias. That is a factual assessment based on the shared views of four international bosses over the past week or so.
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More subjectively, perhaps, Norwich have younger talent with the potential to make a similar transition to the international fold. Jonny Howson, Ryan Bennett and Andrew Surman all represented England at U21 level.
Reproduce some of the displays they turned in during City's successful tilt at the Premier League first time around and there should be no barrier to traversing a similar path as Ruddy towards representative honours.
Hughton inherited an envious talent pool when he replaced Paul Lambert during the summer and has added what may in time prove to be some prudent purchases. One would not rule out further additions over the closing weeks of the August transfer window. Yet the key to Norwich's Premier League prospects hinge on the depth and spread of those playing resources. The man himself offered a revealing insight into his own personal assessment after the recent goalless friendly at Hull.
'You are always conscious of things like injury and you need strength in depth,' said Hughton. 'Certainly in the forward areas we have got a lot of strikers.
'Possibly there are one or two other areas where if we had an injury we might be struggling. If we can do something, great, if not we have a group of lads at this football club who have fared very well.'
Bradley Johnson's throwaway line following the Borussia Monchengladbach game that Norwich could field a team comprised entirely of midfielders was rooted in a fair degree of truth. Even given the exit of Andrew Crofts to Brighton, the net effect of signing Jacob Butterfield and Snodgrass is to embellish a squad blessed with plenty of options in those central and wide areas.
Hughton has the combative Johnson and to a lesser extent Howson to compliment the technical capabilities of David Fox, Hoolahan and Surman. City can pass their way from back to front, as they looked increasingly to favour towards the end of last season, or switch the attacks down the flanks with Pilkington, Elliott Bennett and now Snodgrass all capable of offering productive supply lines.
If Hughton feels he is well-stocked in forward areas with five recognised senior strikers currently vying for places then the focus inevitably shifts to his defence.
Michael Turner is the natural successor to the departed Zak Whitbread at centre half and the decision to sanction a season-long loan move to Nottingham Forest for Dani Ayala hints Hughton is comfortable with the competition at the heart of his backline.
There can be less certainty in full-back areas. The departures of Adam Drury and Tottenham loanee Kyle Naughton have only been partially offset by the versatile Whittaker's arrival and the return of the promising but still inexperienced George Francomb.
Marc Tierney's season-ending injury problems cut short a blossoming Premier League career in the first portion of the last top flight campaign. Tierney's absence also underlined the precarious nature of exposing an area of weakness within a squad. One that was admirably filled by the combined efforts of Drury, Simon Lappin and the excellent Naughton.
Hughton will be aware of a potential issue should fate or circumstance contrive to rob him of Tierney or Martin for any prolonged length of time over the coming months.
The Norwich manager has to date resisted any move to bring in the type of short-term, top-end quality Naughton guaranteed last season. It would be no surprise to see that option utilised in tandem with the on going hunt for reinforcements over the coming weeks.
Hughton may also feel he has a conundrum to solve with his goalkeepers. Ruddy is undoubtedly the first choice, but balancing the needs of the squad with those of two highly-rated young men in Declan Rudd and Jed Steer who would benefit from regular first team football requires careful consideration.