Norwich completed the rarest of rare feats last season, bouncing back into the Premier League at the first time of asking after relegation in the 2013/14 season. Finishing 18th and slipping into the relegation zone only as the season drew to a close, Norwich completed good business in the off-season with Snodgrass and Fer leaving for big fees. Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban were brought in and hit 30 goals between them as Norwich finished 3rd before winning promotion through the play-offs. Norwich have spent this summer strengthening the side in key areas, and with exciting young manager Alex Neil at the helm, they will be looking to enjoy the 2015/16 season as much as possible; their 25th in the top flight.
Story of Last Season
Last season wasn’t so much a season of two halves for Norwich, as a season of four quarters. They were strong for three of those quarters, for the other; around October in particular November, they stuttered. That stutter was enough to do for manager Neil Adams who departed in January with The Canaries 7th in the table, having begun October at the top of the league. Delia Smith decided his egg was boiled after two months of poor results. New manager Alex Neil arrived from Hamilton Academical. His stewardship and strong performances in the second half of the season from Cameron Jerome, Bradley Johnson and Wes Hoolahan helped push Norwich back up the table and to eventual play-off success.
Robbie Brady: The £7 million signing from Hull is Norwich’s banner purchase of the transfer window so far. The Tigers made Norwich work hard for his signature, demanding a significant improvement over the original offer. The Yorkshire side were right to do so, as the 23 year old has a promising career in front of him and has already established himself as a member of the Republic of Ireland’s international set up.
Graham Dorrans: At 28, Graham Dorrans is already a wily old fox with bags of experience in the Premier League with West Brom. He spent February onwards on loan at Norwich last season, impressing before joining the East Anglian outfit on a permanent £3 million deal this summer.
Youssouf Mulumbu: The Congolese international is another signing from West Bromwich Albion, and another with bags of experience after a couple of hundred appearances for the midlands side. A former player of the year during his stint at The Hawthorns, it can be argues that he still has his best years ahead of him.
Andre Wisdom (loan): Not that I want to suggest Alex Neil only did a single scouting trip last year, but Andre Wisdom; a season long loan signing from Liverpool, spent last year at The Baggies too, playing 24 times. The 22 year old right back is a promising talent who has captained England at youth level.
Jake Kean: Alex Neil’s fifth signing of the summer is 24 year old keeper Jake Kean, signed from Blackburn as a back-up for unanimous first choice John Ruddy and second choice Declan Rudd.
Cameron Jerome: Jerome was Norwich’s top scorer last season and with more than 400 career appearances to his name, they will be looking to him to lead from the front next season. Seven years in the Premier League with Birmingham, Stoke and Crystal Palace ought to stand him in good stead, but a goal return of around one in four is; while consistent, evidence that he will need support from elsewhere if Norwich are to stay in the division.
Bradley Johnson: Bradley Johnson could well be where some of those goals will come from to assist Jerome’s endeavour. Norwich’s Player of the Season last term scored 15 in the league, in fact just five fewer than the former Birmingham forward. Johnson was a consistent performer for The Canaries during their last spell in the Premier League and they will doubtlessly be leaning on him again, both as a creative force in midfield and as one of the more experienced players in the side.
Vadis Odjidja: Struggling for fitness in his first campaign for Norwich, the Belgian international was limited to just three first team appearances last season. Nonetheless, the midfielder possesses a big reputation in his native country, having been a stand-out performer for Club Brugge. The Premier League could be the stage he needs to show what he is capable of in England.
In Alex Neil, Norwich have one of the more intriguing managers in the Premier League. The Scot was just 33 years old and with less than two years management experience when he became the boss at Carrow Road in January. Nevertheless, he brought with him a degree of stability to a rapidly wavering side. Securing promotion with 17 wins and just three losses from his 25 games in charge has further cemented proof of his ability. As with all managers, the true test of his quality will come when the situation appears grim. The Premier League is a tough division and next season will be a hard campaign for sure. Will he possess the managerial acumen to execute a plan B if plan A fails to work? We will probably know one way or the other by Christmas.
First Six Fixtures
Crystal Palace (H), Sunderland (A), Stoke (H), Southampton (A), Bournemouth (H), Liverpool (A)
As opening sets of fixtures go, Norwich have come off relatively lightly. Less like a baptism of fire, more a baptism of slightly too hot bath water. Only in trips to Southampton and Liverpool would you be tempted to write off Norwich completely and while a trip to Sunderland might be a difficult prospect, home games against Palace, Stoke and fellow new-comers Bournemouth are the bread and butter of a Premier League season. You have to be picking up points in those games or else your campaign is going to be a very bleak one.
Crystal Palace were revitalised under Alan Pardew during the second half of last season but significant changes over the summer will mean they go into the first day of the season the same way as everyone else – wondering how good they are. Norwich could well cause an upset here and steal all three points.
A point a piece at Sunderland and at home to Stoke could see the Canaries start the season quite strongly but the following three fixtures will test them far more. It is entirely possible that three defeats will send them running into October with their tail between their legs.
Norwich should be happy to come out of their opening six fixtures with anything more than five points. It is going to be a tough season but one where they should be able to provide the occasional upset.
Final Standing Prediction – 19th
The Premier League can be brutal and increasingly, very tight at the bottom. The Carrow Road side performed well in the Championship but their weaknesses did show at times during the season and while they have strengthened this summer, they need everyone to be firing consistently to compete over the course of a top flight season. I predict that they will not miss out on safety by a great deal, but it will eventually prove too difficult to rise above the relegation mire.
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Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest
The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.
Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.
Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.
Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.
Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.
The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.
The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.
If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.
However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.
The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.
Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.
The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.
Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.
Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.
The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.
Have West Ham United found the next Mark Noble in Alfie Lewis?
The 18-year-old put in a fine performance against Dagenham and Redbridge this week.
West Ham United took on Dagenham and Redbridge in a friendly yesterday, in a match to raise funds for the National League side.
It was no surprise to see West Ham come out victorious. They won 3-1, with Michail Antonio at the double and Jordan Hugill scoring his first goal for the club.
It was, however, a Hammers team depleted by international selection.
With that in mind, David Moyes’ side fielded some of their younger players. Plenty of them caught the eye, but none more so than central midfielder Alfie Lewis.
The 18-year-old put in a fine display for 90 minutes which left West Ham fans very excited on social media.
It was an even more special achievement given Lewis spent most of last year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
Lewis himself told the official West Ham website after the game: “I’m delighted.
“It was a good experience for me tonight, to play with the likes of Patrice Evra, and Mark Noble in midfield. It was a good challenge and a good test for us as well, and I think I did well.”
He spoke of it being an honour playing alongside Mark Noble, but is he the successor to the throne?
Whilst Noble has had his critics in recent times there is no doubt he has been a long-term hero at West Ham.
Fans of the club have often wondered why Noble has never received England recognition given his consistent form in the Premier League.
Noble has gone on to play over 400 games for West Ham since his debut for the club back in 2004.
Lewis certainly has the ability to follow in his footsteps. An energetic midfield creator, West Ham look to have another midfield gem in their ranks and one that can hopefully progress into the first-team soon.
The Hammers have a fine record of bringing through young players.
Noble is one current example and Lewis could not be at a better club if he is to find his way into the West Ham first-team.
This season, with a relegation battle raging, might come a little too soon for the teenager.
Nonetheless, in 2018-19 it will not be a surprise if Lewis finds himself playing alongside Noble in the West Ham midfield once again.
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