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Norwich complete seamless Premier League return – Interview
Thursday, 22nd Apr 2021 16:18 by Clive Whittingham

For a division Thomas Frank claims lacks any outstanding team, Norwich City have certainly made a pretty decent fist of running away with an immediate return to the Premier League. Eastern Daily Press and Pink 'Un reporter Connor Southwell reviews the season for us.

Has it been as easy as it's looked?

Ha, no! I’m not sure anything feels easy when you’re living through it, but it’s certainly been a pleasure to watch at times. The reality is, until they have definitively sealed their fate, I think everyone is still working out the various permutations and working out points needed on a calculator. In terms of performances, they have been the standout team in the division. Beyond that 7-0 pummelling of Huddersfield, they haven’t really blown anyone away. Someone said it to me the other day (before the two defeats), Norwich have effectively dominated every game for about four months. So, with hindsight, it has been fairly comfortable. But that is a big achievement in this division. Consistency has been the key to their success.

Norwich league results so far…
Huddersfield 0 Norwich 1 Idah 80
Norwich 2 Preston 2 Pukki 31, Placheta 85 – Sinclair pen 14, Fisher 42
Bournemouth 1 Norwich 0 Groeneveld 35
Norwich 0 Derby 1 Rooney 87
Rotherham 1 Norwich 2 ladapo 3 – Iheakwe og 68, Hugill pen 90
Norwich 1 Birmingham 0 Vrancic 87
Norwich 2 Wycombe 1 Pukki 3, Vrancic 90 – Kashket 12
Brentford 1 Norwich 1 Toney 27 – McClean 87
Bristol City 1 Norwich 3 Hunt 15 – Pukki 6, 14, Buendia 45
Norwich 0 Millwall 0
Norwich 1 Swansea 0 Stiepermann 87
Boro 0 Norwich 1 Pukki pen 72
Stoke 2 Norwich 3 Campbell 69, Collins 79 – Buendia 18, Pukki 27, 57
Norwich 1 Coventry 1 Vrancic pen 27 – Biamou 89
Luton 3 Norwich 1 Moncur 15, Pearson 22, Collins pen 47 – Buendia pen 19
Norwich 2 Sheff Wed 1 Martin 81, Aarons 84 – Windass 60
Norwich 2 Forest 1 Sorensen 45, Buendia 77 – Knockaert 73
Blackburn 1 Norwich 2 Elliott 59 – Pukki 22, 65
Reading 1 Norwich 2 Olise 14 - Buendia 11, Pukki pen 55
Norwich 2 Cardiff 0 Buendia 27, Cantwell 70
Watford 1 Norwich 0 Sarr 39
Norwich 1 QPR 1 Pukki pen 75 – Osayi-Samuel pen 84
Norwich 1 Barnsley Buendia 62
Cardiff 1 Norwich 2 Ralls 65 – Hanley 3, Cantwell 22
Norwich 2 Bristol City 0 Hugill 36, 76
Norwich 0 Middlesbrough 0
Millwall 0 Norwich 0
Swansea 2 Norwich 0 Ayew 42, Hourihane 48
Norwich 4 Stoke 1 Cantwell 15, Pukki 44, pen 80, Buendia 64 – Powell 61
Coventry 0 Norwich 2 Pukki 28, Buendia 45
Norwich 1 Rotherham 0 Pukki 17
Birmingham 1 Norwich 3 Sanchez 38 – Pukki 26, 76, Skipp 90
Wycombe 0 Norwich 2 Pukki 51, Idah 87
Norwich 1 Brentford 0 Buendia 26
Norwich 3 Luton 0 Pukki 12, 43, Cantwell 73
Sheff Wed 1 Norwich 2 Rhodes 7 – Pukki 61, Cantwell 77
Forest 0 Norwich 2 Pukki 9, Dowell 13
Norwich 1 Blackburn 1 McLean 53 – Gallagher 77
Preston 1 Norwich 1 Potts 90 – Buendia 17
Norwich 7 Huddersfield 0 Pukki 8, 20, pen 61, Buendia 24, Cantwell 29, Dowell 42, Hugill 78
Derby 0 Norwich 1 Dowell 21
Norwich 1 Bournemouth 3 Buendia 5 – Surridge 50, Groeneveld 57, Kelly 76
Norwich 0-1 Watford Gosling 57

Anything particularly change in February when you had as close to a wobble as you've had all season, but then won nine in a row?

Emi Buendia got suspended. That’s all I would attribute that period of form to, really. Plus, they all arrived against three very stubborn opponents in Middlesbrough (where Buendia got sent off), who have been excellently defensively but lacked attacking thrust, Millwall, who play their games on incredibly fine margins and their results could probably be translated from morse code and Swansea, who were running hot during that period. Without Buendia, their record is pretty horrendous. Since he joined the club in 2018, they’ve only won two games that he has missed. The Argentine returned and suddenly they rediscovered their attacking touch, that fuelled confidence and the rest is history. There hasn’t been a wobble, it was a relatively slow start but that’s understandable given the uncertainty that was dominating the discourse. Any side would struggle if they lost a talent like Buendia for three matches. He’s the best in the division. If there was a game in a local park with jumper for goalposts, he would roll up his sleeves and play to win. Beyond all, Farke stuck with his principles. They have a mantra inside the training ground that instructs their employees to ‘ignore the noise’, that’s something they managed to do.

What needs to be different this time to give you a better chance of staying up?

The defence. And that is an area the coaching staff have put tremendous work in throughout this season to improve. Daniel Farke conducted an interview at the end of last season and stated that sides who build a more solid base have a greater chance of survival in the first season in the top-flight but then struggle to establish themselves if they don’t add attacking quality, he referenced Sheffield United. He added that teams that look to impose a style of play or play a more attacking brand of football struggle, but if they can stay up then do better season two (Aston Villa). So it’s clear that has been a focus. The Canaries, helped by the additions of Ben Gibson and Oliver Skipp, have been better. They have been tighter. They are more robust. That all serves them well heading into a league that is played on fine margins and where the first goal is often the one that secures the points. Grant Hanley has become a key player in a possession-based side. But let’s not kid ourselves, they would still require additions to survive. In their current guise, they would still need a lot to go in their favour.

Do you think they'll do that, or will it be a repeat and the yo yo continues?

I don’t know. That’s the honest answer. The jump from the Championship to the Premier League is so great that bridging it is a lot harder. They have to do it eventually, right? There will be a season where everything falls in their favour. They are more experienced, more determined and more financially able. But a lot needs to happen to ensure they stay there, namely getting recruitment right. If the yo-yo continues, then that’s okay. They won’t gamble the future of their club to stay there, and QPR are one of several examples of the implications of doing that. There also needs to be a realisation that yo-yoing isn’t nearly as bad as people make out. In the last decade, Norwich have been to Wembley and won a play-off final, won the Championship, been promoted; these are all experiences supporters will remember for the rest of their lives. That said, there needs to be a point where they take their step and, if they fail to do so again, then there is a debate to be had about whether you can stay up in the Premier League operating as a ‘self-sustainable club’. That’s a long-winded way of saying that it’s impossible to predict. But I do feel very confident this time may be different. And I truly hope that is the case.

Summer Ins >>> Jordan Hugill, 28, CF, West Ham, £2.97m >>> Przemyslaw Placheta, 22, CM, Slask Wroclaw, £2.7m >>> Kieran Dowell, 22, AM, Everton, £1.98m >>> Jacob Lungi Sorensen, 22, CM, Esbjerg (Norway), £990k >>> Bali Mumba, 18, DM, Sunderland, £345k >>> Danel Sinani, 23, LW, Dudelange (Luxembourg), Free >>> Sebastien Soto, 20, CF, Hannover, Free >>> Matthew Dennis, 18, RB, Arsenal, Free >>> Xavi Quintilla, 24, LB, Villarreal, Loan >>> Oliver Skipp, 19, CM, Spurs, Loan >>> Ben Gibson, 27, CB, Burnley, Loan

Summer Outs >>> Ben Godfrey, 27, RB, Everton, £24m >>> Jamal Lewis, 22, LB, Newcastle, £15m >>> Mason Bloomfield, 23, CF, Hartlepool, Free >>> Sean Raggett, 27, CB, Portsmouth, Free >>> Simon Power, 22, RM, Kings Lynn, Loan >>> Rocky Bushiri, 20, CB, Mechelen (Belgium), Loan >>> Carlton Morris, 24, CF, MK Dons, Loan >>> Philip Heise, 29, LB, Karlsruher (Germany), Loan >>> Louis Thompson, 25, CM, MK Dons, Loan >>> Daniel Adshead, 18, CM, Telstar (Netherlands), Loan >>> Sebastian Soto, 20, CF, Telstar (Netherlands), Loan >>> Akin Famewo, 21, CB, Charlton, Loan >>> Timm Klose, 32, CB, Basel, Loan >>> Melvin Sitti, 20, DM, Beveren (Belgium), Loan >>> Sam McCallum, 20, LB, Coventry, Loan >>> Tom Trybull, 27, DM, Blackburn, Loan

Winter Ins >>> Orjan Nyland, 30, GK, Aston Villa, Free >>> Dimitrios Giannoulis, 25, LB, PAOK, Loan

Winter Outs >>> Carlton Morris, 25, CF, Barnsley, Undisclosed >>> Simon Power, 22, CM, Harrogate, Loan >>> Rocky Bushiri, 21, CB, Eupen, Loan >>> Josip Drmic, CF, 28, Rijeka, Loan

Hugill hasn't played much but plenty of kind words coming out about him this week, how's he been for you?

He’s been massive for the dressing room. When Norwich were suffering, Hugill brought a lot of character and a desire to win. That helped the club shift the losing mentality. He’s popular and works tirelessly. In terms of on the pitch, it’s tough for any striker when you’re watching Teemu Pukki score 25 goals to get much game time. But he has been supportive to the Finn and to the young lads. He has produced some pivotal moments, namely a penalty against Rotherham back in October and a brace against Bristol City. So some good moments, but he’s largely been deployed as someone to help see out games. Norwich have been forced to change the way they attack when he’s been on the pitch. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with him next season.

Anything in the rumours linking Daniel Farke elsewhere? Presumbly he's pretty untouchable to Norwich fans?

Well, in the background of this success is the fact both Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber’s contracts both expire at the end of next season. Webber has been clear that he will leave. Farke hasn’t been as forthcoming in terms of stating his future. He has reiterated one fact, that he doesn’t ‘break contracts’, but there is a natural break point next season. Norwich fans are clearly concerned about that. He won’t leave before that point and my feeling is he will wait and see what Webber decides. Does he stay without him? I can’t see it. I really can’t. My feeling is that both will depart at the end of next season. Which is pretty frightening from a Norwich perspective.

Player of the season candidates?

Take your pick. Emi Buendia for me. Do Norwich finish in the top two without Grant Hanley or Ollie Skipp? Possibly. Do they finish there without Buendia? No chance. He is an elite player. It’s a travesty that he is playing at this level. His current level is closer to Champions League level than Championship level. Norwich fans have to reward that talent because you don’t know how long it will be around. But honestly, you could make an argument for any of those first-team regulars. My feeling is the top three with be: 1) Buendia, 2) Hanley, 3) Skipp. Teemu Pukki doesn’t even get in. With 25 goals. Mental.

Links >>> Norwich Official Website >>> The Pink ‘Un – Local Press and Forum >>> Eastern Daily Press – Local Press >>> My Football Writer - Norwich City >>> Along Come Norwich - Blog

The Twitter @cjsouthwell1902, @loftforwords

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T_Block added 19:07 - Apr 22
He is spot on about the defence.If we find better we can afford at a young age we should buy even better defenders.

simmo added 01:02 - Apr 23
Sounds like Hugill available on loan next season 👀

TacticalR added 14:23 - Apr 24
Thanks to Connor.

Norwich have consistently clocked up the results this season.

Interesting point that 'yo-yoing isn’t nearly as bad as people make out'. That's only the case if a club has not bought a lot of Premiership players on Premiership contracts.

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