Norwich City have made a clear statement of intent in the summer transfer window, pitching multi-million pound deals to secure the services of seven new players, including an attacking trio of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond.
These three additions to the squad come after a lacklustre season for Norwich in front of goal, during which the Canaries managed to find the back of the net on just 41 occasions.
No Norwich player crossed the ten-goal mark in the Premier League, while only Stoke City and the now-relegated Queens Park Rangers registered fewer goals than Chris Hughton’s men.
Norwich relied on Holt's physical presence last season
Grant Holt, the 32-year-old veteran who will ply his trade at Wigan Athletic next season, was statistically their most reliable attacking outlet, netting 8 times in 34 appearances.
Their sluggish output in the final third was largely down to Hughton’s defensively cautious approach and the disappointing displays of their favoured front men.
Norwich conceded 66 goals in the 2011/12 domestic campaign so it’s safe to say that Hughton first vowed to consolidate the porous defense when he took over the managerial reigns at Carrow Road last summer.
Even though Norwich conceded 58 times last term, their solid defensive record at home led them to safety. The Canaries gave away just 20 goals during their home ties. By comparison, champions Manchester United leaked 19 at Old Trafford.
With Wes Hoolahan's inconsistencies as a number 10, Holt’s lack of technical skills, the inability of the other strikers to hit top gear and the lack of quality passers in the team, Hughton’s tactical options were severely restricted.
New strikers give them more mobility
His team couldn’t build-up from the back or control possession. Hence, the 54 year-old was compelled to set up his troops in a very direct manner- playing long balls to Holt, who would in turn combine with other attackers or by playing it out wide for the wingers to deliver crosses.
It was a one-dimensional and uncertain approach, with Norwich’s dismal goal tally a testament to this claim. So after having solidified the back-four, Hughton understood that he needed to revitalize Norwich’s attack.
"The areas that we felt we needed to improve were the offensive areas,” noted the former Republic of Ireland international in an interview with the Norwich Evening News last week.
A lavish club record fee of £8.5 million was splurged to bring Van Wolfswinkel on board from cash-strapped Sporting Lisbon and Norwich also signed Champions League alumni, Hooper from Celtic after failing to do so in the winter transfer break.
Both are strikers with very similar traits. They are traditional penalty-box poachers who like to play off the shoulder of the last defender and make runs into the channels.
Both can drop back to be a part of the build-up play, are blessed with a neat first touch and have a penchant eye for goal. While Hooper scored 31 goals last term, Wolfswinkel rounded up his season with 20 strikes chalked up along his name.
Chris Hughton| Ready to attack
The two strikers will bring about an element of mobility and liveliness to the squad, which Holt, Steve Morison and Simeon Jackson continually failed to provide last season. Norwich won’t need to rely on the aerial dominance of Holt or set-pieces for goals anymore. They can adopt a more fluid structure instead.
However, it is still to be seen whether Hooper will be an integral member of the starting XI or competition to Wolfswinkel for the lone-striker role.
Like Wolfswinkel, the 25-year-old might be suited for the lone-striker position, but he possess tremendous physicality and a good understanding of the game, which facilitated the Englishman to often switch roles with the second-striker at Celtic, Anthony Stokes.
Hence, utilizing a strike partnership of Hooper and Wolfswinkel looks feasible, at least until Norwich broker a deal for a proven attacking midfielder. But, neither signing would have made any sense had Hughton not recruited new men in midfield to feed the strikers.
Fer's signing brings creativity to the midfield
Leroy Fer, whose proposed move to Everton in January collapsed owing to a failed medical, is an intriguing midfield option. Blessed with creativity and imposing attacking instincts, the 23-year-old can regularly supply attackers with fine passes, while Robert Snodgrass, Anthony Pilkington and Redmond can provide the necessary inputs from the flanks. The defenders are also comfortable in playing the ball on the floor.
Much to the relief of the fans, Hughton can finally deploy an attractive brand of football. Norwich averaged 302 short passes per-game last season, the fifth lowest in the league but one can expect a drastic increase in that respect as a short passing game will suit the club’s new signings.
For many, survival will still be the base aim but by the extent of their spending and the quality they have brought in, anything less than a top-half finish will be a disappointment for Hughton’s troops this season.
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