Note: We're previewing each team in the Premier League in advance of the coming season. We'll start with the promoted teams, then move up the table, skipping Newcastle and saving them for last. We will finish on August 12, exactly one week prior to the Toon's opener with Manchester City.
Norwich City finished 11th last season under former Newcastle manager Chris Hughton, then got down to business buying underrated players over the summer. I sat down with Matt, manager of Norwich fan site Holtamania, to preview the Canaries' upcoming season.
Coming Home Newcastle: First and foremost, have you thought about renaming the blog upon your namesake Grant Holt's departure?
Holtamania: Nah. I got an absurd amount of tweets asking me if that was going to be the case, but the name is here to stay - an homage to the legend that he was. And because I'm too lazy.
CHN: Speaking of Holt, he led the club with 8 goals last season, and the entire team managed just 41. Chris Hughton has brought in Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper in an attempt to fix the attack. Has he done enough, and what should we expect from the duo this season? Which player are you more excited about?
HM: This is an interesting one because it's all well and good buying strikers (we needed them), but just as much of a problem last year was our inability to create chances. Having van Wolfswinkel or Hooper up front is all for nothing if we aren't giving them service, and that's where I'm more interested in looking. He's brought in Redmond from Birmingham and Leroy Fer from Twente, and both look like they can provide a bit of an attacking spark, so hopefully they can supply a few more opportunities. I think a major problem last year was Hughton's lack of trust in certain players and decision to be a defence-first team. After proving they can be solid, they have to now build on that and take more risks. Whether he does or not will go a long way to deciding whether we have another nailbiter.
CHN: What is your current feeling on the Hughton era?
HM: Good in the transfer market, some way to go on the pitch. It's harsh because we were spoilt by Lambert, but there was an overriding feeling last year that Hughton lacks the tactical nous to change games that were getting away from us. His substitutions were late and predictable and the team too defensive - he was too happy to accept a draw rather than try to win, at times. But he did his job: he kept us safe (even though it wasn't as comfortable as the league table suggests) and is now investing in a more balanced team. I also get the feeling he's here for the long haul - he wants to prove himself after what happened with Newcastle and won't go rushing to join someone else.
CHN: Last season the club pulled off some surprising results - 3-2 at the Etihad, 1-0 at home versus Manchester United, the same scoreline against Arsenal. Which is the real Norwich City: the one that toppled these giants in tense one-goal affairs, or the one that managed just 4 wins against the bottom half of the league?
HM: Good bloody question. I wish I knew. It's worth pointing out that a key reason for our enormous decline from Xmas until April was the injury to John Ruddy - without him our defence looked more scared and less confident. But last season was just strange; groups of games where we'd either be awful and turgid or seriously dangerous. I genuinely have no idea what the real Norwich is, as I wrote here.
CHN: Given your current squad, what would your ideal Starting XI be?
Martin Turner Bassong Olsson
Tettey Fer Howson
CHN: What do you expect Hughton's Starting XI will be?
HM: I wouldn't be surprised to see Hooper start over RVW to begin with, nor Bradley Johnson over Tettey. But the system is likely to be the one above. Whether you look at it as a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3 with wide forwards/wingers, I don't know.
CHN: What would have to happen this season for you to consider it a success?
HM: Minimum - survive. Success, 10th or above. That might sound greedy, but we've finished 12th, then 11th, and I look for continual progress. We were rubbish for half of last season and finished about 2 points from the top half - it's more than within our grasp. But I'd give most of that up for a trip to Wembley.
CHN: Where will Norwich finish in the table?
My thanks to Matt for taking the time to answer our questions. Check out Holtamania for more on Norwich City.