To say that life back in the Premier League has been a baptism of fire for Norwich City would be a bit of an understatement. A 3-0 home loss to Liverpool was followed by a 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City, and most recently we saw a 2-1 loss at home to Leicester City. Obviously, these results are to be taken with a pinch of salt. For a newly-promoted team to play three of last season’s top five, including the reigning champions, straight off the bat was never going to make for pretty viewing. What’s more, it has been a summer disrupted by Euro 2020 and positive COVID-19 tests, meaning much of the first team have not had a full summer to prepare for these fixtures. Regardless of the circumstances, this has already got neutrals writing the Canaries off and preparing for a similar outcome from their last spell in the top flight.
But these are early days, and, unlike last time out, Norwich have decided to follow voice of wisdom Robbie Savage’s advice and “have a go” (like they weren’t already), with eleven new first team signings coming in through the door, and a raft of contract terminations and loans out of those considered “dead weight.” Sporting director Stuart Webber has boldly stated that City have been given the “loaded gun” and relevant ammunition to compete and survive this year, which, while met with a degree of skepticism from certain areas of the fanbase, does have some truth to it.
With more than £50million spent this summer, almost unprecedented figures by Delia’s standards, Norwich should certainly be considered to have a fighting chance this season. They won the Championship with 99 points last season, and have only strengthened since then. But how would we rate this eventful window for the Canaries? Here, we’ll have a look at the ins, outs, and all abouts, to determine just how successful we can call this window, what could have been improved, and where this leaves City for the upcoming season.
We’ll get the big downer out of the way first and foremost, which is, naturally, Emi Buendia’s £33million move to Premier League rivals Aston Villa, potentially rising to £38million.
While it was expected for Buendia to leave Carrow Road after a season that saw him register 15 goals and 16 assists and win the EFL Championship Player of the Year award, this move still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. For one, I believe he should have been sold to a better team. No disrespect to Aston Villa, they had a brilliant season last year and deserved more than their 11th place finish in the table. However, they are still an improving team, and without Jack Grealish they could easily find themselves sitting in the bottom half of the table come the season’s end. If he had moved to a team that were expected to compete for Europe this season, say Leicester or Arsenal (lol), then a possible direct rival would not have been improved, and more money could have been squeezed out of them.
Speaking of which, the price tag leaves a bit to be desired. A £40million price tag was long touted, and to sell Buendia for a “mere” £33million seems like Norwich have been cheated out of a bit of cash that could have been further invested. Maybe this is a case of learning to check our privilege, but it remains a bitter pill to swallow, despite the impressive reinvestment that the cash has brought.
The other notable outgoing was the unfortunate news that Oliver Skipp would not be returning for a second season in East Anglia. Skipp was a revelation last season in the Championship, and his ability to win the ball back and drive attacks forward showed the steel and tenacity that City desperately lacked during their last spell in the Premier League. Naturally, this has meant Tottenham have wanted to give the youngster more game time, and he has already become a mainstay of Nuno Espirito Santo’s midfield this season. A second loan spell always seemed optimistic, but it would have been great to have him back regardless.
But Buendia and Skipp have thankfully been the only two high-profile departures from Carrow Road this summer. Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell were linked with their usual moves away from the club, but both have stuck around to provide some familiar quality to the starting XI. If either or both of them had followed out the exit door it would truly have been panic station time, despite the healthy sum of cash both of them would have generated.
The other positive news from the “outgoings” is that City have made bounds in clearing out the “dead weight” of the squad, with Championship-quality players moved on for players with more top-flight experience, and giving manager Daniel Farke much more quality and depth to work with. Josip Drmić, Onel Hernández, Jordan Hugill, and Danel Sinani are among those to depart on loan, whilst Moritz Leitner, Philip Heise, Marco Stiepermann, Timm Klose, Mario Vrančić, Melvin Sitti, and the legend that is Alex Tettey are among the first-team names who have been released on free transfers. It might be sad seeing some of these guys go, but not only has the wage bill been freed up, but should Norwich inevitably find themselves in a relegation scrap, they will find themselves with more proven quality to call upon.
So who exactly are these signings Delia has splashed the cash on this summer? And will they actually improve Daniel Farke’s sides’ chances of staying up and consolidating a place in the top flight in the long term? Well, here we’ll go position by position to break down and analyse all of City’s eleven new first-team faces, and definitively decide once and for all whether the Canaries have invested their money wisely, or will face a season of bankruptcy back in the Championship next year.
Goalkeeper – Angus Gunn
Starting us off between the sticks, we have the homecoming of Angus “Gunny” Gunn, son of legendary Canaries ‘keeper Brian.
Gunn had a loan spell at Carrow Road back in the 2017-18 season, and established himself as a fan favourite during his solo season. His time in the Premier League has been a mixed bag since then, with his presence in Southampton’s 9-0 mauling at home to Leicester in 2019 effectively leaving him out in the cold at St. Mary’s for nearly two years.
He returns to East Anglia with a point to prove, and will provide some much-needed competition for number one Tim Krul. While Krul is no doubt reliable and an excellent shot-stopper, he has looked a bit wobbly during Norwich’s opening games this season, and Gunn provides a solid pair of hands should Krul be either dropped or injured. 2019’s back-up, Ralf Fährmann, never really cut the Colman’s mustard during his loan spell, and left third-choice Michael McGovern to deputise in Krul’s absence. Should Gunn stay fit, he can be considered a snip at £5million, and adds some more Premier League experience to the squad. And at 25, he has plenty more football ahead of him.
Centre-Backs – Ben Gibson and Ozan Kabak
Big Ben Gibson was a signing we all knew was going to happen, so I’ll be terse with his description. An integral part of City’s back line after signing on loan last season, Gibson enjoyed a renaissance in yellow and green, after being frozen out during a disastrous spell at Burnley. His £8million arrival was as inevitable as Thanos himself, but he already appears slightly out-of-sorts upon his top-flight return. Yes, his reintroduction to the Premier League hasn’t been easy, but it does beg the question whether he and captain Grant Hanley are a Premier League-quality pairing, and whether one of them needs someone a bit better alongside them to get the best out of them.
That’s where Ozan Kabak comes in. A deadline day loan signing, there seems a consensus we haven’t yet seen the best of the highly-rated youngster, given the absolute shambles Schalke are in right now, and the panicked nature of his arrival at Liverpool last season. Nevertheless, despite being only 21 years of age, he brings a wealth of experience to the team, and with him on the right and Gibson on the left, we could be looking at an assured partnership for this season. Given the names the Turkey international was linked to prior to his arrival at Carrow Road, this seems like quite the coup.
He may not have been what the fans had in mind when the fans were calling for a new centre-back, but Kabak undoubtedly improves the back-line. Should the two new signings start, that leaves captain Grant Hanley, the classy Christoph Zimmermann, and highly-rated youngster Andrew Omobamidele waiting in the wings. All in all, good business seems to have been done.
Full-Backs – Dimitrios Giannoulis and Brandon Williams
Much like the aforementioned Gibson, Greek international Dimi Giannoulis arrived on loan in last season’s January transfer window, and instantly impressed with his darting pace up and down the left. His defensive frailties have been exposed early on this season, but against Liverpool and Manchester City this was somewhat to be expected. Some more time to adapt to the top-flight will surely make his £6.75million arrival look a top piece of business.
As well as Giannoulis, Brandon Williams has arrived on loan from Manchester United. Somewhat left out in the cold after the re-emergence of Luke Shaw, Williams has a wealth of experience for a player so young, and despite being caught out for both goals in the defeat to Leicester, he was one of Norwich’s best players in their 6-0 Carabao Cup thrashing of Bournemouth. A versatile option who can play on either flank, Williams is a brilliant signing for this coming season.
Left-back was a problem area for Norwich last season, after the departure of Jamal Lewis and his replacement Xavi Quintillà never really recovering from injury, leaving holding midfielder Jacob Sørensen to deputise in his place before the mid-season arrival of Giannoulis. Quintillà has since returned to Villarreal, and Sørensen can’t be expected to produce similar performances out-of-position on a regular basis in the Premier League. Meanwhile, the versatility of Williams means he can also cover for Max Aarons at right-back when needed, with Sam Byram still out injured and question marks over Bali Mumba’s ability to step up to the big time. On the whole, these two, on paper, look like a wonderful bit of business.
Defensive Midfield – Mathias Normann
The fans were crying out for a holding midfielder all transfer window, and with a day left before it shut, they got their man, as Mathias Normann arrived on loan from Russian outfit FC Rostov.
There were last-minute rumours linking Portugal international William Carvalho to Carrow Road, which always seemed like a bit of an optimistic target. He’s stayed at Real Betis, and the nasty Norwegian has arrived instead. I jest of course, I’m sure he’s a lovely guy, but he is expected to bring a bit of bite and steel to the midfield that has been left by Oliver Skipp. The flat three of box-to-box midfielders hasn’t worked out for City so far, and while Kenny McLean looked impressive against Leicester in the Normann role, it looks like he will be a capable back-up for the season. The same goes for Sørensen.
Hopefully Normann can justify the potential £11million transfer fee he’ll command if he can help City stay in the league, but the early signs appear positive that he will be tough-tackling hard man that will protect the Norwich back line with excellent results.
Central Midfield – Billy Gilmour and Pierre Lees-Melou
Speaking of the midfield, it’s been a bit of an overhaul in the middle of the park. Daniel Farke has decided to swap the 4-2-3-1 for a more flexible flat 4-3-3 to accommodate these two new arrivals. The results, so far, have not been successful.
Gilmour is arguably the most exciting arrival through the door this summer. A full international at age 20, the Scotsman made headlines for his commanding performance in his country’s 0-0 with England at Euro 2020, before his tournament was cruelly cut short by a positive COVID test. Before that, he looked like a bright spark in the Chelsea midfield whenever his services were called upon. He clearly has a bright future ahead of him, but if one thing has been made abundantly clear by his first three games in yellow and green, he is not a Skipp replacement. He’s a talented box-to-box playmaker, but he can’t be expected to break up the play and cover the back line like Normann will. Should Farke stick with the 4-3-3 and play Normann at the base of the midfield, we can expect Gilmour to flourish. Better sill, if Farke reverts to the 4-2-3-1 and plays Gilmour at CAM, we could see him really fulfill his potential.
Similar things can be said of Pierre Lees-Melou. A bargain for a man of his experience at £3.5million, the Frenchman brings a raft of experience from the French top flight, and so far has looked assured, if not spectacular, on the Carrow Road pitch. He will no doubt benefit from Normann’s presence behind him to get the best out of him, and the trio of new signings could play a vital role in Norwich’s survival if they can play well together. And with players such as McLean, Sørensen, Rupp and Dowell on the bench, Norwich have got themselves a far better midfield selection to call upon than they did in 2019-20.
Forwards – Milot Rashica, Christos Tzolis, and Josh Sargent
Rounding off City’s new XI of talent, we have three forwards who have made fine starts to their careers in East Anglia; Kosovo winger Milot Rashica, Greek youngster Christos Tzolis, and versatile American forward Josh Sargent.
Farke has made a habit of snapping up Bundesliga targets on the cheap in his four years at Carrow Road, so the signings of Rashica and Sargent from a relegated Werder Bremen side can come as no real surprise. The same can actually be said of Kabak as well. So any doubts some may have about the arrival of these two, should remember that Werder Bremen are a complete mess right now, and that the duo were shining lights of a wretched team last season.
Rashica has arrived for just shy of £10million and is already showing real signs of promise. It’s no secret he is expected to be Buendia’s replacement (they gave him his shirt number and everything), and while those are big shoes to fill, once he gets going he should provide the quality out wide on the left to set Pukki up with plenty of goals, particularly with Todd Cantwell on the opposite side. His Bremen counterpart, Sargent, looks a capable replacement when needed. An £8.5million signing who had already scored twice for Bremen this season before he moved club, he has already impressed in the victory over Bournemouth, in which he scored twice, and can play either out wide or through the middle. He is a different option for Farke up front, and will provide an exciting new dimension to the Norwich attack.
The final signing to cover is, of course, Christos Tzolis. A former teammate of Giannoulis at PAOK, the 19-year-old is already a full Greece international, was man of the match against Bournemouth, and cost “only” £9.9million. He looks well on his way to justifying that price tag, and only missed the game against Leicester through injury. His pace and athleticism already look a reliable option from the bench if needed, and he could well have a very bright future ahead of him.
The only question mark about the forward line is an alternative for Teemu Pukki. Yes, the Finn scored 11 Premier League goals a couple of seasons ago and had another barnstorming season in the Championship. However, it’s no secret that he is not the most physical of strikers, preferring to run in behind and applying a tidy finish. Against centre-backs such as Virgil van Dijk, Rúben Dias, and James Tarkowski, he will undoubtedly be found out.
Hence why I would have liked it if City had invested in a “big man up top.” Jordan Hugill obviously departed on loan, but I’m not sure he would have been the answer anyway. And whether Sargent and Adam Idah can fill this role remains to be seen. Cardiff City striker Kieffer Moore is the first name who pops to mind, having impressed in the Championship and for Wales at Euro 2020. Maybe even someone such as Aleksandr Mitrović? But maybe this is an issue for the January transfer window, if at all, since for now we must trust in Teemu and the wonderful attacking talent he has behind him.
A success. This is easily the most ambitious transfer window Norwich City have embarked upon in recent memory, if ever, and hopefully it proves dividends come the end of the season. To have almost overhauled the squad with eleven new signings while barely spending £50million, you have to give credit where credit is due to the board and Stuart Webber.
The investments appear wise, with experienced signings coming in for the short-term, loan signings that could easily be made permanent next year in the event of survival, and promising young players eager for game time. My only worry is that this will turn into a QPR situation – throwing a load of cash at the wall and seeing what sticks with disastrous results – but Norwich seem to know what they’re doing, despite the rocky start to the season. With a bit of time and patience, we should see this new crop of players come good, and fit seamlessly in with the existing pool of talent.
For those “experts” out there on YouTube and the like, to call this a “poor” transfer window for Norwich just screams ignorance on their behalf. Just because City lost Buendia does not make this a poor window. Just because you haven’t heard of some of the signings does not make this a poor window. Just because we’ve done the unthinkable and lost three games against three of the best teams in the country does not mean these new signings are bad signings. Before you pass judgement, give them time to adjust, and come up with a better reasoning than “I just don’t see it” when judging our window. Sorry we aren’t a “Big 6” club bankrolled by billionaires, it’s how we roll and you’re just going to have to live with it.
And that about does it for this analysis. I didn’t think it would go on for this long, but it turns out there’s a lot to say and I’m pretty opinionated. Either way, I hope those of you who stuck about to the end had an enlightening experience.
It’s been a while since I posted anything proper on here, so hopefully some more quality Canaries-based content will be coming your way throughout the season, along with whatever other nonsense I can think of. But for now, enjoy digesting the masterpiece you have just bared witness to.
Thanks for reading everyone, and happy travels.