Norwich City 2012-13 | Season Preview: Possession style football?

Norwich City 2012-13 | Season Preview: Possession style football?

Norwich City surprised many people last season by finishing in 12th position. Even the most optimistic fans wouldn’t have expected that. However, life wasn’t all rosy at Carrow Road after the season ended. Paul Lambert left for Aston Villa and Grant Holt handed in a transfer request. Two of the clubs’ biggest assets rocked a boat that looked for all the world like it might start sinking.

Fortunately, the doom and gloom lifted when Chris Hughton joined from Birmingham. Soon after his arrival, Grant Holt resolved his differences with the club and signed improved terms to see out the rest of his career at Norwich. The holes were patched up and the boat was sailing along nicely again.

Hughton’s appointment appeared to please everyone connected with the club. He is viewed as a logical replacement for Paul Lambert – a coach on the up and with something to prove, having been somewhat harshly treated at Newcastle.

So what can Norwich City expect from Chris Hughton? Tactically, he favoured 4-4-2 at Birmingham last season, although he often changed to a 4-4-1-1, 4-5-1 or even a 4-3-3 depending on player availability. Birmingham finished the season in 4th place and ultimately failed with their promotion bid in the play-offs.

Many Norwich fans are already expecting a 4-4-2 formation, especially given Norwich played this system in their first friendly of pre-season against Hertha Berlin. However, it might not be as simple as that – playing in the Championship is altogether different to playing in the Premier League. Whilst managing Newcastle in the top division, Hughton said:

“The thing you have to be in this division is adaptable because of the quality you are up against. I certainly don’t see us always playing two high out-and-out strikers at home. At this level 4-4-2 is certainly a tougher system to play if you have not got the best players.”.

So 4-4-2 may not be such a common sight for Norwich fans next season. Hughton explains:

 “It is harder to win Premier League games playing 4-4-2 without having players of the quality the top teams have. When you play the top sides you cannot afford to be as open as 4-4-2 can leave you. Consequently teams adapt their formation.”

Sound familiar? Those words could just as equally come from a certain Paul Lambert. With Birmingham in the Championship last season, Hughton had one of the strongest squads in the league, making it an easier choice to use 4-4-2 – more often than not he had the better players. But in the Premier League, he knows he’ll need to tighten things up to get results.

Hughton already has options for an out-and-out striker in the shape of Holt, Morison and Vaughan. His signing of attacking midfielder Jacob Butterfield will give Jackson and Hoolahan competition for the berth just behind the lone striker.

Also confirmed on Hughton’s radar is Robert Snodgrass from Leeds. Norwich are a little light on wingers, with just Pilkington and Bennett fulfilling these roles. Signing Snodgrass would provide competition on the right side of midfield, offering Hughton good width even in a 4-5-1 formation (becoming more like 4-3-3 when attacking).

If the rumours are true, Hughton is also looking to strengthen defensively with two more signings. Left-back is a weak spot for Norwich currently since the departure of Adam Drury to Leeds. So a signing in this position will be essential. Given that Hughton was a top full-back during his playing days, it will be interesting to see who signs in this area. Finally, an experienced centre-back will most likely be on Hughton’s shopping list too, in order to help the promising youthful talent of Bennett and Ayala.

In terms of style, Hughton prefers attractive, attacking football – something Norwich fans always look for in their team. The recent pre-season trip to Austria illustrated Hughton’s intent, with Russell Martin saying:

“There has been lots of possession and technical work which can only improve you as players.”.

Steve Morison confirmed this, adding that:

“The new gaffer is all about possession and lots of touches of the ball. Hopefully that suits the lads here.”.

Last season, Norwich had on average 46.3% possession of the ball over the whole season. Only seven teams had less possession than the Canaries. Hughton will certainly view this as an area to improve on.

The other key area for improvement will be the number of goals conceded. Having leaked 66 last season, Hughton will hope that if Norwich can control games better with more possession, they will be less likely to concede goals. This statistic is vital – only three teams fared worse in this area than Norwich last season and they were all relegated.

On the subject of goals against, it is interesting to note that last season, Hughton’s Birmingham dropped the most points (31) from winning positions last season. Perhaps this is a sign of Hughton’s attacking philosophy and/or his players lack of concentration? Either way, hopefully Hughton will be conscious of this statistic and do all he can not to replicate it at Norwich.

The prime objective for the season is without a doubt survival. Many people will view this as somewhat negative considering the success of last season. But if Norwich are able to secure their Premier League status for a second successive season, the board will sanction the development of Carrow Road by adding a new tier and increasing the capacity by circa 8,000. With over 20,000 season ticket holders at present and a long waiting list to boot, Norwich City easily have the potential to regularly fill a stadium with a 35,000 capacity.

With a squad full of young, hungry players and no debt, Norwich City are a club on the up. Over the next few years, if Norwich can establish themselves in the Premier League, then they will be in a prime position to become a strong force in English football.