As I left a jubilant and buoyant Carrow Road after securing promotion back to the Premier League with a 2-1 win over Blackburn, I staggered back to the Pub (it was a late kick off and we’d been drinking most of the afternoon) and logged into Twitter to see what the footballing world was saying about the first of the three teams to be promoted from the EFL Championship. Upon checking my timeline, the first tweet I saw, was of particular interest and significance, as it sank in what Norwich had just achieved. Promotion to the promised land with a squad of academy players, rejected Germans and various others left on the footballing scrapheap, it was no longer a dream. James was on the hunt for a 19/20 Norwich correspondent, as well as welcoming the Canaries back to the big time and of course the world of FPL. I made my interest known and here I am.
My fantasy football life began in the mid 90’s. I have vague recollections of playing in a league with half a dozen mates from school, where we made up the rules ourselves by deciding budgets and points could only be secured from goals and clean sheets. Even in them days there were arguments about out of position players as the lad who won it had Dwight Yorke as a midfielder, causing all sorts of arguments as the newspapers had him classed as a striker. We weren’t allowed to own the same player so we were all obviously fighting over the cream of the crop. A few years later I began working in London (circa 2004) and we created a work fantasy league with The Telegraph. It was all done with banter and fun in mind, but as always over a few seasons it became competitive and addictive. In them days, we had to wait until the Wednesday for the scores to be published in the paper, so we could update our own mini league manually with a pen and paper. A whole world away from the live feeds / ranks that are available these days at a push of the button. I’ve been playing FPL since the 09/10 season but wasn’t much cop at it until the 15/16 season and just played casually. This generally involved losing money and paying for meals against friends and colleagues in my mini leagues and getting more and more frustrated throughout the season. A typical season as a then casual would usually end in tears by taking massive hits, captaining Jamie Carragher in a double game week as a major differential or just giving up full stop. Fast forward to the 19/20 season, 4 top 100k finishes in a row and fairly obsessed with life in the FPL twitter community and a variety of my favourite podcasts.
I’ve never been totally comfortable with owning Norwich players in FPL, especially as my mini league rivalry has heated up with more and more seemingly at stake each year. I’ve been badly burnt owning players such as Brady, Snodgrass, Fer, Wolfswinkel (how crap was he), Redmond in the past, when they’ve failed to turn it on and live up to the price tag and hysteria. Of course the old argument of heart over head always plays a part, which will no doubt complicate things and fry my brain even more than normal, when plotting my transfers for the upcoming game week. Grant Holt in 11/12 was probably my only short lived Norwich FPL success story in recent times and possibly Ryan Bennett who had a spot as bench fodder in 11/12 (some things never change) .
As great as it is playing with the big boys in the big league, it’s kind of strange having your own merry men amongst it all and could be seen as an extra complication. The plus side however is obviously having some good inside knowledge on players that are nailed, playing out of position, coming into form etc. This is particularly useful in our case having just been promoted, and having a team made up of largely unheard of assets. Having said that, so much information is accessible these days without having to even watch the game on TV or from the stands. Some of the most successful FPL players don’t need to worry about anyone passing the eye test, when they’re loaded up with pods, spreadsheets and heat maps from an ever growing number of sources. Then there’s the nightmares of watching your own team, spurring them from the stands knowing you’re likely to lose and you’ve tripled up on the opposition players, knowing full well how terrible your defence is. Let’s face it, when your teams up against Sergio and co as one of the smaller teams, your sometimes just waiting for the inevitable to happen. At least a certain Mr Suarez is no longer on these shores though. 11 goals in 5 games against us, a four goal brace, back to back hatricks, it’s not even funny. Not until you’ve just remembered in the back of your head he’s your captain for the game week, and you’re suddenly dreaming of them green arrows of course. I bet Liverpool fans are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of seeing our back four in action again in gw1, and yes our defence is still leaky!
So onto this season. You’ll all know about our tricky start by now, and we can only close our eyes and hope for the best in gw1 and 5 (liv & MCI). I expect gw3’s (CHE) and gw4 (whu) to be tricky as well and I’d happily take a point in each of them. GW2 right now home to Newcastle is looking particularly appealing though and I think it’s imperative we get three points on the board in that one. Given the shenanigans taking place there right now, I think we will. The fun for Norwich hopefully begins in gw6 at Burnley, as it marks the beginning of a nice little run of games away from the big boys. Until the fixture at home to Tottenham on Dec 28th, the only tricky games on paper appear to be Man U and Arsenal at home (I can see still see us scoring in both and having a go) and Everton away. If ever there was to be a time to jump onto the Norwich assets, this is it. I don’t see many drafts with Norwich players in right now and with good reason, but I think after a few weeks (if we don’t get swept aside too heavily in the opening fixtures) we’ll be hopefully taking advantage of some the value, particularly when wildcarding in either of the first or second international breaks.
At the time of writing we’ve not signed players in the two key positions, where I had hoped for. I really believe we need strengthening and beefing up in Central Defence and Defensive Midfield. After conceding 57 goals in the Championship last year, of course it is a cause for concern and something I had hoped would be addressed. All is fine and dandy in the full back positions with Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis (cover in both provided by Byram and Heise), but it’s in the middle I feel we are lacking some real quality and depth. Christoph Zimmermann has been ruled out for 6/8 weeks leaving only Tim Klose, Ben Godfrey and Grant Hanley fit and available for action. God forbid we get an injury to Klose or Godfrey in the next couple of months, as I have real concerns if Hanley can cut the mustard in the Premier League. Even in the Championship last year he hardly featured, only starting 6 games. I’d love a Gary Cahill figure in there to boss that defence alongside Godfrey and the young full backs, but as you know Norwich would never cough up the transfer fee and wages, but that’s exactly what we ae needing right now. Meanwhile Tom Trybull cemented his place in the team last year in front of the back four, finally replacing an ageing Alex Tettey. While not an FPL option (he does all the donkey work and sits in front of the back four) it can’t be underestimated how important he is for us. I’d love us to rev up the competition for him in this area though with someone who is top notch, in the same manner that they’ve addressed all other areas of the squad this summer with suitable back up of different options and Premier League quality.
Currently Moritz Leitner is my only Norwich asset as 4.5 bench fodder. While a lot of the community have Dendoncker warming their benches as an enabler, I feel that Leitner could be a great asset at this price, assuming he secures his place in the heart of the midfield. He missed a lot of games through injury last year and struggled to win his place back due to the form of the team and Farke’s loyalty but he’s played a lot of minutes in pre-season (303) and has impressed. I expect him to fight off competition from Cantwell and Mclean in the heart of the Norwich midfield, especially as 6.5m Vrancic makes his way back from injury and builds his fitness back up. There is also a good chance that Leitner is on penalties.
How do I think we’ll do? I think we’ll stay up – just about. We’ve got more than enough creativity, firepower and flair going forward to pick up points against sides in the bottom half of the league at the very least. Pre-season was very much a mixed bag. Wins against Schalke 04, Luton and Toulouse, defeats against Atalanta and Brentford, and a draw against Arminia Bielefeld, it’s very hard to know what to predict other than goals at both ends. In the six games mentioned, we scored 12 and conceded 11, so very much as you were and never a dull moment. Our survival is likely to come down to the defence, and if they can stay switched on for 90 minutes (even longer now VAR is upon us) and cut out the individual errors. They’ll have to get used to losing games and taking a few hidings along the journey, but the key will be staying united and maintaining the fantastic team spirit that emerged last season getting us here in the first place.
Cardiff gave it their best shot last season without spending a fortune and it wasn’t quite good enough. Time will tell if Norwich will manage to defy the odds and survive doing things on a shoestring, but I can only hope we give it a right good go and play as we fans have grown to love – Offensive, exciting and with no fear.
INTRODUCING : THE THREE STAND OUT PLAYERS
TEEMU PUKKI (FWD) – 6.5m
18/19 – 43 Appearances (29 Goals + 9 Assists)
The perfect striker with a bit of everything in his locker, but initially an underwhelming signing it’s fair to say. Norwich fans fully expected him to be back up striker to Jordan Rhodes in 18/19, but the total opposite happened. Rhodes hardly got a sniff due to Pukki’s explosive form and had to settle for a place on the bench as we only ever line up with the one striker.
Norwich’s player of the season, EFL player of the season. EFL team of year, most NCFC goals in a season, EFL top scorer, Double against Ipswich – I can’t wait for you all to meet this fella.
Nobody expected the impact he would make, it’s not just goals but the work rate, the movement, the desire – he’s so vital to us. Described by Farke as someone who looks like he’s just got out of bed, but certainly doesn’t play like it.
In 17/18 we had no end product at top end of pitch, all our strikers were wasteful and the goal threat was zero. This made Pukki’s arrival and contribution all the more noticeable and impressive.
Pukki had previously played at some good clubs but didn’t really make his mark on them. Farke has simply polished the talent and given him the belief that he could be as good as he wants to be.
It’s not just the goals, you can’t help but warm to him for things like running back 60/70 meters to prevent a QPR counter attack to right back spot, when we was already 4-0 up and coasting it late on in the second half.
Obviously he won’t score the same multiples in Premier League, but I’m confident he’ll take his chances if he gets them.
A great finisher and very intelligent. Watch some of his play outside the box and how he links up with Stiepermann and Buendia – its breath-taking. Only one header last season and no penalties (albeit a missed one and has since been relieved of his duties), makes the 29 goals even more impressive. Not bad for a free transfer hey?
Only the one goal in pre-season v Schalke, but has looked impressive and sharp and more importantly got 250 minutes under his belt. Missed two friendlies as a precaution with a minor injury, but is now ready to be unleashed.
EMI BUENDIA (MID) – 6m
18/19 – 38 Appearances (8 Goals + Assists 12)
Introducing the little 5ft 7 fella who had been relegated to the Spanish third division and recruited as a 1.5million signing from the bargain bin. Who would have imagined this mystery man and James Maddison replacement would be so instrumental and key to the success in winning the league?
Operates more from right wing rather than in middle, full of intelligent movement and very quick feet. You’ll soon discover Emi is football heaven and a joy to watch. Surprisingly more clinical from open play than Maddison was, and links up so well with Max Aarons.
Overflowing with creativity and responsible for so many of the through balls to Pukki’s returns in 18/19. Won the prestigious award for not just the most assists in the league, but was also the most fouled (88) and had most key passes (91). No doubt at all he will spring a few surprises with his talent and get people talking.
A superb long range goal in the pre-season game against Brentford will do his confidence no harm at all, as he looks to continue where he left off in last season’s Championship.
MAX AARONS (DEF) – 4.5M
18/19 – 41 Appearances (2 Goals + 6 Assists)
Our flying 19 year old right back. Heavily linked with a money spinning moved to the big boys and rightly so, having played every minute of the last 38 games to such a high standard. Performing with such an amazing level of concentration and consistency earned him a well-deserved new contact at Carrow Road until 2023.
Was probably earning pennies at the start of 18/19 when unbelievably he was our 4th choice right back, before being handed his debut at Ipswich of all places.
Has only been on losing side 3 times in his career and we won 15 of the first 20 games with him in the side.
EFL young player of the year across all 3 divisions in his debut season which is an incredible achievement. Even more so when you think of some off the previous winners, such as Gareth Bale, Wilfred Zaha, and Dele Alli all big names who went on to have big Premier League futures.
Can only think of one mistake he made all of last season and that was for a slip. Incredibly composed and confident for such a young man.
Played 339 minutes of pre-season and as always looks great going forward. Two assists in the recent pre-season win at Luton and hopefully many more to come.