As the FPL community dust off the cobwebs on their neglected teams, who could have possibly imagined this? Here I am typing away in early June and Norwich are still somehow in the Premier League and haven’t yet been knocked out of the FA Cup. You could never possibly foresee a scenario where the world would be deprived of our beautiful game for so long, or where you’d be unable to get a pint down your local as the doors and windows were boarded up. A summer where you was cheering virtual goals from ex pros who are now well into their 40s and 50’s, and one where you wouldn’t log into your FPL account for over three months – forgetting which heartbreaking assets you owned. This is 2020.
My feelings towards football coming back may be slightly different to the average FPL player. I’ve had a season ticket at Norwich every season bar two since 1987/88 (the two I missed were through choice and under the stewardship of Bruce Rioch and Glenn Roeder say no more) and it’s a huge part of my life. I’ve been away pre season to places like FC Zwolle and SC Braga and although you can’t quite always justify the time, expense and hassle, you know deep down your football club are 100% worth it so just carry on regardless.
Football In the week prior to lockdown showed how unforgiving and fast moving it can be. A massive penalty shoot out win in the FA Cup at Tottenham one minute and there I was a mere three days later (GW29) at Bramall Lane brought down to earth with a bump. We looked like a team void of ideas and a certainty for the drop. And then kaput, that was the last game I saw and the last time I saw many of my good NCFC supporting mates. Nothing has ever stopped me from supporting my club, If there’s a game and I fancy it, I’ll be there. Until now!
FPL and most of things for that matter will always play second fiddle to the Norwich fixture list. Even the movement three years ago from a Casual to a member of the FPL Community mean that once I’m on my way to a game, I give little thought to my FPL team and who is scoring me points. As much as I love my football in the flesh, bizarrely I very seldom watch Match of the Day or a Super Sunday. If I’m at a loose end in midweek I’ll watch the odd game, but even then it takes a good fixture (ideally with FPL assets) to get me to sit there and fully concentrate. The brutal reality now is that it’s the only thing available to us, and it’s going to be such a strange watch cheering on the team in a relegation battle from the comfort of my own living room. Granted it’s better than nothing and everyone is in the same bizarre situation. I doubt it, but I might even begin to enjoy it. No queues for toilets or turnstiles and no overpriced beer and pies in my kitchen. I’ll be able to tally up my FPL points a lot quicker as well and not have to worry about cold hands or having no signal or phone battery.
I’ll miss stumbling to my seat after a few pints and shaking hands with the lads around me as the teams emerge from the tunnel. I’ll miss the surge to the front when we score and the hugging of randomers at the full time whistle in that crazy moment when you lose yourself and can forget about every day life. The instant buzz you could never get at home on the tv, away from the euphoria and noise of a football stadium. Well I don’t think you can?
I can’t even begin to describe how I would feel if Norwich stayed up on the final day of the season. How would I celebrate? Would I? Or should we get to our first ever FA cup final why im not lining the streets of Wembley Way with my mates and on a weekend bender in the big smoke like in 2015 when we played Boro in the Play Off final. That would be so typical Norwich to do that to me.
We’re now totally unsure how the home advantage will pan out now. Game after game in the Bundesliga we’re seeing home teams struggle like never before. We dont have to play any of the top 9 in the remaining 5 home games (So all looks good on paper) but thinking about it this might actually work against us. If I cast my mind back to the Man City win in late September, no way would we have held on in them dying seconds without the crowd spurring the tired legs on. The noise and encouragement from the terraces gave the players huge fight and belief to soldier on, and for a club like Norwich, the home support driving them on cant be under estimated. I’m intrigued what the travel arrangements will be for some of the teams due to come to Norwich with hotels not open. It’s not the easiest place to get to and one can only hope the players of Everton and Burnley among others, will have lost the will to live by the time they arrive in Norfolk after an early morning alarm. The only long away journey we have is the last game at Manchester City, the others are all fairly local. Clutching at straws? Maybe.
All 4 Centre Backs are available for first time this season. There is chat and rumblings among local media of the possibility of playing 3 of them and a change of formation which would allow Lewis and Aarons to push on. I think there are times this season were Farke would have liked to implement this but didn’t have the available resources. I’m not sure If now would be a good time to start tinkering and it would be a big gamble. If this is the case both Aarons and Lewis would be worth sticking on your watchlist, and while Byram is injured both are nailed.
As critical as I was on Norwich not investing sufficiently last summer, with the way of the world now thats looking like not such a bad thing. The long term future of the club is pretty secure and the majority of the personnel assuming we get relegated will remain, and you’d like to think we’ll be in a good position to come straight back. We do know however the Championship is brutal, and that is no given – just ask fans of Hull, Cardiff, Huddersfield etc. Possibly the fees we would have got this summer from Aarons, Godfrey, Cantwell and Buendia won’t be quite so big now, but they’re still major assets to hold and I have no doubt all of them will be putting in some big performances and catching the eyes of the scouts over the next few weeks. 4.5m Max Aarons took a long time to adjust to the demands of the PL, but since Christmas he’s shown he has a long future ahead at this level. While he wont earn you too many clean sheets, he capable of assisting with his class wing play.
I really think Teemu Pukki could be a good option. Those who listened to COTC (for the Southampton game that didn’t get played in GW30) will know I wasn’t convinced about Pukki and his form and fitness for free hit teams. He looked dead on his feet and well in need of a rest. I don’t think he’d been the same since the toe injury at Leicester in December. Im expecting and excited to see the real Teemu Pukki back in business. Cantwell is still owned by 19% of managers and at his attractive price point he will always need monitoring. Bench him by all means (I’ll most likely be doing just that) but keep an eye on his returns and always access whether he’s a viable option to start in the ‘home games’. Keep an eye on 4.7m Ondrej Duda as well if he starts in the number ten position. A so far very underwhelming January loan signing, but I’m hoping the break and last few weeks of training will have done him the world of good to get upto speed.
Danny Murphy reckons we’re the best bottom of the league team ever to grace the Premier League. I’m not so sure, we’ve struggled to beat average teams all season. Playing sexy football for 45 minutes every couple of weeks counts for nothing when you six points adrift in the middle of June! Take 0.7% owned Emi Buendia for example, everyone tells me how good he is (and on his day he’s class) but he’s been frustrating to watch and so inconsistent all season. He’s hasn’t managed to to find the net yet and that has to change. Now is his time to step up and show us how good he really is, putting himself in the shop window at the same time.
One thing for certain though is we’re about to find out who the best of the teams at the bottom really are. Can Norwich Claw back that six point gap, of course. Will they? probably not. But remember this is 2020, these are weird times and anything can happen.