Can the Canaries change their stripes?
After signing Gillingham striker Simeon Jackson this week for a significant fee, Norwich City have seemingly made their intentions clear ahead of their return to the Championship. Paul Lambert will pair Jackson with last season’s top goalscorer Grant Holt and can reasonably expect a total of at least 30 league goals from the duo.
But the days of signing little to go with large or quick to go with strong are slowly dying out. They may still dominate the lower leagues to a certain extent but strike partnerships are largely a thing of the past at the top level and the second tier of English football is gradually following suit.
Cardiff fail to capitalise
Ultimately, the failure of another City acts as a warning to Lambert and his desire to maintain the momentum gained by Norwich’s League One title success. Cardiff City held all the aces last season but still came up short in the end-of-season scramble for promotion and their major weakness was tactical naivety.
Dave Jones put Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd together up front, assembling an impressive midfield to supply them with opportunities. With Peter Whittingham and Chris Burke out wide and Joe Ledley in the middle of the park, Cardiff fans rightly expected promotion.
In the end, they missed out after going down 3-2 to Blackpool at Wembley in May. Ian Holloway’s side were an object lesson last season in how to get the best out of a limited playing squad, but Jones failed to match the outspoken Bristolian in tactical manipulation.
The death of 4-4-2
Cardiff stuck rigidly to a 4-4-2 setup for the majority of the campaign, in a league that was dominated by teams packing the midfield and relying on a lone striker.
This season, Jones may be forced to adapt. The World Cup has plainly demonstrated that 4-4-2 is a dying art and that old-school strike partnerships are finding it increasingly difficult to strike gold.
Emile Heskey, Jermain Defoe and Wayne Rooney’s struggles should be foremost in most managers’ minds at the moment, particularly when contrasted with the deadliness of Miroslav Klose. The Bayern Munich striker had endured a miserable season at club level but shone at the World Cup due to his nation’s tactical acumen.
In this country, more and more managers are switching away from 4-4-2. Last season, Arsene Wenger abandoned it after years of successful usage and Arsenal benefited, only coming up short due to injuries and a lack of squad depth in one or two key positions.
Lessons for Lambert
One of the enduring images of last season was the sight of Holloway’s Blackpool tearing Nottingham Forest apart in the second half of their play-off semi-final, playing on the counter-attack to devastating effect. It was a style that Germany adopted so effectively in the World Cup and will be copied this season across Europe.
Lambert’s Norwich will need to be able to adapt their approach in order to succeed in this division. Their return to the Championship mirrors Leicester City’s revival a year earlier and Nigel Pearson’s successful switch to a 4-3-3 formation halfway through last season should have rung bells with their successors as League One champions.
Holt and Jackson should work. They should score goals, like Chopra and Bothroyd did for Cardiff. Dave Jones’ side were so close to success, but they could have been challenging West Bromwich Albion for second place with the players at the Liverpudlian’s disposal.
To truly make the most of a Championship squad lacking in genuine Premiership class, the ability to adapt will be vital and Norwich will have one eye on the top six if they can master that art.