Good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening and welcome to another fantasy preview of a Premier League club. If that QI reference has gone over your head, let me just clarify that I will be dissecting last season’s rotation-minefield: the Norwich City squad.
Starting off between the sticks, we have John Ruddy nailed on at 4.5. Although he only managed 3 clean sheets for the entirety of last season, he managed to make 140 saves (second only to Michel Vorm) and averaged over 2 points a game excluding clean sheets and penalty saves. If Chris Hughton continues his trend of tightening teams up at the back, Ruddy might not be a bad option either as part of an uber cheap rotation or as a filler alongside a bigger keeper.
And now let madness ensue, as we try to piece together what we know about the Norwich outfield players. In defence, we have 2 players at 4.5 in Russell Martin and new signing from Rangers, Steven Whittaker. This Scottish pair look to be guaranteed starting although in which positions is not entirely clear. Martin played nearly twice as many minutes as any of Norwich’s other defenders last season, picking up 2 goals and 2 assists and although originally a right back, he featured predominantly as a centre half, especially in the latter stages. Whittaker has most likely been brought in to play at right back this year, but his new manager has already heavily played up to the man’s versatility at playing across the back four and midfield. How he adapts to the English top flight will be interesting alhough it is worth noting he once scored 11 times in a season from full back for Rangers. The remaining central slot will most likely be filled by one of four 4.0 options: Barnett, Ward, Ayala and Ryan Bennett. Bennett finished the season as a starter but with a new manager that may not count for much. The fit again Marc Tierney, 4.0, looks likely to begin the season at left back although a reverse OOP Lappin may be a source of irritation if the Canaries’ rotation policy is continued.
Norwich employed many midfield combinations under Paul Lambert, but are likely to revert to a standard 4 under Hughton. The wide spots in this system would most likely be filled by Elliot Bennett and Anthony Pilkington, who come in at 5.0 and 6.0 respectively. Bennett endured a tough start last year but was flourishing at the close with 5 assists and a memorable goal at White Hart Lane. Pilkington, on the other hand, was quick out of the traps, taking some set pieces, scoried 8 goals but had his fantasy potential curtailed by being heavily rotated. A consistent run in the team could see his ownership soar. The most likely duo in the centre of midfield will be ex-Leeds pair, Howson and Johnson, who are both at 5.0. Johnson was certainly an interesting option as part of a diamond last year, collecting 2 goals and 5 assists although his extra defensive duties as part of a flat four could spell the end of such returns. David Fox at 4.5 could be utilised as more holding player, while Andrew Surman at 5.0 could also be a decent option with the ability to play on the left wing and the centre of the midfield, scoring 4 times last season.
A man deserving of his own paragraph is one Wesley Hoolahan. The Yellows’ top assister last season with 7, also pitching in with 4 goals, the affectionately nicknamed Wessi is undoubtedly the most creative player in the side and could be a bargain at 6.0 if nailed on. Although unlikely to be deployed centrally in a 4-4-2 (except perhaps with Fox), he can play down both wings highlighting his versatility. It is however playing off the striker in a 4-4-1-1 in which Hoolahan is at his best. His partnership with Holt in this role was what saw Norwich earn back to back promotions from the lower leagues and Hughton has said it is a formation he will consider.
Up top, the star man is certainly Grant Holt. 15 goals last time out as well as 3 assists has seen his price rise to 6.5. He demonstrated that he was not a flat track bully by scoring against teams like Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United, and that he is able to make an impact from the bench, netting on several occasions as a sub. For many however he was deployed as a super sub on too many occasions with about 15 of his 36 appearances coming from the bench. Again we are left with the case of hoping that, if this Norwich player could nail down a starting line up spot he would become a true fantasy option. Holt’s understudy, and sometime partner, Steve Morison played almost the same amount of minutes as Holt last season and got 9 goals and 4 assists. Although unlikely to partner Holt in a 4-4-2, if the Welshman somehow got ahead of the club captain or continues to be rotated with him, an initial 5.5 price tag could see him be a popular budget option. If 4-4-2 is the formation of choice however, Simeon Jackson at 5.0 looks certain to benefit. In his time at Carrow Road, he has failed to secure a regular starting role but still managed to get 3 goals and assists in his limited pitch time last year.
– Hughton has been heavily linked with a move for his former centre half at Birmingham City, Curtis Davies. Although there has been nothing official as of yet, if this move was to go through, he would likely be nailed on at a price of 4.5. This however would almost spell the end for one of the 4.0 options in the Norwich defence.
– Norwich in the last week have had a bid turned down for Leeds winger, Snodgrass, and are rumoured to be about to make a larger offer. Again, if this deal was completed he would probably come in at 6.0 and be guaranteed starts. He finished last year’s Championship campaign with 13 goals and 14 assists and certainly could be a FPL star.
For a team that finished in mid table last year, Norwich certainly look like a side that could hold excellent budget options for everyone’s fantasy team. There are some issues however which I’m sure you are aware of. They are at risk of the dreaded “second season syndrome”, the new manager may negatively impact on their fantasy potential, and worst of all, last season’s rotation may continue into this one. All things considered, the wisest course of action will probably be to wait and see how Norwich shape up over the opening weeks of the season….. but then again when does being wise have anything to do with fantasy football?
Probable Starting XI (although Possible could be more accurate)
Whittaker Martin R.Bennett Tierney
Bennett Howson Johnson Pilkington
Ruddy, Whittaker, Tierney, Pilkington, Hoolahan, Holt.