Some people love him, others are confused by him, while a minority think that maybe he's not quite right for the team Brian McDermott is trying to build. Whatever you think about Oliver Norwood, you can't help but respect the quality he's got in his locker, especially after you watch him score goals like his winner over Forest earlier this week. Yet despite those magical moments, to me there's a nagging question over just what his best role is and whether he fits into a Brian team.
While I know Norwood's a quality footballer, I'm just not sure he's right in a 4-4-2, the system I personally want to see Reading playing going forward. Those question marks brought up another comparison in my mind, to another skillful and classy midfielder who was capable of spectacular and anonymous in equal measure, one Danny Guthrie. For all Guthrie's talents and Premier League experience, Brian never fully trusted him in his starting lineup, to the point where Mikele Leigertwood and Jay Tabb were regulars in front of the former Liverpool midfielder.
So will Norwood struggle long-term under Brian in the same way and is comparing Norwood to Guthrie even fair?
For this one I'm going to compare Danny's 2013/14 Championship season with the two seasons Olly has been at Reading.
One of the main critiques of Norwood's game is that he's not been overly effective in the final third and the stats from the past couple of seasons seem to back that up. Olly has scored just four goals in 74 games despite averaging at least a shot per game in both his seasons at the Mad Stad. Guthrie on the other hand managed four goals in one season despite far fewer efforts.
Yet creating a goal is just as useful as scoring one and Norwood holds the advantage assist wise. The Northern Irishman has created 11 goals in his two seasons at the Madejski compared to just three in Guthrie's lone significant season.
|Key Passes PG
|Long Balls PG
Norwood's passing prowess has long been seen as his strong suit and this season he's been pretty effective at keeping the ball ticking over. Norwood's average of 63.9 passes per game this season dwarfs Guthrie's 48.8 and is more than 10 higher than his own mark of 52.8 last season. Success wise there's not an awful lot in it but a completion rate of 85.2% when you're making over 60 passes a game is a very good return.
Yet in terms of passes that matter, Norwood's not really showing a great deal more than Guthrie, especially when the volume of passes is taken into account. On average, only one out of every 25 Norwood passes this season have been described as key (one that leads to an attempt on goal), which is lower than Guthrie's one in 23. So while the Northern Irishman is certainly busier, it seems he's still struggling to make those passes count.
Many people, including my TTE Podcast Extra co-host Charles Watts, have said that Norwood's best role is at the point of a diamond and sitting in front of the back four. To do that you need to be strong in the tackle and capable of being an extra defender but has Olly shown enough to suggest he can do that?
Compared to Guthrie, certainly yes.
Norwood has been far more effective at both making tackles and interceptions than Guthrie ever was, while giving away less fouls at the same time. What's been equally useful is the fact that the former Huddersfield man has given the ball away far less, either by being robbed of possession or failing to control the ball properly.
Off The Pitch
Here there's little cause for doubt. While Guthrie was an injury hit sulking nightmare during the majority of his spell here, Norwood has been the ultimate pro, knuckling down and working as hard as he can to impress whenever he's been given the chance. The only area you might give Guthrie an edge is in the drive and attitude department. We've rarely seen Norwood inspire us to a win but Guthrie had the odd moment of drive like in the 2-1 win over Birmingham when he scored twice.
I realise that comparing Norwood simply to Guthrie only scratches the surface of how useful he is in a Reading team in 2016. Norwood's role in the team still remains open for debate but he's certainly a more rounded and useful player than a signing Brian quickly shunned during the 2012/13 season. Norwood is much more involved in games than Guthrie was but for the amount he does, the stats say Olly should be creating and finishing off moves a little bit more.
So who would you rather have in your team folks? The mohawked avenger or Northern Ireland's finest?