Thanks to Connor Southwell from @NorwichCityMFW who previews Saturday evening’s clash between Reading and Norwich City for us. You can find him on Twitter @CJSouthwell1902.
How is the season going so far for Norwich?
It has already been fascinating and energy sapping thus far. In the embryonic stage to the season, Norwich looked like a side that had been assembled in two months and thrown onto a pitch, it was disjointed and the selfsame issues which were a factor to the underachievement of last season still raised their ugly head.
Patience was always going to be something fans required in abundance as the club looked to grapple with the teething issues that an entire hackneyed football structure brings, but all of this worry and panic culminated at the hands of newly promoted Millwall, who beat Norwich simply and effectively. A 4-0 thumping has provided a catalyst to change.
Farke assembled his team over the international hiatus, keeping the players who were present at the time, at the forefront of his mind and implemented a more strategic approach to how Norwich defended. Prior to this, many were questioning whether the transition from managing in the German fourth tier, Dortmund II, to the brutality of this division was too much, but to credit Farke, he’s adjusted extraordinarily well.
And so they’ve embarked on an unbeaten run of five matches, keeping a club record of five clean sheets in the process, and people are starting to look up and dream of where this season could end, as oppose to the gaping over their shoulder follow the Millwall debacle.
What's going right for Norwich at the moment?
That aforementioned defensive solidarity. City arrive in Berkshire on the back of two 1-0 away wins at Sheffield United and Middlesbrough respectively, so confidence is high. I believe they have the longest minutes without a goal in the EFL, which is so pleasing for Norwich fans, and long may it continue.
Furthermore, Farke has seemingly discovered the spine to his team. Six players who have defended resolutely and looked more consistent as oppose to the fragility Norwich displayed previous to the last international break. Defensively, Norwich have come on leaps and bounds, and hopefully they extended the run they’ve embarked upon on Saturday.
And what's going wrong?
Whilst improvements have taken shape at the back end of the pitch, goals seem to have dried up at the front end of it. In all honesty, I’ve struggled to answer this, but the lack of goals is the only concern at present, three goals in five games isn’t something that can be maintained. It’s been a victim of the way Farke has chose to prioritise stability at the back.
They simply must score more goals. Furthermore, Nelson Oliveira has been injured, and Norwich have appeared toothless during his absence, but rest assured, they still carry enough quality to hurt teams, with James Maddison, Josh Murphy and Cameron Jerome potentially spearheading The Canaries on Saturday, although it seems Oliveira is back to full fitness in time for this game.
If Norwich can amend the quandary at the top end of the pitch, this side will be a force to be reckoned with and with Oliveira returning, the profligate Norwich could become potent once more.
Who should Reading fans be worried about on Saturday?
Patently Nelson Oliveira, if fully fit, carries a major threat. There is no doubting his technical quality which stands is up there with that of any striker in this division and why Reading were willing to depart with a large content of their wallet to secure his services. The guy is different gravy.
However, James Maddison is the player I’ll pinpoint at present. Maddison is seen as the natural heir to the evergreen Wes Hoolahan, and this season he has surpassed the latter to be a regular on the team sheet. At 20, Maddison has the world at his feet in regards to football. Norwich beat Liverpool and Tottenham to his signature and is reaping the rewards of Maddison’s outstanding technical ability and low centre of gravity makes him a nuisance to defend against.
He is the midfield pivot who connects the midfield with the attack. Give him space on the ball and he will produce end product.You only need to watch his goal against Middlesbrough on Tuesday as evidence, it’s sublime.
It's well-known that Reading courted Nelson Oliveira this summer - were you seriously worried that he might complete the transfer? If so, how big a loss would he have been for you?
Were you after Nelson Oliveira?! Must have missed that one...
In all seriousness, whenever a player as critical as Oliveira gets linked away from your club, there are invariably some panicked faces around the place. That’s only natural. I felt the more the window advanced, and the more Reading got desperate, the less likely it would be he would depart.
I think many felt the move was a bit sideways for him. Oliveira is one of the best strikers in the division and has already scored four goals in eight games and for Norwich to have sold to a divisional rival would have been suicidal, particularly following the high profile departures of Jonny Howson, Jacob Murphy and Graham Dorrans, three integral figures.
Had he been sold, it would have created a gaping hole in the Norwich attack, and with Jerome seeming off the boil, it could have had catastrophic implications for them. So everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he was still a Norwich player come the conclusion of the window.
Is there anyone that has caught your eye for good or bad reasons on this Reading team?
After the debacle of Oliveira’s transfer, I’ve watched Reading with keen eyes, interested to see whom they managed to recruit after the circus around a certain Portuguese international. Stam opted for Sone Aluko and Jón Daði Böðvarsson and it’s fair to say the pair haven’t set the world alight.
Reading have averaged 12 shots per game but hold a 0.9 goals per games record, so it’s easy to see where the problems lie, which is in exactly the same area as they did last campaign. They are still dependant on Yann Kermogant’s goals but at 35, he is inevitably going to take a more leisured role.
Interestingly for Royals fans and I know I’m an outsider, and I’m sure people are more inclined to comment on Reading than myself, but I believe they average the highest amount of possession in the league, so if they can convert this ball retention into chances, then they will proliferate up the table. No doubt about that.
Positively, I’ve been impressed with Liam Moore who is an excellent defender for this level and somebody I enjoyed whilst on the books of Leicester City in the Championship. Moore’s presence and demeanour will pose a challenge for Oliveira and it will be a good battle. Hopefully Oliveira comes off better.
Just please don’t sack Jaap Stam. It’s a bad run, not a bad season.
Any score predictions you can leave us with?
Blimey. Reading are looking toothless and Norwich are defending well? It’ll probably be a 4-4! Putting on my head of objectivity, I think Reading will pose a major test for Norwich, and three wins on the spin on the road would be a achievement, the magnitude of which was unfathomable only weeks previous.
I think it’ll be a score draw, Reading to break Norwich’s run of consecutive clean sheets in a lively affair. The Canaries hardly have a healthy record at the Madejski Stadium, but I think they’ll edge each other out. I’ll go 1-1. Aluko for Reading and Oliveira (inevitable really...) the scorers.
If you want me to rule my heart over my head, I’ll go 0-2 Norwich.