Norwich had a baptism of fire at the start of the season, beginning the campaign with matches against the last two Premier League champions, Liverpool and Manchester City. The difficulty of their fixtures did not let up, with games against Leicester and Arsenal either side of the international break. After four games, their record read: four defeats, one goal scored – a penalty against Leicester – and 11 goals conceded. The only reprieve in that run came in the form of a 6-0 win over Championship side Bournemouth in the League Cup.
After such a tough start to the campaign, Norwich fans would have seen Watford’s trip to Carrow Road on Saturday as, if not quite a must-win game, certainly one that they could not afford to lose. Xisco’s side had lost their last three league games, while failing to score a goal, so neither side had any form.
To lose again, at home, against the team that finished eight points behind them in the Championship last season, must have been hard to swallow for the Norwich supporters. They have now lost their last 15 Premier League matches either side of winning the Championship last season, and the tough games keep on coming for Daniel Farke’s side.
Norwich were always going to be handicapped by the departures of Emiliano Buendía, who joined Aston Villa in a £30m deal this summer, and Oliver Skipp, who is now first choice in the Tottenham midfield after his loan spell at Carrow Road last season. Their return of just one goal from open play in their opening five league games is cause for concern.
The exit of Buendía has hurt. The Argentinian created 93 goalscoring chances from open play in the Championship last season, more than any other player, and 18.9% of Norwich’s total. The 24-year-old was our player of the season in the Championship, having registered double figures for both goals (15) and assists (16). Skipp’s return to Spurs was also a blow. The youngster made more accurate passes (2,208) than any other midfielder in the Championship last term.
With two of their standout players gone, Norwich are neither creating many chances nor taking advantage of their chances they do create. They have made seven key passes per game this season, the third lowest in the Premier League. And their return of 2.6 shots on target per game is also the third lowest. By comparison, Norwich managed 5.2 shots on target per game in the Championship last season.
The sale of Buendía has understandably had a huge impact on the side. Buendía to Teemu Pukki was the best assist-to-goalscorer combination in the Championship last season, yielding eight goals. Pukki has looked a shadow of his former self without the Argentinian.
Admittedly, the Finnish striker returned a positive Covid-19 test after Euro 2020, which affected his pre-season and held him back from developing partnerships with his many new teammates. Norwich used the money from Buendía’s sale to bring in no fewer than nine new senior players in the transfer window, including Milot Rashica to replace Buendía and Billy Gilmour on loan from Chelsea to ease Skipp’s return to Spurs.
Farke is trying to blend together his new signings with some familiar faces from Norwich’s last jaunt in the Premier League. Five of the players who played their final game of the 2019-20 Premier League season were in action during Norwich’s opening game of this season. The hope must be that the quality of the new arrivals, combined with the players who picked up another year of experience while winning the Championship, will be enough to keep Norwich up.
We are only five games into the new season and Norwich will be a far more intimidating opponent once the new signings gel, but the defeat to Watford should be a wake-up call. Norwich won the Championship in 2019 before finishing last in the Premier League in the 2019-20 season, ending the campaign with 10 straight defeats. Farke does not appear to have learned from previous mistakes made at this level. If the opening weeks of the season are an indication of what is to come for Norwich, it could be another long campaign for the club.