This is it then. The return of the Premier League. Operation Re-start.
There’s been a lot said and a heck of a lot written about whether or not it’s right to being playing football this soon after the world has befallen to the global pandemic of COVID-19. Ultimately, the return of the game in this format is more than a little bizarre, having to play behind closed doors, but it is what it is. The world keeps turning and as humans we have to keep marching forward, individually in our own lives and together as the human race.
In middle of all this we had the awful scenes in America, with the death of another black man, George Floyd, caused yet again by a white Police Officer. The protests that have been seen around the world have shown that the population of the planet have had enough and rightly so. This time, it feels as though the Black Lives Matter movement has ultimate momentum. It feels different and I think (and hope) that things will slowly start to change, although the road is very long. It all has to start at the highest levels though and governments need to start planning for the future and working out how they can change their countries.Suggesting that taking a knee is from Game of Thrones or getting Marcus Rashford’s name wrong hasn’t shown our own political masters in a good light at all.
The player’s actions in taking a knee before the games and having the words Black Lives Matter on the back of their shirts instead of their names can only help bring awareness, if any were still actually needed. The movement needs to keep up it’s momentum and this can only help.
It’s fair to say that football is returning in some very different circumstances than we are used to seeing it played. I watched Wednesday night’s Premier League games and have to say that I preferred the piped crowd noise to a quiet stadium. It just seemed a little more “normal.” We’re stuck with it, and bearing in mind this is a football blog, I figure Norwich City still need discussing. So, who plays tonight in our opening game against Southampton?
After Thursday’s pre-match presser, during which Daniel Farke announced that three of his senior defenders, Grant Hanley, Christoph Zimmermann and Sam Byram will miss the rest of the season through injury, I was a bit shocked. Norwich City’s injury curse continues and we will have to play now, as we have done throughout the season so far, with very limited defensive options.
Farke basically only has Ben Godfrey, Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons and the returning Timm Klose to construct a defence with. It means that there will be no option of playing three at the back at anytime, unless Lewis were used in that manner. I fully expect that City will start the season in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as we have seen so often over the last nearly three years under Farke.
Tim Krul picks himself and so does the back four but it’s in midfield where the decision making will be trickier, in terms of selection. I think that Alex Tettey also is a shoe-in for a starting position but who plays alongside him is the big question. The options are all apparently fit and ready to go in the form of Mario Vrancic, Tom Trybull, Kenny McLean, or the back in from the cold, Moritz Leitner.
All have their own merits but we need to win games now, so for me, that narrows it down to the two players that have shown a propensity to be able to get a goal and that means McLean or Vrancic. McLean has played more than any of the others but the return to fitness of Super Mario and his free-kick against Spurs underlined what he can do from set-pieces. For that reason, I’d play Vrancic.
The forward positions are a little easier to call and I fully expect Todd Cantwell, Ondrej Duda and Emi Buendia to play in the “three” behind Teemu Pukki. There are a couple of wildcard options in the shape of Onel Hernandez and Josh Martin, but both of these lads look better placed as substitutes later on if it’s not going well. Josip Drmic has been steadily improving and could well offer a decent option to Pukki or even come on to support him if needed but I think Pukki has more than enough stock to start the game as the lone striker.
Lewis, Klose, Godfrey, Aarons
Buendia, Duda, Cantwell
So there you have it, my starting XI against Southampton. With five substitutes now allowed per game and injuries likely to play a big part in this nine game mini-league, not to mention the small fact that Norwich need to do something different to gain the points they need for survival, it’s all going to be a little crazy. I’m just keeping everything crossed that we don’t lose another defender to injury.
It’s going to be tense, we’re all going to be nervous and we need (at least) five wins from nine games. It looks like a massively tall order but without crowds and with the lack of any genuine pre-season, there are so many variables to consider that it’s almost impossible to suggest how this is all going to play out. Some teams may do better without a crowd than others and some teams will be fitter than others and, especially in the early games, that could be the difference.
Fingers crossed and hope for the best, eh?!