Norwich City: Backing Towards the Cliff's Edge

By James Yorke | January 25, 2016

Norwich City: Backing Towards the Cliff's Edge

I'm worried about Norwich City, concerned. I fear for them. They're in trouble.

Turns out Ed Balls is their chairman and he's been a fan “All [his] life, for 48 years..."

Eagle eyed readers will have already spotted a little bit of politician truth-mangling there since club support is rarely given direct from the cradle and his introduction at board level extends the strange trend for wonkish ex-finance guys to intermingle with football people. He also noted that Norwich have "...gone up and down, up and down, and there’s a chance we can secure Premier League football for the long term."

Having sat front and central for the boom and bust Brown years, he's well placed to comment here, but even within the course of this season, we have seen evidence of short term goal wealth among long term shot poverty to a degree that forecasts are understandably being scaled back to focus on one slot in the table: 17th. Survival equals cash money and a license to quantitatively ease the club with TV riches. Rest assured, this isn't a political standpoint; a Tory chairman would probably reject relegation on grounds of entitlement and a UKIP leader would have doomed a club before Christmas on an all-English policy.

It is doubtful that Balls expected the game against Liverpool to heed his words so literally; we saw one of the silliest games in Premier League history as they went down then up, then down, then up before finally going down again to end up on the wrong end of a nine goal split. Klopp once more showed a keen mind for a quip with the "hard to find glasses without glasses" line and everyone went home pleased that they had juiced their "goals for" column.

Norwich's problem is that this four goal glut is entirely at odds with the last three months; they have only managed to hit double figures for shots three times since Halloween. This is in complete contrast to their start in which they managed 16 shots or more in seven of their first ten.

So who are they really and where are they going?

That initial run of ten games garnished nine points and they have since collected 14 from 13 games.  A point per game lightly paints the team as one that should endeavour to improve its options during the transfer window and they are at least trying.  Two signings, a large sunk fee for 29 year old Steven Naismith and consolidation on 29 year old Matt Jarvis suggest that someone hasn't been reading the analytics playbook or at least they may have designed their own; older players, longish contracts and the team with dicey prospects doesn't thrill. Contrast that with giant sporadic Swiss international centre back Timm Klose, signed from Wolfsburg after playing only thirty league games in three seasons and Ivo Pinto, a Portuguese right back who arrived via Croatia and you wonder if the algorithms have starting making picks.  The quandary modern technical and analytical scouting faces is that large parts of it are highly experimental and few know what really works. Good news if gambles are landed and speculation has tangible returns less so if it is ad hoc and poorly integrated. The inner machinations of Norwich's scouting and buying team remain beyond my scope but it's probably wise that they are doing something as they employed a risky strategy by recruiting lightly in the summer. Mid-season integration is tough on systems and adaptation timescales are necessarily short and now they gamble with huge benefits for correctly calling the coin.

Anyway: Naismith scored, Pinto was part of a defence that conceded five. Some you win, some you lose and one game means nothing.

To some degree their woes have slipped beneath the wider football consciousness. Despite a four game run of defeats in the autumn, they have otherwise picked up points reasonably frequently, Talk of crisis usually needs long winless runs and a short recent run of three victories in four games against Manchester United, Aston Villa and Southampton was powered by scoring five goals from 11 shots on target, all masking inferior shot volumes but enough to keep people looking the other way. Since then they have shipped 11 goals in three games, lost the lot and we have a scenario where the poor shots numbers on both ends are being magnified by unpleasant conversions.

To add fuel to an already smoking pile of tires, they really don't start games well: they have conceded the first goal on 16 occasions, a total only matched by Aston Villa. This figure makes sense when we realise they take fewer shots than any other team when the game is at 0-0 (7.9 per game, 2.3 on target, feeding into league low 37% shot ratio and 32% on target ratio here). Overall, their decline has been continual and their baseline is pretty low. All this makes them look the most vulnerable team currently outside the bottom three and a Tottenham visit a week on Tuesday looks a tough fixture to start the recovery. If improvement fails to arrive soon Ed Balls could find himself in the unfortunate position of losing his parliamentary seat one May and his club's seat at the top table the next.


Thanks for reading!

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