Norwich City were by no means the worst footballing side in the 2019/20 Premier League season, but they still finished bottom. Despite a plucky campaign from the Canaries, their fearless approach could not outweigh the team’s frailties, nor, ultimately, stave off relegation.
Daniel Farke’s team played exciting, attractive football, but defensive mishaps and a distinct lack of quality sealed their fate. Disunity in the camp towards the end clouded what was otherwise an admirable, if a little ragged, effort at remaining in the top-flight. Norwich ended the season last in the table, having conceded the most goals of all Premier League teams. Undoubtedly, though, Norwich fans will remember this team as one that entertained and frustrated in equal measure.
Norwich City 2019/20 Season Review
Emphatic Start to the Season
Norwich’s early fixtures were real thrillers, with striker Teemu Pukki in remarkable form. The Norfolk club’s first games included a spirited battle with Chelsea and a memorable coup that saw them snatch all three points at home to champions Manchester City. Pukki grabbed the headlines and was hailed by pundits as a revelatory talent, given his age.
However, the opening to their campaign set the tone for the rest of the season – intrepid, yet without cutting edge.
Norwich’s dynamism and gutsy style of play repeatedly left a vulnerable defence exposed, ultimately failing to translate into points on the board. Even in the early stages, a worrying trend of gifting goals to opponents had emerged. By the time February was reached, Pukki began to fade and appeared to be in serious decline.
Worse still was the demoralisation of the formerly sanguine Carrow Road faithful with every passing week. Still conceding far too many and struggling to find the net at the other end, however well they acquitted themselves, Norwich desperately faltered. Soon came the stark realisation among fans that unless something changed drastically and pronto, they were staring into the abyss.
2019/20 Highs and Lows
A League Cup exit to lowly Crawley Town in the second round was avenged by Norwich’s FA Cup run that led to a quarter-final clash with Manchester United. The penalty shootout triumph over Spurs in the previous round stands out – not least for the heroics of Tim Krul. Moreover, the season featured a graceful breakthrough for the flaxen-haired Todd Cantwell. His contribution of six league goals was not enough to save the Canaries from doom, but will arouse interest in the rising star this transfer window. If he does leave, his time at Carrow Road will be recalled with fondness.
Aside from their precious few league wins – five, to be exact – overturning a two-goal deficit versus Arsenal was an uncharacteristic stroke of good fortune for Norwich. Very rarely did the capricious and strange laws of football combine in Norwich’s favour, but that was one such occasion.
Overall, the games were merciless to Norwich. As the run-in climaxed, the Canaries were ground down by bruising defeats until the dressing room finally imploded. The turmoil of being the division’s biggest and most frequent losers finally manifested in their 1-0 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion at home. With players staying out on the pitch, scenes grew ugly and chaotic for Norwich. In post-match interviews, manager Farke’s inflexibility was apparent and the season’s conclusion became more about pride than hope of survival.
Player of the Season 2019/20 – Tim Krul
It was a cruel season for Norwich, but goalkeeper Tim Krul comes out of it with his head held the highest of any player within the squad. An imposing figure between the sticks, capable of formidable shot-stopping displays, Krul was aggressive throughout. The 32-year-old astonishingly clung onto five Premier League clean sheets without adequate protection in front of him.
But it was the Dutchman’s role in some vintage cup drama against Tottenham in the fifth round that will see him immortalised. For the first time in twenty-eight years, Norwich secured a place in the last eight of the competition as Krul starred in the penalty shootout triumph. He didn’t earn the nickname ‘Bakers Hands’ for nothing.
Daniel Farke, although charismatic, failed to keep the dressing room’s faith in his tactics. It was clear that no matter what abysmal results the Canaries suffered, Farke was not for turning. A weak backline was never properly addressed and the German stubbornly sent his teams out to attack relentlessly. Is the players’ inability to execute Farke’s plans or the manager’s intransigence to blame for the club’s relegation? Only a behind-the-scenes insight could reveal where that responsibility truly lies.
Farke’s optimism in his dealings with the media was infectious but he failed to conjure up the inspiration needed for his players to avoid the drop.
A Championship Side Above Their Station
There is no getting away from Norwich’s deficiencies in pretty much every area of the pitch. Placing undue scrutiny on the shoddy defence conveniently neglects that they scored the fewest goals of all, too. Operating on a shoestring budget, recruitment presented the most unappealing of dilemmas. The January transfer window was a case of maintaining the little talent Norwich had, rather than bringing any in. New arrival Lukas Rupp underwhelmed and failed to make any significant impression.
All in all, Norwich’s flirtation with Premier League football this time round felt like more of a holiday from the Championship. Discounting freak results, Norwich were consistently out of their depth this season. Very often, stepping out on a bigger stage can embolden a team, but Norwich seemed to shrink. Sadly, the Canaries never carried themselves as a top-flight side. Many freshly promoted clubs magically summon up the belief required to assert themselves as worthy contenders. However, that was a ritual Norwich never emulated.
In the absence of any meaningful summer strengthening of the squad, even Farke admitted early on that only a miracle could keep Norwich afloat. Josip Drmic applied himself with tenacity and commitment, yet didn’t possess that intangible X factor needed to succeed in the Premier League. This disheartening assessment, in many ways, sums up Norwich City’s 2019/20 season more generally. While their nearby rivals drew on some inner steel, Norwich were outclassed and outfought.
A Speedy Return to the Premier League?
Championship football is such a bear pit that it would be foolish to assume Norwich will immediately bounce back. Surveying their record against Watford and Bournemouth, who also depart, makes for grim reading. One win against the Cherries in these six-pointers is simply not good enough. This is the closest indication of how they will fare against similar opposition next season.
However, Norwich have become something of a yo-yo club over the last decade. Their knowledge and experience of navigating the second-tier will stand to them. The crucial priority for Norwich this summer is preventing a mass exodus. Keeping hold of Cantwell and others could be the difference between a return to the promised land and inertia.
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