Promotion Diaries – Norwich City

With a 2-1 win against Blackburn Rovers on 27 April, Norwich City clinched promotion to the Premier League, returning to the top flight on English football for the first time since the 2015-16 season. While the club joining them in automatic promotion has been away longer – Sheffield United‘s last Premier League season was in 2006-07 – the Canaries improved dramatically from last season’s 14th-place finish and are a point away from clinching the title this weekend.

Here’s a quick look at how the Canaries ended up in this position:

What Went Right

It was a season of streaks for the club to reach the top of the table. The first began after a 6 October loss at home to Stoke City (on an own goal), which dropped the Canaries to 8th position at 5-3-4. They then proceeded to go on a 12 match unbeaten streak (9-3-0) through Boxing Day, and the club found themselves in second position after closing out 2018 with a loss to Derby County.

Their last loss of the season was on 13 February, and since then, the Canaries have not lost, and are currently in the midst of a 13-match unbeaten streak (9-4-0), and they have held on to first place for the entire run. They are likely to win the league outright this weekend – they are three points up on Sheffield United at the moment – and will finish the season with at least 91 points, a 50% improvement on last season’s 60. They also scored nearly twice as many goals (91 goals this season versus 49 last season), a figure that will likely lead the league.

The club also had bright spots in leading scorer Teemu Pukki and youngster Max Aarons. Both won awards for their stellar play this season – Pukki was awarded EFL Player of the Season, while Aarons was the EFL Young Player of the Season – and should to help the club next season in the Premier League. Pukki was rewarded for leading the league in goals – he’s scored 28 goals with one match remaining – having seemingly found a home with the Canaries after a career spent wandering Europe. Not bad for a free transfer.

What Went Wrong

August was the Canaries worst month, with the club losing three of their first five matches to start the season (1-1-3). But those losses also came to what would round into the top four of the league in Sheffield UnitedWest Bromwich Albion, and Leeds United. Pending Saturday’s match against Aston Villa, the Canaries have since lost only three more matches on the season.

Recent English Football League History

It hasn’t been that long since the Canaries were up in the Premier League, but their return to the top tier is still surprising in some regard. The two seasons prior to this one in the Championship haven’t exactly been top flight, with 8th place (2016-17) and 14th place (2017-18) finishes the prior two seasons. This was following their less than stellar 19th place finish the last time they were up in the Premier League during the 2015-16 season.

Regardless, playing in the top tier is quite a departure from their brief journey to League One – a 1st place finish in 2009-10 – and the middling performance of the past two seasons. Their four seasons in the Premier League this decade have also been below average – an average of 15th position, which is in line with their overall average across 25 seasons in the top tier.

Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?

Surprisingly, the bulk of the players that helped the club to success this season are under contract for next year and beyond, including Teemu Pukki, who signed a three-year contract at the beginning of the season. Only five players – including two loanees at the end of those spells – will see contracts expire at the end of the season. And one of those five players, right back Ivo Pinto, has mutual options with the club (though he appeared in only three matches this season).

The two loaned players – Jordan Rhodes (Sheffield Wednesday) and Felix Passlack (Borussia Dortmund) – showed mixed results. Passlack only had one appearance, so they club will likely be fine with his return to Germany. Rhodes, however, played super-sub for the squad, with 27 of his 36 league appearances coming off the bench up front. He managed to net six goals on the season, placing him sixth on the club in scoring.

The other two players out of contract – Timm Klose and Todd Cantwell – were solid rotation players, starting 41 matches between them and relieving in 14 more, with Klose managing four goals in that limited time. Like Aarons, Cantwell is a product of the Norwich City Academy, which might make the club reluctant to move on from him. Either player would provide solid depth regardless and should be considered options for next year’s squad should the price be right to bring them back.

Chances of a One-and-Done?

Based on FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, Norwich City (60.7) would be the 19th-best club in the Premier League as of this moment, ahead of only Brighton & Hove Albion (57.2) of clubs likely to be there next season (the Canaries are also higher than Cardiff City, but I think the Welsh club will be back in the Championship next season). West Ham United would be the club immediately above them (64.2), and they could also lag the other two clubs up from the Championship, as Sheffield United(62.7), Leeds United(65.3) and Aston Villa (61.3) all sit above them at the moment.

That said, I imagine those ratings will be due some adjustment when all is said and done after the summer transfer window and rosters are set for next season. I have more faith in a club like Norwich City staying up for the season and reaping the financial rewards of a Premier League season, than building for a sustained future near the middle of the table, or even competing with the Big Six for European vacations.

But we won’t know for sure until the first Premier League season in Norwich in a few years kicks off in the fall. Should be a fun journey nonetheless.

Until next time…


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