In an idea I have shamelessly stolen from Football365, I have put together a ladder featuring the current Norwich first team squad. This ladder ranks each players importance to Paul Lambert, the team and to the way we play. This is, in my eyes, how things go:
1 – John Ruddy
The most talented? No. The most indispensible? You bet. As has been highlighted time and time again, the depth at GK is poor. If we lose Ruddy to injury then we’ve only got kids as backup, and one of those is at Yeovil. Whether you agree with Ruddy’s place in the team or not (and there’s more than a few who want Forster), he is at the top of this list because, without him in the sticks, we are horrendously exposed.
2 – Grant Holt
Captain fantastic, leads the line with unmatched determination and force. Our focal point, penalty taker, cult hero and sexy fat bastard. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Would be number 1 if we had better goalkeeping backup.
3 – Wes Hoolahan
The tip that makes our diamond work, and makes it more than the sum of its parts. The most creative member of the team, he is a goalscoring threat from midfield and a much, much better all round player than people give him credit for. His defensive game has come on hugely over the last 12 months and this adds to an attacking game that makes him indispensible.
4 – David Fox
The only other nailed on starter, in my view. A slow start to his Norwich career was capped by a brilliant end, providing the pass of the season for Jackson to put us up. He became as invaluable as Hoolahan to the diamond, protecting the back four with intelligent play and timely interceptions rather than dogged running and rough tackling. He dictates tempo, spreads the ball and is the best passer in yellow since Crook.
5 – Leon Barnett
The first centre back to appear, and in my view the best. This might be up for debate but the return of Leon to the team is a huge boost as we prepare for the season. While he doesn’t have the feet of, say Ward, his ability to read the game and clear the line is top notch, and he’s got some speed on him too. Ahead of Zak by ability, and RDL simply because he’s ours.
6 – Ritchie de Laet
Talking of, here is the on loan Man Utd man. I believe a partnership of RDL/Barnett will start the season on Saturday and it’ll be up to them to retain their places. A player with speed and good touch, he should provide perfect foil for the more direct Barnett.
7 – Andrew Crofts
All action, box to box midfielder. Tough to judge whether he’ll play on Saturday as there are some lingering concerns over injury, but if fit, sure to start. Provides a different game to Fox but showed his importance last year with energy and goals. Very much a favourite in the stands, his importance is somewhat lessened by the sheer number of midfield options.
8 – Simeon Jackson
Always improving. Interesting to see how he’ll adapt to the Premier League and could easily be replaced by Morison for the first game on Saturday, but I personally expect Jackson to start. Great contrast to Holt with his pace and behind the lines running, and his importance somewhat increased with the current injury to Vaughan.
9 – Russell Martin
Norfolk Cafu. Would be much higher if it wasn’t for the recent signing of Kyle Naughton providing much needed cover at full back. We all know what we’re going to get with the (fake) Scot, but we now thankfully can rest somewhat assured that if he doesn’t step up, we’ve got good backup.
10 – Marc Tierney
And much the same can be said about Tierney. While there was always competition at left back with Drury, I expect Naughton to be the real threat to this place. I would be surprised if he didn’t start after a good pre season, but will be constantly looking over his shoulder. Both full backs contribute to the success of the diamond making them very valuable players.
11 – Steve Morison
First in line to start if Holt is out, and quite likely to start with him. Similar players but with a touch more speed, he caused Zaragoza plenty of problems and looks very handy. Plenty to prove and will feature often this year.
12 – Elliott Bennett
The first port of call if the diamond isn’t going to be used, or even if we want to give it more width. Bennett has demonstrated his pace and shooting ability this summer even if his final games vs Zaragoza and Parma were quieter. Perhaps not likely to start yet, but instrumental to the teams plans as we come up with Plans B, C, and more.
13 – Zak Whitbread
Harsh on Zak to see him relegated to the bench, if that is what happens, after he put in so many notable performances in the run in, but he wont ever be far from the first team. A good player with the ball at his feet, a couple of notable errors sullied what was a good season. With Ward out, Whitbread will very much in the managers thoughts.
14 – Kyle Naughton
A good fullback on either flank, Naughton is perhaps better defensively than Cafu, but offers not so much going forward which makes the diamond what it is. Still quite likely to start the season in one of the full back spots, Naughton will no doubt have a big season as he won’t be here to sit on the bench.
15 – Andrew Surman
Edged ahead of Johnson with his two goal performance against Parma. Tipped by many (including me) to perhaps be the one to lose his place after promotion and with tough competition, it’s always a possibility. But I believe he edged ahead of Johnson for a starting spot and after a consistent pre season, will be starting on Saturday.
16 – Bradley Johnson
Johnson has proved to be a bit of a favourite already. A good shot on him, plenty of steel and menace, he’s like Andrew Crofts but better with the ball at his feet. Going to get plenty of games this season, but may find it tough to break the Fox/Crofts/Surman combination to start with unless one is injured. If either Surman or Crofts doesn’t make it vs Wigan, Bradley will play.
17 – Declan Rudd
Daunting prospect for Rudd. He is one injury away from being a premier league keeper. Is he good enough?
18 – Chris Martin
Edged ahead of Wilbraham on the basis he offers something different, while Aaron is another big man behind Holt and Morison. Martin has a lot to prove now, with many fans in awe of his brilliant technique but frustrated by his laziness or attitude. An important season awaits.
19 – Aaron Wilbraham
I personally believe Lambert prefers Wilbrahimovic to Chris Martin, but I’ve put him behind on the basis that what he offers as a striker we already have plenty of, while Martin offers something different. Likely to feature infrequently this season.
20 – Anthony Pilkington
A big ask to make the first game of the season as he’s still recovering from injury, Pilkington would feature higher if he was fit and ready to go. Another option to use if the diamond isn’t taking shape, Pilks has a big future.
21 – Korey Smith
Young Korey falls behind simply because of the sheer number of midfield options. You know what you’ll get from him; hard working, decent tackler, has a brain melt if he crosses the half way line. He should feature a few times but will mainly be a benchwarmer.
22 – Simon Lappin
Similar situation to Korey. Brilliant in League One, useful in the Championship, now a bit part player. With Surman and Bradley Johnson able to deputise in central/left midfield and talent at left back, Lappin may not see many games.
23 – Adam Drury
And nor may Drury. Ostensibly the backup to Tierney, much more likely to be a benchwarmer or less. A terrific club servant and a mature head, he isn’t likely to feature all that much.
24 – James Vaughan
Injured – or would be higher. Looking forward to seeing him back in action.
25 – Elliott Ward
Also injured, and again would be higher. Was Lamberts number 1 CB last year – time will tell if he remains that this year. A good early showing from RDL or Barnett could leave Ward on the bench.
Feel free to disagree…