Norwich City will be playing in the Premier League again next season after a three-year spell in the second tier of English football.
The Canaries were relegated from the top-flight in 2016, going on to finish 7th and 14th in the two subsequent seasons in the Championship, before winning the title last term.
Heading into the Premier League, Norwich will need to strengthen their squad, and have already made two additions in the form of Patrick Roberts (loan) and Josip Drmic (free). Most fans tend to agree that a back-up is needed at right-back, whilst some more depth in the defensive and attacking midfield roles would be useful for Daniel Farke next season.
However, the issue surrounding the goalkeeping position has divided the fanbase over the last few weeks. Norwich signed Tim Krul on a free transfer last summer, much to the chagrin of fans who wanted to see academy product Remi Matthews given a chance. It has to be said that Matthews was subsequently relegated with Bolton and made a number of high-profile errors, leading to him now being touted with a move to Ipswich, which says it all…
Despite some discontent and a few wobbles at the start of the season, Krul won over most of the fanbase with his likable personality and some of his performances between the sticks in the Championship. The Dutchman ended up playing every single minute of the campaign as Farke’s men secured the title, lifting the trophy at Villa Park on the final day of the season.
Krul may have been the only ever-present in Norwich’s squad, but his place in the XI heading into next season is, perhaps, under the most scrutiny – compared to the other players in Farke’s best XI. Irrespective of all the goals Norwich scored in the league, they conceded far too many goals to be a viable Premier League outfit.
Norwich set an unwanted record last season as they became the worst side, defensively, to ever win a Championship title – since the rebrand in 2004 – conceding 57 goals in 46 games. Just in the 2018/19 campaign, seven other teams let in fewer goals than Norwich. Now, this is not all down to Krul, of course, as there were plenty of lapses in concentration at the back from the likes of Grant Hanley – at the start of the season – Ben Godfrey, Christoph Zimmermann, etc.
The term “too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League” exists for a reason. The step up in quality between the two divisions is arguably greater than it has ever been and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for newly-promoted teams to catch up and survive in “the best league in the world”. With that in mind, how can Norwich expect to be successful if they don’t address the weak points in their side heading into next season?
Stuart Webber is not a fool. It’s not a coincidence that Norwich are being linked with a host of different goalkeepers, regardless of how unrealistic some of them have been. Norwich are clearly in the market to bring in a goalkeeper, even if they are destined to be sitting on the bench at Anfield come the first game of the season against Liverpool.
But why are there doubts over whether or not Krul will be good enough for the Premier League next season? Well, when you look into his performances and the statistics, rather than just the fact he was the goalkeeper for the side who won the league, it’s rather easy to see. It’s well documented that he had a poor start to the season, as did Norwich as a team, but that can easily be put down to rustiness and a lack of match sharpness. However, he continued to show flaws in his game all the way through to the final game of the campaign.
Every football supporter who follows the Premier League will be familiar with Krul and his time with Newcastle. He was superb for the Toon Army in the top-flight from 2010-2015 and was regarded as one of the best goalkeepers outside of the top six sides. If that was the goalkeeper heading into the division next season with Norwich, there would be no doubts about his ability to make the step up, but it isn’t.
In October 2015, Krul sustained a serious knee injury whilst on international duty with Holland. He ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and missed around a year of his career due to the injury. You don’t have to be an expert on goalkeepers, or a doctor, to know that the use of your knees are vital when it comes to Krul’s position. One of the main issues with Krul last season was his ability to get down and across to shots. He conceded far too many goals where the ball seemed to go past him too easily – think back to the likes of Blackburn at home, Bristol City away, Nottingham Forest at home, Birmingham at home, Reading at home, and many more. All of these can be attributed to Krul not being as agile as he once was, due to the severity of the damage caused to the ligaments in his knee.
Two prime examples from the last 10 years are actually also ex-Norwich players in Fraser Forster and John Ruddy. Starting with Forster, he was one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League with Southampton for a few seasons before suffering a similar injury to Krul in 2015. He did return and play for the Saints, but never recaptured his previous form and is now currently the 3rd choice goalkeeper at St. Mary’s. It was also the same with Ruddy in the sense that he was excellent for Norwich before his knee injury in 2012 and he never fully recovered. A common criticism of Ruddy post-injury was that he was unable to get down quick enough to low shots and let in too many soft goals, much like Krul last season. The similarities are there for all to see and are hard to ignore heading into what could be such a crucial campaign for the club.
It would be easy to go back and point out exact mistakes and shots a Premier League level goalkeeper should be saving, with some pointed out earlier, but there are also some damning statistics from last season. According to XGA (expected goals against), Norwich only let up 24 “big chances” in the Championship last season. Big chances are quantified as being a chance against Norwich that resulted in an XG of 0.35 or higher. This was the joint best in the league, with Leeds, despite seven teams conceding fewer goals than the Canaries. This suggests one of two things; either the other 23 teams in the Championship were as clinical as Barcelona in their prime against Norwich, or Krul should have been saving more shots than he did. It also helps to dispell any myths about Norwich’s open style causing other teams to create plenty of chances, as they actually appear to have still kept the tightest defence in the league in terms of opportunities created against them. Added on to this, Norwich also had an XGA of 48.1 for the entire season, but conceded 57.
Many have pointed to his use of the ball as a massive positive to his game, which is perhaps slightly deceiving. By no means is he inept with the ball at his feet, but people comparing his pass accuracy to previous goalkeepers at the club and saying he’s better with his feet is misleading. Krul is asked to play far more short passes to the centre-backs than previous goalkeepers at the club, and others in the league, which is inevitably going to bring his pass accuracy up, as he has a higher volume of “low risk” passes. However, when Norwich were actually pressed by opposition teams, which happened less often than you would think, Krul struggled. Games like Swansea at home, Hull at home and West Brom away are prime examples of this, as Krul’s distribution often let him down when trying to bypass an opposition press, hitting balls over Max Aarons’ or Jamal Lewis’ head and giving the ball back to the other team. In the Premier League, you can be sure that far more teams will be looking to exploit this and targeting Krul due to the way Norwich play, and it remains to be seen whether he would be able to stand up to that test.
It has to be said, though, that Krul does come with his merits and there are reasons as to why he should be given a chance in the Premier League next season. Of course, there is his experience – having played over 150 games in the division for Newcastle earlier in his career. Although, you have to take into consideration the points raised about his injury. He knows what it takes to be successful in the league, which will be invaluable to Norwich even if he ends up sitting on the bench behind a new goalkeeper, or if he keeps his place as the number one.
The way he deals with crosses is also impressive. He rarely spilled a cross that came his way in the air and often took the sting out of late pressure by coming out and claiming a ball into the box, easing the nerves of the crowd and the rest of his teammates, which is, perhaps, an underrated quality. Although, there is an argument to suggest that he didn’t dominate his area in terms of balls threaded through and low crosses into the box, but that would be a tad harsh on the Dutchman.
His biggest strength, however, is his personality. He’s a respected figure in the game and you can tell that he is very highly thought of, as a person, at the club, and has a big influence in the dressing room. The young players, like Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis, have stated on record that Krul has been massive for them in terms of helping them mature and improve as players, which has been key to Norwich’s success. A counterpoint to that is it would be just as valuable to Norwich with him at the club as a number two, especially if the club signed another experienced goalkeeper, who could also help in that regard.
It must also be said that Krul did enjoy some impressive games between the sticks during the season. Think back to his saves against Brentford away at the start of 2019 and his crucial block to deny Leon Clarke away to Wigan towards the end of the campaign. His reactions are still sharp and he is able to make impressive saves when the shots are close to his body, with the main issue being when he is forced to extend himself to get to an effort.
Irrespective of who Norwich sign between now and kick off at Anfield in August, Tim Krul is expected to be starting. He, at the very least, deserves a chance on the opening day to show that he has improved from last season and can now compete in the Premier League again. However, another goalkeeper has to come in to challenge him and take his place if he fails to make the grade, that is a necessity. In the 2015/16 season, Ruddy was abysmal and young Declan Rudd wasn’t up to the task either, leaving Norwich in an awful situation, which has to be avoided this time around. Michael McGovern is the current number two and many fans would agree that he is nowhere near the standard required to even play in the Championship, let alone the Premier League.
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