Earlier today, Norwich City announced the appointment of Dean Smith as their new head coach on a two-and-a-half-year deal.
The former Aston Villa manager – who was only relieved of his duties at Villa Park eight days ago – succeeds Daniel Farke, who was sacked after an unsuccessful start to the season which has seen the Canaries win just one of their opening 11 Premier League matches.
Smith’s first game in charge will be at home to Southampton in Gameweek 12, with fixtures against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United to follow, before the schedule quickly takes a turn for the worse in Gameweek 15, right through until the end of the year in fact:
The new head coach, who will be joined in Norfolk by no. 2 Craig Shakespeare, will be coming in with fresh ideas, but what does his appointment mean for Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers?
Our Moving Target report takes a closer look.
Following a playing career which was mainly spent in the third tier of English football, Dean Smith quickly moved into coaching, where he progressed from head of youth at Walsall to manager. Despite being nine points adrift of safety in League One when he took over, he managed to keep The Saddlers up and then establish them as a mid-table club, which earnt him a move to Brentford in November 2015.
Implementing an attacking approach, he steered the Bees’ to several top-half finishes in the Championship while developing a number of talented players including Ezri Konsa (£4.9m), Said Benrahma (£6.4m) and Neal Maupay (£6.5m). As a result of that impressive work, he then secured a dream move to his boyhood club Aston Villa in October 2018.
With the team lying 14th in the Championship upon his appointment, Smith impressively guided Villa to promotion at the first time of asking via the play-offs, before narrowly avoiding relegation in their first season back in the top-flight. However, 2020/21 is when his team really caught the eye. Led by captain Jack Grealish (£7.7m) and an inspired Emiliano Martinez (£5.5m), the Villans finished 11th in the Premier League, while only Manchester City and Chelsea could trump their total of 15 clean sheets.
During his time at Villa, he also steered them to the 2019/20 League Cup final, but was sacked eight days ago having lost five successive Premier League matches, with the club in 16th place, just two points above the relegation zone.
“I want players to go and express themselves, and give them options for what they can do, but also give them ownership of their game. There’s no right or wrong in the way the game is played.” – Dean Smith
Tactically, Dean Smith is an adaptable coach who mainly opted for a 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 formation at Villa, though he did on occasions dabble with a back-three system.
His teams generally remain compact, and at least in 2020/21, were extremely difficult to break down.
Favouring a vertical approach which aimed to get the ball forward quickly, they were heavily reliant on Grealish last season, and as a result, preferred to attack down their left, where they would look to create overloads with lots of short give-and-go’s.
Aston Villa’s 4-2-3-1 (left) and 4-3-3 (right) in action during the 2020/21 campaign
The outlook at Norwich certainly doesn’t look great right now, especially from a Fantasy perspective, with the club bottom of the Premier League having lost eight of their 11 matches so far.
However, on a more positive note, the Canaries remain just five points from safety and did record their first league win of the season at Brentford prior to the international break, which does offer some hope that they can survive with 27 games still left to play.
The underlying numbers remain a huge concern, however, as they rank bottom in many of the key metrics at both ends of the pitch:
|Metric||Total||Rank v other Premier League sides|
One of their main deficiencies this season has been creating in the final-third, with the departure of playmaker Emiliano Buendia (£6.2m) in the summer hitting them hard. And while Smith may look to address that in the transfer market in January, in the meantime, he could turn to Chelsea loanee Billy Gilmour (£4.4m), who could be used in a more advanced box-to-box midfield role if a 4-3-3 formation is favoured.
That kind of system could also benefit Todd Cantwell (£5.3m), who has struggled this term and hasn’t featured since Gameweek 5, but did thrive a couple of years back when he produced six goals and two assists in 2019/20. Encouragingly, it was also reported that Smith tried to sign the winger during his time in Birmingham – could we perhaps see that left-sided bias we saw at Villa continue at Norwich, then, via Cantwell and full-back Brandon Williams (£4.0m)?
Elsewhere, in Mathias Normann (£4.5m), Norwich have a good midfielder who is possibly the best of the £4.5m options right now, with a goal and assist in seven appearances since moving to Carrow Road, while Teemu Pukki (£5.8m) is a solid forward on penalties who could offer value when the fixtures fall kindly. At the back, it’s hard to get too excited about anyone, but Max Aarons (£4.3m) is an attacking full-back who could become a squad player if Smith can tighten them up.
However, there is little reason to look at Norwich assets ahead of Gameweek 12, despite a possible new manager bounce, as in every category, there are better alternatives to target who at least carry some form into this round of fixtures.
The schedule certainly doesn’t help, either, with the improving Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers up next, followed by an away trip to Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United, before a challenging festive period. That suggests Canaries assets are probably best avoided, then, at least until we have seen signs that they are moving in the right direction under Smith.
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