There’s no question that Alex Neil’s appointment at Norwich acted as the catalyst for the Canaries’ promotion push this season, with the Scot transforming the Carrow Road club’s form and securing play-off glory at Middlesbrough’s expense.
Before the former Hamilton Academical player-manager arrived Norwich had lost seven games and sat three points outside the top six. By the time the regular season had ended only three more teams had managed to beat Neil’s side, who sat third in the table, just three points away from automatic promotion.
Such rapid success doesn’t arrive without honing in on a weak point and improving it, so Neil is likely to already be aware of the one area that needs attention as he prepares for a maiden managerial voyage in the top flight.
Norwich were often exposed by their inability to stop crosses during their Championship campaign. They ranked among the worst five sides in the league at blocking the opposition’s attempts to whip balls into the box. The 115 they cut off was just five more than Sheffield Wednesday, who were the division’s bottom club in that department.
An inability to close down out wide saw the Canaries concede six goals from crosses in the 10 games they lost during the campaign, which equates to 35 percent of the total they shipped in defeat.
In four of those games the yellow and green army conceded from a cross and went on to lose by a single goal, costing the club vital points in the race for the top two.
As the club head into the Premier League campaign rated as 1/1 chances to be relegated, finding full-backs that are more adept at closing down opposition wingers’ crosses will be key.
Admittedly, Neil improved this weakness once he arrived, with Norwich only shipping one goal from a cross in the three losses he oversaw. However, there is little doubt that his preferred starting full-backs could be upgraded in this department.
Martin Olsson and Steven Whittaker blocked 29 and 16 crosses respectively during the season, figures which are embarrassingly short of the 80 Fulham’s Konstantinos Stafylidis led the league with.
In Europe’s top five leagues Swansea left-back Neil Taylor came out on top of the cross-blocking table. He stopped 46 during his 34 appearances in the Premier League this season.
The 26-year-old was the subject of transfer talk during the recent January window, but a move to Carrow Road seems out of reach now that the Welsh outfit have extended his contract.
Clinging to Taylor’s coattails was Ben Mee, who blocked 45 crosses from left-back for Burnley. After the Claret’s relegation back to the Championship and Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier reportedly moving on, Norwich could cash in on a potential Turf Moor firesale.
While Mee could arrive to improve Norwich on one flank, French defender Romain Metanire would bolster the other.
Italian right-back Lorenzo De Silvestri was the flag bearer in his position for stopping crosses this term, snuffing out 45 of them over the course of 33 outings for Sampdoria. However, knee ligament damage suffered on international duty for the Azzurri last week means alternatives need to be sought.
Metanire, a 25-year-old who plays for Metz, stopped 35 crosses at right-back in a campaign in which Les Grenats suffered relegation to Ligue 2.
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