With Paul Lambert working miracles last year with a limited squad and little investment, Chris Hughton has a tough act to follow. Norwich have continued to be prudent in the transfer market this summer and start the new campaign with a similar squad to last season, so it will be a real test of Hughton’s managerial abilities to match the achievements of his predecessor.
Lambert’s style was that of tactical flexibility and an attacking approach intended to cover the team’s defensive deficiencies. Last year Norwich were the seventh highest scorers in the division but had the fourth worst defensive record. In contrast Hughton has built his sides around a solid defence, achieving impressive defensive records with both Birmingham and Newcastle. Norwich may benefit from a more cautious approach but should Hughton fail to improve the team defensively he runs the risk of detracting from their potency further forward. Hughton is certainly unlikely to switch between formations like Norwich became accustomed to under Lambert and may well settle on a single striker system as he used with Birmingham. Grant Holt has the strength and determination to play a lone role up front but Norwich will need Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan to continue providing goals from midfield. All three are great examples of players who over-performed under Lambert in their first seasons in the Premier League.
One notable feature of Hughton’s managerial career is that he has become accustomed to overseeing a clear-out in his first few months in charge. With Newcastle and Birmingham both relegated the season before he took over, Hughton was forced to let a number of key players leave, replacing them with cheaper alternatives that were happy playing for a Championship club. In both cases Hughton was able to rebuild a team from the players that remained at the club, plus the replacements he was able to bring in. With Holt signing a new contract Norwich have been able to keep last year’s squad together, so Hughton will be working with a more settled squad than he is used to.
Hughton’s reputation largely stems from his coaching experience and it may be that, given time, he can work with the players to get his ideas across. His managerial credentials lie mainly in winning the Championship with Newcastle and returning them to the Premier League, but this came after working as the assistant manager for over a year beforehand. Even so, at both his previous clubs he has been successful whilst having to sell players and trim the wage bill, so his time at Norwich will test his ability with an established side for the first time.