Football is supposed to be a simple game. To paraphrase Gary Lineker, 22 men kick a ball around a field for 90 minutes and at the end James Maddison curls in the winner from 30 yards.
As it turns out, however, it’s not simple at all. For example, Norwich scored 85 goals last season, the joint-highest in the Championship. They were ferocious at home, winning by margins of six, five and four goals (twice). Unfortunately, they also conceded 69 goals and won twice away from home after October 1.
This season, however, Norwich have scored 34 goals in as many games, the fourth-lowest in the Championship. They are, to be kind, poor at home, and have scored more than one goal at Carrow Road on just three occasions. On the other hand, they have conceded just 37 goals (25 in their last 29 league games) and have won seven away games, harvesting just nine fewer points on the road than run-away leaders Wolves.
This table highlights the pretty stark contrast:
For the record, Alex Neil’s Preston (Neil, of course, being the most likely reason for our bizarrely inconsistent form last season) are 14th in the Championship home table and second in the away table. Go figure.
Besides this peculiarity, however, the reason for these changes in fortune is pretty clear. Daniel Farke was hired as Norwich’s Head Coach at the end of last season and, while our much less direct style of play has resulted in fewer goals, he has at least managed to organise the defence, thanks in no small part to the acquisitions of Grant Hanley and Christoph Zimmermann.
Cast your mind back to early last season, however. City were flying high at the top of the Championship table, beating teams home and away. But alarm bells began to ring after a 2-1 defeat of Wigan. Despite going into half-time two goals up and cruising, Norwich were then totally outclassed in the second period, scraping victory by the narrowest of margins.
It was the first sign of many: Norwich’s squad were hopelessly unfit.
Now I can’t, of course, prove this but we all saw it, and City’s total drop-off a third of the way through the season is evidence in itself. Besides, of the 85 goals Norwich scored, 47 (55%) were unusually scored in the first half (in the Premier League and EFL this season, just 43.4% of goals have been scored in the opening 45 minutes.)
Daniel Farke’s fitness regime has been well-documented: two training sessions a day, a single day off. After City’s win at Portman Road in October, the squad were back in the gym at Colney almost before Maddison’s winner was nestling in the back of Bartosz Bialkowski’s net. If there is one bona fide improvement on this year over last, it is surely this (and I do actually have the stats to prove it).
Or rather, I have the stats to show City are now much better in the second half compared to the first – a contrast almost as stark as last season’s home and away form. This year, for instance, Norwich have scored 23 of 34 goals (68%) after half time (a 23% swing on their 2016/17 counterparts). The fact City have scored just 11 goals in the first half all season feels like something that needs to be addressed, mind you.
In fact, had all od City’s games ended after 45 minutes this season, City would have just 36 points, a total that would currently leave them 17th and fighting relegation. If, however, only goals scored in the second half counted, Farke’s side would have 51 points and be lying in 10th, six points off the play-offs with a game in hand.
What may genuinely prove City’s superior fitness, though, is how many points they’ve won or recovered in the second half of matches. They have taken 18 points from opposing teams in the second period this season, proving themselves to be a much greater sticking power than their Championship counterparts – the home wins against Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall, coupled with the last-minute equalisers against Hull, Ipswich and Wolves are examples of this.
On the other hand, the Canaries have surrendered just seven points in the second half of games all season (you could argue this is because they are rarely winning at half-time but it is nonetheless impressive).
The solution seems quite obvious – start scoring goals in the first half and wins will follow. Teams will then have to attack City instead of sticking ten men behind the ball and goalless games at the Carra will be a thing of the past once more.
If only it were that simple, hey?
NB: I wasn’t at the Bolton game, but I am told that Norwich have started taking short corners and people aren’t very happy about it. However, it seems as if Herr Farke may have been reading The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally which proves that corners are actually virtually pointless.
Anderson and Sally quote Jose Mourinho, who said, shortly after taking over at Chelsea: “How many countries can you think of where a corner kick is treated with the same applause as a goal? One. It only happens in England.”
Mourinho is right to question it. To break down what Anderson and Sally prove in a couple of sentences: only one in five corners lead to a shot on goal and of those shots, 89% are wasted. Therefore, the average corner is worth 0.022 goals – put more simply, the average Premier League team scores from a corner once every ten games.
When taking into account the likelihood of the opposing team scoring on the counter-attack, corners are pretty much worthless.
The best thing to do, as Spain and Barcelona and now Manchester City have often shown, is to take it short.