The Premier League, as we have found to our cost in the recent past, brutally exposes flaws that don’t exist in the Championship.
City’s Championship campaign was based on self-confidence and self-assertion, but the early fixtures haven’t been kind to the Canaries, with them having played two of the continental competition holders in the opening three games.
So, context is critical and with this season still in its embryonic stages, adaptation is still prevalent throughout the Norwich starting eleven.
Last season, they only managed a return of four points from their opening four games. Paul Lambert’s Class of 2012, who went onto finish 12th, didn’t achieve a victory until the 17th September after an arguably more favourable start.
Points on the board and league tables will be examined with the forensic scrutiny by some, but it’s too early.
August has been the learning curve that most of us anticipated prior to opening night at Anfield. This division is all about levels, and Norwich’s campaign will be judged on how efficiently they cope with those levels. To date, the performances by those donning yellow and green have been of a generally impressive standard.
Crucially, the principles remain intact and the credit is still in the bank.
Quality is evident across all the opposition. Mistakes get punished. And confidence can get rapidly sapped out of a squad.
City have been dealt a tough hand from the fixture computer for the first round of matches, and with the Premier League champions now on the horizon, this is no time for self-doubt.
If we needed reminding, then let’s revisit those vibrant offensive passages in that victory against Newcastle United – just 15 days ago.
City attempted to engage in the same style against both Chelsea and West Ham, but despite bravely applying themselves for periods, they ultimately fell short.
Impacting fixtures from an attacking perspective still remains the primary objective. To be fearless and retain faith in the philosophy is crucial regardless of their fate this season. Yet, what punters witnessed at the London Stadium will only have allowed concerns to manifest, given the abject nature of their team’s performance.
Norwich’s consistency saw them reach the summit in the Championship, but the ruthlessness of opponents in the top tier was always going to test the resolve of Daniel Farke’s fledgelings.
Compliments will still be paid for their offensive phases of play, but defensively Norwich’s shape is the cause for concern.
A lack of identity out of possession is plaguing their defensive efforts and individual errors are being ruthlessly punished. Farke needs to find a solution; the Canaries are stuck between deploying a low block and pressing erratically.
Those in that inexperienced backline are being exposed by the conceding of high turnovers and a lack of protection from a midfield that is failing to transition quickly enough.
Transitional phases cost City points against Chelsea; that inability to be disciplined and the nous to solidify the middle is leaving the Canaries susceptible to overloads, allowing the creation of counter-attacking scenarios.
Had it not been for the heroics of the ever-improving Tim Krul, then this result could have become an even heavier blow. Even when Farke altered the formation, the proximity between the lines was too great, leaving pockets of space for West Ham’s talent to exploit at will.
But defeats, as much as victories, are when the Farke philosophy and beliefs need to be reaffirmed. He is a calm and collected coach who doesn’t blow too hot or cold depending on the outcome of a fixture. Although, early in his City reign he adapted his style to display a more pragmatic side, an admission that his side may not possess the needed quality to impose his preferred method.
But this isn’t now about quality, it’s about discipline. Norwich are too top-heavy, too gracious in the space they allow their opponents and not aggressive enough in the transition from possession to defending.
Even when deploying that defensive shape, one that should be condensed and narrow, it’s disjointed. The space between Ibrahim Amadou and Ben Godfrey was too great, creating a stretch that caused unneeded pressure.
It was self-suffocation.
The nullification of our full-backs is something yet to be responded too. The overly centric focus on the offensive passages is being combatted by teams overloading central areas, content that City doesn’t seek crossing opportunities.
Only five passes were completed within an estimated 20-yards of West Ham’s goal, and for a side praised for their ability to deconstruct defensive shapes, this is a graphic illustration of the frustration they experienced against Manuel Pellegrini’s Hammers.
West Ham United are in that group of sides hoping to push for the top six places and break the hegemony of the division. Merely casting an eye at the quality of players they possess is enough to make the eyes water.
Sebastien Haller, a £45 million striker, provides a glowing example of the gulf that the Canaries need to bridge between their youthful operators and established sides. That is a challenge City accepted when they raised the trophy at a sun-kissed Villa Park in May.
Haller is a name familiar to Norwich supporters.
Years have passed since his name entered the rumour mill, but his quality, on this evidence, appears undeniable. Criticism of Joelinton a fortnight ago stemmed from his inability to link the play but also to locate space with any degree of enthusiasm or intelligence yet Haller’s movement was simple and effective for prolonged periods throughout the match.
He waited for one of the grafters – Mark Noble or Declan Rice – to win possession and then he’d drop in, creating the passing line into his feet. Using his strength, he occupied the defender, using his body shape to ensure the quality of his first touch, he then bounced the ball to a creative midfielder before spinning into the box.
Norwich had no answer.
Rice provided the backline with a screen that prevented that defence-splitting pass we’ve witnessed on numerous occasions to release Teemu Pukki and advance City up the pitch. Rice’s positioning between the space of the two central defenders quashed any hope of Emi Buendia, Marco Stiepermann and Pukki managing to combine in advanced areas.
This dominance is evident when searching the xG statistics.
City has boasted an xG of over 1.00 per game to date, despite the sample size being too small for analysis or trend spotting, they only managed 0.88, proof that the offensive force was effectively overcome on this occasion.
Farke may opt to revise his defensive phases, especially given how simple it is for opponents to work openings currently. That doesn’t mean City need to emphasise defending, but they can’t continue to ship goals at the current rate of knots. Injuries are a contributing factor, but as a team, the shape is leading to chances being conceded.
Managing moments is vital, of course, and had Christoph Zimmermann not have recklessly challenged or had Haller’s punishment been more severe, then the game could have taken an altogether different form.
Moments like that dictate the narrative. City need to have spells of prolonged possession to stall momentum and regain control.
Every passage doesn’t need to be an offensive phase, sometimes asserting their style increases confidence that leads to working a genuine opportunity as opposed to manufacturing one.
Togetherness is a component that needs to be called upon.
An international break appears when City need respite and to regroup and re-evaluate. Concern around poor offering is natural, but they need to prove it is merely a one-off and they possess the ability to learn and thrive under the pressure of the division.
This group has defied all odds, and they’ll do it again.