A lack of quality in the final third is clearly not just a Norwich City thing.
England’s inability to create clear-cut chances and make decisive inroads in to the Italian rear-guard in the heat and humidity of Manaus was rather too familiar.
All too often last season, the Yellow Army were left bemoaning a ‘poor final ball’ or a ‘lack of creativity’; precisely the same issue that will be occupying Roy Hodgson’s thoughts between now and Thursday.
It’s a conundrum that, regardless of level, boils down to one common denominator – quality.
England lacked it on Saturday night – especially in those energy-sapping last 30 minutes – and City lacked it for the whole of last season. As ever, there is no easy or obvious solution.
For England, Hodgson has been dealt his hand; no Redknapp-style wheeling and dealing for him. Instead he has four days’ worth of training to organise, cajole and inspire his Class of 2014 ahead of the clash with Uruguay.
While Saturday night’s attacking intent was a refreshing change from much of what has gone before, it relied heavily on the pace of a Sterling, a Sturridge or indeed even a Welbeck to stretch those Italian defensive limbs. And it almost worked.
Alas, while the young bucks did their best to pull an England win out of the fire, it was the older heads who were found wanting. The killer pass that Steven Gerrard seems to deliver on an almost weekly basis while wearing the red of Liverpool went missing from his armoury; so to Wayne Rooney’s ability to hit the target from 10 yards.
Both were ordinary on a night when the stage was set perfectly. Unfortunately it’s to those two we look when the aforementioned invention is required.
Andrea Pirlo, as ever, afforded us all a first-hand view of a passing master-class. It’s just a shame that Gerrard also choose to stand and admire rather than replicate. I was hopeful, given all that has gone before, that last night was the time to exorcise the ghosts of Kiev. It didn’t happen – at least not to the degree I had hoped.
The quandary of quality in the final third is a different kettle of fish for Neil Adams in terms of the talent at his disposal, but the conundrum remains – even when adding relegation into the equation.
Much has been made – quite rightly – of City’s poor goalscoring return last season and whether the fault lies with the strikers, the supply or simply Chris Hughton. In reality, all three contributed – perhaps equally. But regardless of blame apportionment, it has to be addressed.
The first obvious attempt to rectify this deficiency in the squad was the signing of Lewis Grabban but, if the tabloids are to be believed Leeds United’s and the Championship’s leading scorer, Ross McCormack is a wanted man in these parts.
While reports that the Yorkshire club have received a £5 million bid from an ‘un-named Championship club’ may not necessarily lead back to Norfolk, the suggestion is the list of names over which Messrs Adams, Royle and McNally famously cogitated includes more than one striker. [Note: The Yorkshire Evening Post is reporting that Fulham are the club to have bid £5 million].
Assuming they succeed in adding goals to the squad, the next trick – the one that alluded England so painfully in Saturday night’s second-half – will be to ensure the forward line is afforded a steady supply of ammunition.
England’s inability to carve out a decent chance in Saturday’s second-half struck raw nerves aplenty I’m sure.
Closer to home, a midfield trio permed from Bradley Johnson, Alex Tettey, Leroy Fer and Jonny Howson can run and chase all day, and makes tackles by the dozen, but is found horribly lacking in the guile department.
I don’t see that changing in the Championship. While strong running and physicality may be king in the second tier, there remains a need for Team Adams to improve the quality of supply from the midfield. Without it Master Grabban and A N Other will likely find themselves in a van Wolfswinkel/Hooper type scenario – and no-one wants that.
While I’m not expecting one A Pirlo to be on ‘the list’ I’d love it if at least one name on there was of a playmaker ilk.
I’m thoroughly fed up with typing that bloody ‘no quality in the final third’ line. Let’s hope between now and next May I don’t have to.