I didn’t go to Millwall. I was sat in a caravan in Lincolnshire, desperately scrambling to find updates of events at The New Den. I ended up with Football Focus, as I was engaged in the vidiprinter awaiting news from South London.
As the reporter described Norwich’s early dominance, I was overjoyed and my mind was excited as it seemed Daniel Farke’s formula was finally clicking. And then Millwall went 1-0 up… and then 2-0…
Without WiFi and only 30 second reports of proceedings, the words ‘horrific defending’ angered me. After deciding at 3-0 to take a walk, it became apparent in my mind that City have major issues defensively. I’ve locked the result in a box in the darkest embers of my mind ever since, but I’m opening the Pandora’s Box in search of therapy.
First and foremost, to be annihilated 4-0 to a team who finished 6th in League One last campaign simply wasn’t good enough. What’s more angering was the manor of the goals conceded. I’ve seen better defensive performances on the grassless pitches of Eaton Park on a Sunday morning. In order to be successful at any level of football, be that Sunday League or Premier League, there has to be a robust solidarity in your sides back line.
Are you strong or hungry enough? Do you have defenders who would rather die than lose? At the moment Norwich have defenders who are learning, admittedly, but not quickly enough. There are no offensive, aggressive defenders willing to put their foot where it hurts. It seems to be a mentality issue.
To be analytical, Norwich’s centre backs are too far apart in regards of positioning; they seem to be defending in different counties. One goal against The Lions was a long ball to the experienced Steve Morison and Lee Gregory was unmarked and in acres of space in the Canaries penalty area. If Martin was closer to Franke, and not ball watching, that simply would not have happened.
Marcel Franke, at 6ft 4, has the physical presence to succeed in this division. He has the traits to be commanding but thus far has failed to show any signs that this combativeness and dominance is consistent, or in fact, there at all. Sluggish. I still believe he can come good but he has it all to prove.
As for his partner at the Den, sadly Russ has been the common denominator for several years of an underperforming City back line. City managers have made Martin club captain, but if his leadership is an outstanding quality of his, then why do Norwich’s defence look so devoid of it? Martin looks slow, gets outmuscled too easily and is all of often guilty of ball-watching.
Even as a right back, the position he made his own following his move to Norfolk, he looks inept. Martin now has the mentality of a centre back at right back. He sits off where he used to press tight. Quite simply, Martin is surplus to requirements and not good enough for this side. That’s not singling Russ out, it’s sadly, in my opinion, the truth. The fact he is a wonderful man, who loves the club makes that harder to write.
Despite showing early signs that he could be a coup, Christoph Zimmermann has looked overawed by the prospect of playing in grounds like Villa Park, and whilst the step up is high, he is yet to make it. Why is his jump any different to that of Sean Raggett’s? Selfies and fan interactions are appreciated Christoph, but play well and you’ll be remembered. Simple.
The whole of Norwich’s back four is fragmented; the transitional side of the game is slow and sluggish. Norwich are so exposed and riddled with gaps and offensive opportunities when opponents hit Norwich on the break. It’s not compact, or robust, it’s soft and embarrassing. Norwich fans were promised a coach who knew how to set up teams to defend. Thus far, that’s been far from the truth.
Grant Hanley has been purchased from Newcastle, and whilst that looks to be a missing piece of the jigsaw, it is only one piece of the jigsaw. The remainder of the back four will still contain players who have underperformed and leaked more goals than a broken tap. Hanley is dominating and commanding.
Could we see a change of approach from Farke?
I’ve banged the patience drum more than anyone this summer, and I’m still prepared to support Webber and Farke, but the simple fact is this: if Norwich can’t repair a broken and fragmented back line, this season will be a relegation struggle. But I’m sure they will.
After the positivity of pre-season, a part of me wishes a setback would have been had in the summer practice matches. It’s all very well having possession for possessions sake, but you must have something to differentiate you in the final third, be it a burst of pace, intricate passes or a brilliant cross, but Norwich are one dimensional, static and inept of ideas.
Whatever statistics you want to compare Norwich too, be it Fulham, Huddersfield, Wagner or the fact the five sides with the highest possession all finished in the top six last year, the simple fact is that’s not Norwich. The games Norwich have picked up points from – QPR and Fulham – have both been games where Norwich have seen less of the ball than their opponents.
What if Norwich have signed bang average players? What if Farke isn’t the man we all thought he could be? How long do you preach about patience after a 4-0 loss to a newly promoted side? These questions float around my mind more and more.
I don’t want to hammer the new players. Or appear impatient or demanding of success. Teething problems were expected, but these are not cracks of a new era, they are major flaws of a mass reconstruction. I always try to take a subjective view, and I’m not demanding success, or being pessimistic or calling for Farke to be sacked, just for improvement; some evidence that the players are carrying out the philosophy or are at least good enough to carry it out.
I’m still optimistic. I still believe it’ll click, but as fans, we need to see a sign of improvement, not a cycle of continued regression.