Following City’s curtain-raising defeat to Liverpool last Friday, the buzzword that emanated from the national media was naïve.
The realities of the Premier League means greater exposure and, as a consequence, opinions of varying reliability will increase. But that word will not be repeated in the description of the Canaries’ first Premier League win at Carrow Road.
Instead, expect to find those same columns filled with the term ‘balance’.
In many regards, that opening fixture was the free-est hit of the season, a steep learning curve that would have tested their resolve mentally. Norwich needed to silence the doubters and prove that second half at Anfield was more than a successful reshuffle.
Not only are they quick learners, but the manner in which they took the sword to Newcastle will prove that they feel they belong there.
Anyone searching for the games that needed earmarking as potential victories if Norwich were going to survive this campaign would have circled and underlined Newcastle United (h) as one.
Despite that admission, Newcastle still posed a £40m striker in Joelinton, and a midfield full of talent, namely Jonjo Shelvey and Miguel Almiron. Yet, the caveat of a composed, measured and dominant display is the performance levels of a Newcastle side in disarray, on and off the pitch.
Issues of ownership remain, those who stayed to witnessed Daniel Farke orchestrate the Barclay’s ole’s will merely be left wishing their team possessed the togetherness and stability pertinent in these quarters at present.
Steve Bruce’s side lacked urgency in possession, but it was their distinct lack of press that allowed City to build confidence and construct those overloads in tight areas that are so essential to their play.
Out of possession, for the Toon, there was a severe lack of identity and energy.
Those donning yellow and green located pockets of space with ease, there was no desire to limit those spaces, either through their pressing or condensing central areas.
Their passages of play lacked depth, their shape lacked width, and their game didn’t possess the fluidity of their opponents. On this outing, a difficult season is seemingly ahead for the Magpies.
This victory was fuelled by momentum, quality and City’s ability to negate Newcastle’s threats.
Daniel Farke’s mantra of City being underdogs may need revising should they maintain the performance levels witnessed from their last three halves of football.
Equilibrium was the order of the day. Silencing doubters has become part of their armoury since the German took the reins.
Principally, Norwich’s approach will not alter.
Oozing creativity in offensive passages, Norwich’s interplay in the final third dismantled Newcastle. While Teemu Pukki’s mantlepiece may need extending further with a Premier League hattrick ball to add to his collection, the offensive force behind him deserves plaudits for the chances they created for him.
Unlike former eras in the top flight, this is a Norwich side who can create numerous opportunities and work the ball into threatening areas.
xG is, once again, a further illustration of Norwich’s expansive style and chance creation. Liverpool was a game where City committed players forward in search of asserting themselves onto the fixture. This game reaffirmed Farke’s commitment to bold, expansive football – the xG rates display at 1.51xG, another impressive attacking outing for the Canaries.
Many would argue those statistics have been measured despite half of the Canary’s attacking foursome not being at their usual best.
Pukki is a significant cog in that attacking make-up, his contributions will be relied upon for points gained and goals scored. It’s his work rate that defines his worth though. That lung-busting 80-yard recovery run to dispossess his opponents summarise Pukki as a competitor. Substance is commitment and work rate.
Yet, he is so clinical, almost machine-like in the way he converts and manufactures his chances.
The chances he converted for his first and second goal were rated at 0.05 and 0.11, respectively. That displays the quality of finishing from City’s talisman that many have become accustomed to since his arrival. Any question marks around whether he can step up a division seem to be wide of the mark.
His ability to disorientate central defenders is sublime.
His movement is intelligent, a prime reason why he creates openings and locates that yard of space that allows him to get a shot away. Take his second strike, one which is reliant on shifting the ball slightly to the right to use the defender’s body position as a disguise for the goalkeeper.
Equally, that yard creates the shooting opportunity and often, that is all the Finnish striker needs to find the back of the net. At times, Newcastle looked terrified of Pukki, unable to contain his intelligent movement and ruthless finishing.
For a man who was rubbished at Celtic, that is quite a dramatic career shift. Although, those in Norfolk won’t be surprised in the slightest.
Crucially when operating against a 3-5-2 formation, holding the knowledge of when to overload areas and create those intellectual runs to isolate the wing backs is pivotal in dismantling this system. In equal measure, the nature of which Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons assault forward created a 1v1 type of scenario down the flanks.
Norwich’s game is all about working in and out of tight areas, combining with limited touches and movement to progress them up the pitch. Critical to that is an operator who can knit the thirds together and ensure Norwich’s possessional work holds a beneficial purpose.
Enter Moritz Leitner.
Referencing him as City’s metronome is apt, he instigates offensive phases of play with incisive passes, but his weight of pass to fellow performers is sublime to witness. He waltzes around the pitch, the beating heart of Norwich’s identity, feeding the supply line behind Pukki.
Farke admitted his omission at Anfield was more due to Liverpool’s physicality rather than Leitner’s contributions in pre-season, but he operated like an experienced Premier League footballer. Injury hindered his momentum during the last campaign, but every person of a yellow and green persuasion remains acutely aware of his technical ability.
The balance that ran through Norwich’s dominant display is down to the midfield duo who complimented each other superbly to provide a foundation that contributed to the improved defensive display. After the Anfield defeat, City’s numerous critics opted to pull apart their defensive shape and phases, the evidence of this game suggests Farke has been working on that.
Ben Godfrey was imperious. Grant Hanley still displaying signs of rust. Todd Cantwell looks an entirely different operator to the one who broke onto the scene last season.
Confidence seems to be travelling through his veins at a rate of knots. His positional awareness has vastly improved, with him responding to the ball and locating space expertly. A subtle alteration to his game is how he’s now receiving the ball with an onus on progressing forward. Last season, retention of the ball would have been his sole purpose.
So, City are off the mark in their new division, three points in a near-complete performance where they dominated throughout the piece.
Creating chances and retaining their philosophy will be an integral part of the NR1 mood music this season, but this emphasis on themselves rather than altering their approach is both refreshing and brave.
Tactically, Norwich will get outdone at times; that’s the result of operating against quality opponents with teams who have spent vast amounts of money. And next week offers an altogether different test.
Chelsea will need to be on their game to subdue the positivity building around Carrow Road and it’ll take more than a floodlight mishap for Frank Lampard’s men to leave Norfolk with the points.
One thing can be guaranteed, Norwich’s approach won’t alter.