Frustration and deflation were the overriding emotions in a sun draped Carrow Road as City succumbed to their first defeat in NR1 since January.
Frank Lampard is the only opposing manager to leave Carrow Road with three points in 2019 and his transitional Chelsea side, full of youthful exuberance attempting to establish a philosophy, impressed with its ability to exploit space on the counter-attack.
Some call that revolutionary, but not those in these quarters.
It’s been described as naivety but those inside the walls of Norwich City understand the amount of patience required for these types of projects to bear fruit. City’s road has been contrasting, beginning slowly before creating a style of football that took the Championship by storm.
Regardless of the step-up and enhanced calibre of opponents, their approach won’t alter, graphically illustrated by the frenetic nature of the opening period.
Every time Chelsea ventured forward, Norwich responded. The rapturous applause spoke volumes. Despite the scoreline and the way the Blues dominated proceedings in the second period, City will extract plenty considering how motivated Chelsea were to record their opening victory of the Lampard era.
Caveat this performance with the quality within the Chelsea ranks.
These aren’t operators who share the standard City have become accustomed to after a prolonged Championship stay. These are footballers who won a continental tournament last season. Those at the sharp end understand this division is all about levels.
Scrutiny of defensive passages of play will undoubtedly follow, but the nature of Norwich’s philosophy is such that the goals conceded column will never make for attractive reading.
However, on this occasion, the monopolising of possession and poor transitional play will lead to Farke asking some testing questions of his side. Dissect the three goals for the Blues, and you begin with a mishap in possession for the opening two goals and a shot from Norwich with a poor responsive transition for the third.
The discussion surrounding Norwich’s technicians usually full of praise, but the manner of which Chelsea suffocated those influential operators in possession has to be applauded.
For the visitors, the offensive threat stemmed from creating counter-attacks. The energy they possessed when offered overloads or invited to drive into space was explosive, unsurprising considering the youthful makeup to their side.
The manner of some of the possessional play will disappoint those who meticulously devise the phases of City’s play, but yesterday all too often the ball was launched to relieve pressure. Yet, the two goals stem from cute combination play, reminiscent of that witnessed on numerous occasions last season.
Chelsea’s nullification of City’s full-backs deconstructed the Norwich approach.
The positioning of their full-backs was purposefully high, ensuring the City pair were unable to advance in the manner they usually wish. Out of possession, the midfielder positioned to the right, or the left of the three deployed by Lampard swarmed those wide areas to restrict that transition from the defensive third into the midfield phase.
When Chelsea held possession, they created chances through Christian Pulisic or Mason Mount making diagonal runs inwards, dragging the full-backs inside to create space for Cesar Azpilicueta and Emerson to attack into, thus creating crossing opportunities.
At times, it was three versus one for City’s young full-backs. See Max Aarons’ mistake, but equally the lack of forward contributions from the usually offensively proficient inexperienced operators. These graphics (Credit: WhoScored.com) below display the average positions held by both sides. Compare the position of Norwich’s fullbacks with that of Chelsea’s central midfielders.
Aarons and Lewis are enablers of the Farke philosophy, crucial to how Norwich progress up the pitch. Restrict their mobility and give them a constant defensive focus and the team need to prove their adaptability when this situation occurs.
Despite Chelsea’s impressive creation of counter-attacking scenarios when seeking to exploit turnovers in possession, they struggled with more penetrative combination play when City deployed a low or mid-block.
Given the quality of the opposition, pragmatism was never going to be in short supply, particularly after the tempo of the first half. Farke’s proven previously his ability to defensively mould a team, and for extended periods of the fixture it appeared Chelsea wouldn’t be able to break down City’s defensive shape.
Alluding to that feeling of frustration mentioned at the opening of this column, that’s where it manifests from – that creation of their own downfall from the goals conceded.
The preventability of the goals conceded will irritate the Head Coach, given the quality on display for the two goals that City scored. The way they play encourages their young talent to be expressive and creative in possession and often that will mean an increase in mistakes.
Grant Hanley’s positioning throughout will be questioned. His lack of decisiveness in the build up of third goal and the constant recovery runs needed by Ben Godfrey paint a picture of Farke wishing his returning centre backs are soon available. Hanley is displaying the rustiness of a player who hasn’t played a lot of football in the last year.
His mobility and the ease at which opponents are turning him is a cause for concern.
In a game where the central defender’s role is evolving to more controlled, technical players who instigate attacks, Hanley has been left behind. With Timm Klose seemingly close and Christoph Zimmermann returning to full team training, the Scot’s position is undeniably under threat.
If anyone was left unaware of his goalscoring prowess, Teemu Pukki – the man who’s gobbled up superlatives all week – became only the second player to score five goals in three games in the division’s 27-year history.
His modesty is refreshing, his composure exists because of his perspective on life and the awareness of more significant issues such as family, but he is a man acclimatising to Premier League football effortlessly. His goal today was ranked at 0.10xG, another low percentage xG chance converted by the prolific Pukki.
Noticeably, City’s highest goal scorer in their last Premier League season was on-loan Dieumerci Mbokani with seven – the Finn already has five to his name after a mere three games. Fantasy football players with Pukki in their side are reaping the rewards, but his offensive contributions will be instrumental in whether Norwich can keep their heads above water.
Respite arrives in the form of the Carabao Cup in midweek against League Two opponents Crawley Town. Farke will be aware of the issues to be addressed as we accelerate towards the first international break of the season.
Repetition of the same point is what needs to be emphasised, however, these are not the games that will decide the Canaries’ Premier League fate.
One year ago, Leeds United came and defeated Norwich City 0-3. Now some will have left Carrow Road frustrated by a result against the Europa League winners. Quite the transformation and the perfect contrast to recognise what a year its been for those of a yellow and green persuasion.
Had they have been overcome in the same manner last week, then cause for concern would have rippled through the Canary Nation. This was a competitive outing against a side highly motivated for a win and was no disgrace.
Any points gained against the vastly superior top six are ones to be savoured and cherished.