It is getting harder by the week to look for the positives in City’s fledging Premier League campaign.
Since the 3-2 victory over Manchester City the Canaries have lost three on the bounce, scoring just one goal. It’s not as though the games have been tight either, Norwich have comprehensively lost all three games.
Back-to-back 2-0 defeats away at Burnley and Crystal Palace were hard to take initially, but on reflection, both teams are incredibly well organised and, as two established Premier League clubs that traditionally finish clear of the relegation zone, they are teams that find a way to pick up points year-on-year. In many ways, the blueprint for Norwich.
I had begrudgingly put those defeats down to a learning curve.
However, the 5-1 home defeat to Aston Villa was – with the best will in the world – excruciating. I’d be lying if I said this latest result hasn’t changed my outlook on City’s season so far.
There is, of course, the unavoidable caveat of the club’s current injury crisis and whilst I don’t want to devote yet more column inches to bemoaning the Canaries injury woes, it’s undoubtedly leaving Daniel Farke with his hands tied and therefore must be discussed to some degree.
I want to address the crisis from a different angle, a more objective angle that has been borne out of the weekend’s frustration.
It is without doubt, a crisis. In the first eight weeks of the season, City players have accumulatively lost 367 days to injury. Manchester United, City’s next opponent at Carrow Road, have lost the second most days to injury – 183. That’s 184 days less than Norwich, in eight weeks!
City are a Michael McGovern injury away from having to field 19-year-old Archie Mair in goal. It really is unprecedented.
The knock-on effect of all these injuries is creating a selection headache for Farke. The team clearly needs rotating, current performances are not good enough, but it’s becoming impossible for the Head Coach.
The defence is haemorrhaging goals, again failing to see out the first 15 minutes against Villa. The long-term loss of Timm Klose and Zimmermann is proving to be costly.
The problems at centre back are intrinsically linked to the lack of options in central midfield. The leaky defence needs protection and the current options of Mo Leitner and Kenny McLean aren’t offering enough of that.
Yet, with the absence of Tom Trybull, Alex Tettey and Louis Thompson (on loan at Shrewsbury) there are no options on the bench. Ideally, you would slot loanee Ibrahim Amadou into the defensive midfielder role, but with no fit centre backs, Farke’s hands remain tied. It must be frustrating.
However, and this is where we can start to look at the problem objectively, aside from the problems in central defence and central midfield, the Canaries starting eleven looks fairly familiar.
I keep hearing the phrase ‘We’ve got four or five first-teamers injured’ or words to that effect, but have we?
Of the eleven that started against Villa, eight of them, in my opinion, are first-choice options. The front four of Teemu Pukki, Emi Buendia, Marco Stiepermann and Todd Cantwell is as you would expect it. Some people will argue Onrl Hernandez would start over Cantwell, but both were fit for Anfield and Cantwell started the game.
At full-back, Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons are without question first-choice options, both of whom started at the weekend, although it’s since been confirmed that Lewis has had to pull out of the Northern Ireland squad with a knee injury, as well as his elbow issue.
After Ben Godfrey’s fairly promising start to the season, which included a call up to the England U21 side, being entrusted with the captain’s armband on a couple of occasions and his superior mobility over the rest of City’s centre back options, it’s hard to argue that Godfrey is not a starter.
Even in the problem area of central midfield, it’s hard to omit Mo Leitner from a fully fit starting eleven, especially when played next to Trybull. You may argue that Mario Vrancic would start but it’s certainly up for debate.
My point is, of the players that started on Saturday, only McGovern, Amadou and McLean would usually find themselves omitted from the starting eleven if the squad is fully fit. That’s three players.
The loss of dressing room leaders such as Tim Krul, Klose, Tettey and Zimmermann shouldn’t be underestimated, neither should the loss of key players such as Trybull. I can’t help but think the presence of Klose in Norwich’s young backline and Trybull or Tettey protecting the defence would go some way to solving defensive frailties. They are incredibly important players for the club.
With the exception of Aarons returning to fitness, Tettey picking up an injury at Burnley and the goalkeeper situation, the starting eleven has remained largely unchanged during the last three games but shows no sign of increased cohesion.
This is naturally a cause for concern; however, Norwich are incredibly inexperienced at this level.
The players that are fit are playing through the pain barrier. Godfrey is heading to Munich for a hernia operation during this international break, Lewis’ inclusion in the squad for Bournemouth squad is presumably in doubt at this moment in time and prior to kick off against Villa, Cantwell had missed two days of training through injury.
My honest opinion is that Farke currently has most of his first-team available, but they are in desperate need of rotation either through niggling injuries or form. Those that are injured are key players in terms of leadership and experience and this is having a profound effect on performance and belief.
Perhaps Patrick Roberts could be more involved, especially when you consider we are yet to see the best of Stiepermann and Buendia. However, in the grand scheme of things Farke’s hands remain tied in terms of rotation. He is having to field the players that are available to him, regardless of whether they are first choice, out of form, or in need of a rest.
Perhaps the international break can provide a silver lining as it gives injured players two weeks to potentially return to fitness. Farke has gone on record saying that the Bournemouth game is a realistic return date for Krul and hopefully, others can follow suit.
The squad finds itself in exceptional circumstances and in desperate need of rotation, but when you weigh up the pros and cons is it worth rushing a player or two back from injury? It could, of course, exacerbate the situation further.
Make no mistake, City are up against it at the moment and in all likelihood that will continue to be the case for the remainder of the season, injuries or not. Those that are fit will need to brush themselves off and go again, as will us fans.
As frustrating as it has been in recent weeks, there isn’t an alternative.