City’s seemingly obligatory 2-0 loss away from home, this time at the hands of Graham Potter’s Brighton, made it four 2-0 defeats on the road for Daniel Farke’s men. It’s all too routine.
In fact, the Canaries were still in with a chance of securing a result until substitute Leandro Trossard nipped ahead of Ben Godfrey at the near post to put the Seagulls in front on 68 minutes. But by the time Shane Duffy made the most of some lapse marking to make it 2-0 in the 84th minute, it was clear it was going to be another away day to forget for the faithful.
Following Norwich on the road has been a thankless task so far this season, with only one goal scored away from home – Teemu Pukki’s first Premier League goal at Anfield on opening day.
Over 500 minutes of goalless away games have elapsed since the Finn’s tidy finish and having failed to register a single shot on target against Brighton, that hoodoo doesn’t look like fading any time soon. Marco Stiepermann came closest, of course, hitting the bar with a curling effort, but to no avail.
The game was best summarised by midfielder Kenny McLean, who afterwards felt that City needed to take a long hard look at themselves. To paraphrase, he commented that the team weren’t doing enough to give Pukki goalscoring chances, nor were Tim Krul’s sublime saves in recent weeks being rewarded with the points they deserved.
McLean also pointed out that Brighton seemed to enjoy the game, that City didn’t provide enough competition during the game, that it was all a bit too easy.
Head coach Daniel Farke echoed these sentiments, suggesting the Brighton were well worth the three points. He was unhappy with the lapse of concentration during the build-up to Leandro Trossard’s opener and with Norwich failing to stop the cross or the run from Trossard. It was all the more disappointing as it was an area of the game Farke admitted the team had worked on during the week, such is Brighton’s tendency to exploit the near post.
Interestingly, Farke also shouldered a portion of the blame for the second goal, admitting it wasn’t the best idea to make a triple substitution when defending a set-piece after all three subs, Todd Cantwell, Josip Drmic and Dennis Srbeny, lost their man at the far post.
In fairness, this is unusual for Farke, who wouldn’t normally make a substitution in that moment and having bought on Drmic and Srbeny, two of our taller lads, you can forgive him for thinking they would help defend the set-piece.
I briefly alluded to Tim Krul’s exceptional performances of late and the Brighton game was no different with the Dutchman pulling off several impressive saves, especially from Alzate and Maupay.
Only Arsenal’s Bernd Leno (45) has made more saves so far this season than Tim Krul (40). City’s number one looks every bit a Premier League goalkeeper and a cut above his teammates in recent weeks. Who would have thought that before a ball was kicked?
For weeks now I’ve been saying that City are conceding too early in games. There was a positive correlation between seeing out the majority of the first half and finishing the game with points in the bag, with City’s only points so far this season coming from the Newcastle, Manchester City and Bournemouth games.
But Brighton were shut out until the 68th minute, a significant improvement in terms of how long its taking teams to score against City, but even that wasn’t enough this week. The 2-0 scoreline reflected the game and it was a fully deserved victory for Brighton.
Worryingly, the stats show that 37% of City’s play is in the defensive third, a league-high, and at the other end of the pitch, just 22% of City’s play is in the final third – the second-lowest percentage in the league. It has become glaringly obvious why Pukki is looking so isolated – City aren’t taking the game to the opposition, not in the attacking half anyway.
Looking forward now, City welcome Watford to Carrow Road under the Friday night lights, in what will be dubbed a relegation six-pointer. With 26 games left to play after the Watford fixture, perhaps it’s unfair to treat the game with such finality, but there is no doubting three points for either team would be huge.
Despite the Hornets eleventh place finish last season, they are so far winless in this campaign and as a result opted for a managerial change, bringing in Quique Sanchez Flores for the departing Javi Gracia.
Flores, in what is his second term at the club, has come in and tightened up the defence, playing five at the back in a bid to do so. The adjustment has worked to a certain degree. Watford still aren’t winning games but they’re not losing so many, having drawn four of their last seven.
In actual fact, the only teams Watford have beaten in their last twenty games are Huddersfield and Fulham, both of whom were relegated at the end of last season.
The Hornets are clearly in a slump, but there is no denying the quality of their team on paper, with the talented box-to-box midfield Abdoulaye Doucoure, tricky winger Gerard Deulofeu – who has been asked to play centrally in recent games – and the impressive Ben Foster, who had a fine game between the sticks against Chelsea last time out.
Despite the recent run of draws, which suggest a competitive edge, Watford have only scored six goals this season, a league-low. Those six goals have all come from different scorers as well, so there is no standout threat in terms of goals, but Troy Deeney is back in training and will certainly prove a test for Ben Godfrey and Ibrahim Amadou if fit enough to play.
For my money, this is the perfect game for Norwich to get back to the initial gameplay, a chance to gamble on the lack of potency in Watford’s attack and go for the jugular, and to try and outscore the opponent like we saw all of last season.