Which type of glasses do you prefer? Empty, half-full, or rose tinted? Carrow Road on Saturday afternoon offered more options than Specsavers.
Many were left rubbing their eyes in disbelief as not only did we have a crowd to witness an entertaining, if often quality-free, four-goal clash, but Norwich twice came from behind to salvage a point. Things none of us have seen for a while.
The tussle with Preston was described as ‘classic Championship shite’ by one fan on Twitter – an unapologetically accurate and concise assessment.
It was the second game in a row that Daniel’s Farke’s men had stuttered when facing a physical and well-organised, yet technically limited, side. A similar performance at Bournemouth on Sunday afternoon will, in all likelihood, end with the team reading an ‘L’ off the eye chart for the first time this season.
Depending on your viewpoint, the draw with Alex Neil’s men either shows our boys have got the stomach for a fight and have regained their resilience, or the team is still hopelessly weak defensively and needs to find some solidity. For me, the truth lays somewhere in between. And when I say that, I mean literally between defence and attack.
While the Zimbo Appreciation Society may have winced at the performance of its poster boy, the reason for the Canaries’ poor defensive showing owed a fair amount to the midfield turning invisible during the first half.
Like one of those migraine-inducing Magic Eye puzzles from the 90s, you had to squint and tilt your head side-to-side a few times before you could see Kenny McLean and Oliver Skipp were on the pitch. And they weren’t helped by Todd Cantwell and Onel Hernandez being so far off the pace they were almost sedentary.
Team fluidity was further stalled by Kieran Dowell limping back down the tunnel before his new Lotus walk-out jacket had gone cold in the dressing room. (He’s now ruled out for three months with an ankle ligament injury, which is a real blow.)
The first 45 minutes saw City get nowhere near stopping Preston moving the ball from back to front. It was all far too easy for the visitors.
The lack of midfield presence didn’t seem to escape the notice of Ben Godfrey and Christoph Zimmerman who, when in possession, decided to smash the ball from back to front presumably due to their lack of confidence in the men ahead of them. I’m surprised that Teemu Pukki isn’t now undergoing treatment for a cricked neck the amount of time he looked up to the sky and watched aimless punts sail over his head and back into PNE’s possession.
While the second half saw Skipp perform with more confidence and, on a few notable occasions, impressively carry the ball out of defensive situations and create attacks, there was still no one winning the ball consistently and decisively.
The Russian-billionaire funded Cherries are still very much married to the possession and passing-based philosophy of Eddie Howe. They are not Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, but they have the wherewithal to pass us on to the back foot if we can’t exert midfield superiority.
While clamouring for the return of Alex Tettey shows little long-term vision, having his experience and tackling ability next to Skipp would free the Spurs man to maraud forward more. There were flashes of ability against North End that convince me he could work box to box and has the potential to do more than just sit deep. If he’s given the licence to step forward with possession, then I think we might see flashes of Johnny Howson in his play.
Just like our beloved German Christoph, Onel and Todd tried their hardest to play their way out of contention for this weekend’s match. Both were deeply ineffective for different reasons.
The Dereham Deco was ineffectual and way off the pace. Perhaps, if I was being hyper-critical, he looked slightly disinterested in getting roughed up by muscular northern lads two games in a row. Now that might be tough on a player who offers us so much offensively, but there was a definite lack of intensity in his performance. For me, I’d turn to Marco Stiepermann in the No.10 role instead.
Argos, on the other hand, just had one of those days. It was characterised by one wild slash of a shot in the penalty area, I believe in the second half, that ended up going out for a throw on the opposite side of the pitch, closer to his own goal than to the one he aimed at.
For all his effort, his likeability, and his love for the club, we have to acknowledge that he is a rough footballing diamond and won’t always deliver consistency on the pitch. Yet we know that he tries his best and, when it clicks for him, he is unplayable at Championship level. I’m sure there will be more good days than bad between now and the end of the season, but he might well be a decent bet to take a socially distant space in the stands at Dean Court.
The difference to the team made by the introductions of Przemysław Płacheta and Adam Idah was immense. With both of them supporting Pukki, City looked far more threatening and likely to score goals. One of which came from the Pole and it should have been two, but the least said about the skied shot from six yards the better.
Talking on iFollow, Darren Eadie bemoaned Płacheta’s unwillingness to go hunting for the ball more. Yet, for a first outing at Carrow Road, his display filled me with confidence that he will graduate from impact player to first-team regular sooner rather than later.
Last season it was injury after injury, this time around the team is being destabilised by incessant transfer speculation. It started with Jamal Lewis and his potential move to Liverpool, Emi’s ‘come and get me’ interview, and now it’s Max Aarons and Barcelona. Barce-bloody-lona! All we need now is for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to get into a multi-million-pound tug of war over Michael McGovern and 2020 couldn’t get more surreal.
Fair play to Max for getting on with it against Preston despite speculation erupting spectacularly a few hours before kick-off, but he wasn’t at his rampaging best. Whether he can put it all behind him and return to form against Bournemouth despite having his boyhood dreams crushed by Stuart Webber’s jack boots and being held against his will by little old Norwich (narrative copyright Liverpool supporters 2020), we shall see.
It’s a different story on the other wing, where it’s clear we might have a new cult hero in Xavi Quintilla. The Spaniard loves a cross. With the set pieces under his control and his love of getting the ball in the box, he is going to have some serious assists to his name this season. It might be that we’ll be covering our eyes with our hands when it comes to his defending – there were a couple of eccentric flashes against PNE – but he will be a key actor in the team’s performance on the South Coast.
The man who appears to be hitting the best form is Pukki – a fortuitous headed goal (thanks, Declan) and almost scoring a last-minute winner from an incisive team passing move shows the desire and speed of thought is there. The confidence is definitely returning.
It’s with this in mind that I advocate the return of Stiepi. If he and the Finn can find the telepathic understanding from 2018/19 from the get-go, then City will win more games than they will lose. Possibly starting this weekend.
The final word goes to Emi Buendia, pictured back in training this week. Still a Norwich player despite widespread fears a bruised shin suffered late last week was code for ‘he’s leaving’. The wannabe Alan Turings among us who deciphered that ‘message’ may well be shocked to see him return to action on Sunday afternoon.
It might be the beginning of the little man’s farewell tour ahead of the transfer window shutting in October, or the opening of a one-man show where he drags City single-handedly to the Premier League.
All I know is that we should all enjoy watching him while we can – he’s a treat for the eyes, whatever the type of glasses you choose to wear.