After the Boxing Day match against Watford, I remember penning my concerns that City were outdone by exactly the sort of physical, technical, and pacey side that had proven their undoing in the Premier League. Last night’s match at Carrow Road has done nothing to ease my fears.
Watford started the game impressively. They pressurized City all over the pitch and all too often Tim Krul was forced to kick long in order to clear his lines. And every time the ball came straight back.
In the early minutes, Todd Cantwell has comprehensively muscled off the ball, an all too common theme for the City midfield throughout the game. Ismaila Sarr was giving Xavi Quintilla a torrid time and Will Hughes was getting forward into the pockets of space between the left-back and Grant Hanley. Watford had five or six goal attempts, all high or wide.
After 13 minutes, Watford had had 72% of the possession.
Finally City managed a meaningful spell of possession. It started with a great interception by Cantwell. City worked the ball around to the left side, it was cut back but Cantwell’s dipping shot was over.
City had a spedd of free kicks on dangerous positions but Kieran Dowell was unable to find a way over or through the Watford defence.
On 35 minutes, Watford had their best chance. Sarr again got the ball past Quintilla and Ken Sema hit a powerful shot. Krul beat it away but Sarr was there on the follow-up. Xavi got a crucial half touch on the ball and Krul beat it out for a corner.
Watford finished the half with a flurry of corners but City were defending resolutely.
The second half began in the same manner as the first. For all their excellence this season, Oliver Skipp and Kenny McLean were simply unable to exert any control over the midfield, both giving away possession cheaply and seemingly second to every 50/50 challenge.
Watford were forcing City back. Three times Hanley blocked goal-bound shots. On 56 minutes, Watford finally got their reward. The ball came down the Norwich right. After what looked suspiciously like a foul on Emi Buendia, a great curling cross beat the City defenders and Dan Gosling bundled it home.
From then on, the game fell apart. Disruption after disruption ensured that the champions-elect were never able to establish a rhythm and never able to mount a serious goal challenge.
There was the chance for Hanley to demonstrate how superb he has been this season. Cantwell was muscled off the ball in midfield, Watford played it quickly into the box only for the Scot to make a perfectly-timed tackle; a millisecond early or late, a millimeter higher or lower and it’s a penalty and a red card, instead he won the ball and it went out for a corner.
Farke threw everything at it, switching to three at the back, Placheta, Hernandez and Hugill on. But Watford broke up the game at every opportunity and City rarely threatened.
After nine added minutes, the agony was finally over. Two losses at home in quick succession. Two doubles by the teams that came down, and are most likely going up, with City.
So back to my opening statement. Watford were stronger than Norwich. They were first to every ball. In possession they were dangerous. Norwich had no answers, other than for a period in the first half, and then Watford defended resolutely in numbers and looked so dangerous on the break.
Stuart Webber, whom Sky constantly reminded everyone is leaving at the end of next season, will have a task on his hands recruiting players who will allow Norwich to be effective against sides like this.
Fortunately, in Webber we trust!