I wasn’t really sure where to start when tasked with previewing yesterday’s game. We all knew what was just around the Etihad corner, so to try and paint a rosy-ish picture before a ball had even been kicked wasn’t the easiest of tasks.
I concluded the piece by suggesting the scoreline wouldn’t be as gloomy as Mark Lawrenson’s official prediction and that if we could emerge with spirit and belief intact having played some decent stuff and enjoyed a few good moments then it would be job done.
As ever, I was wrong on all counts.
As it transpired, Lawrenson was generous in predicting only a 3-0 defeat and there were hardly any ‘good moments’ on which to look back on with pride. And I’m not sure I dare even venture anywhere near the impact yesterday’s demolition may have had on the collective spirit and belief – not to mention what impact those two results may have on any potential new signings.
Our season won’t, of course, be defined by these opening two games. With 36 still to go and with two of the hardest four games of the season already behind us, the season is only really now beginning but even when locking horns with teams in a different stratosphere to ourselves, nothing good can come of being timid, subservient and passive.
But our City were all of those things.
The collective view of our critics and the pundits – “too nice” … “too easy to play against” … “too easily bullied” – was played out to perfection as at times the Canaries resembled, in basketball terms, the Washington Generals – the hapless opponents sent out with the sole task of being humiliated by the Harlem Globetrotters.
The stats, of which Daniel Farke usually takes great pride, are not recommended for anyone of a nervous disposition but one that did resonate was the fouls for and against – 13 made by Man City, just seven made by the Canaries.
Now no one wants this iteration of Norwich City to transform into a side that prides itself on kicking lumps out of opponents – not that it would ever happen under Farke’s watch – and, ordinarily, the number of fouls made is an irrelevant statistic, but when you’ve just been pumped 5-0 you would expect there to have been a sense of frustration and, maybe, anger that would manifest itself in a meaty challenge or two.
But no. Seven fouls in 94 minutes, which in itself tells a little story.
Man City are a brilliant team. Of course they are. They should be. In terms of financial might and the ability to spend what amounts to a limitless transfer pot, they are in a different stratosphere to Norwich.
And so we expect them to be better than us. We expected to lose. We just didn’t expect the performance we were given. There are teams against whom we will be battling to avoid the relegation places who will go to the Etihad and play with more spirit and verve than we did yesterday.
We’re realists in the Canary Nation, especially when in the Premier League, and an old mate summed it up perfectly prior to kick-off in a far more eloquent and concise way than I attempted in my preview:
Alas, the only part of Phil’s tweet that came to fruition was that defeat was taken on the chin. To score a goal requires more than a single shot that sails harmlessly into row Z.
But it was the not-being-able-to-lay-a-glove on Man City that stung the most. Their mesmeric passing patterns are well known and the whole week at Colney will have been based around either trying to limit them or, at least, maintain a solid defensive shape when said patterns are occurring.
Unfortunately, a midfield three of Pierre Lees-Melou, Billy Gilmour and Lukas Rupp with Milot Raschica and Todd Cantwell operating just in front of them were unable to stem the sky blue tide, as they were passed around and through with far too much ease and compliance.
Even more painful and costly was the way Man City were able, mainly through Kyle Walker, to isolate our chosen left-back – Giannoulis in the first half, Mumba in the second – and whip a ball inside that gap between him and Gibson.
When it happens it’s hellishly difficult to defend against, which is why at Premier League level it’s rarely seen. We succumbed four times.
Norwich’s other big problem, of course, was ball retention. It’s one thing to inflict our own eye-catching passing patterns on teams in the Championship but as we have discovered in our opening two games, it’s infinitely more difficult to beat that high press and ‘get out’ when said press is being undertaken by the world’s best.
As a result, the Canaries were rarely able to get beyond that first line and when they did the second wave came in and invariably forced us to cough up possession. They were all guilty of it but Lukas Rupp – who along with Giannoulis was hooked at half-time – was more guilty than most, and looked simply unable to operate under that level of intensity.
That surgery is needed in the base of that midfield has been well documented and is, hopefully, being addressed. Right now, Gilmour is being asked to temporarily fulfil a role that takes away almost totally his ability to create.
On so few occasions did we make it into the final third it’s impossible to comment on what improvements are needed. Teemu Pukki’s role has come into question, not least because of a couple of good cameos from Josh Sargent, but so isolated was the Finn yesterday it seems a little premature to cast too much doubt over his place in the starting XI.
Just like the rest of the team, Teemu will have 36 better days and should be judged when the playing field is more level.
But aside from the obvious disappointment at being tonked, I was left with that same uneasy feeling that always accompanies a Norwich away-day at the Etihad. We invariably lose, it’s invariably by an embarrassing scoreline, and we’re invariably left with that sense of ‘how the hell do we compete?’
I mean, fair play to the Man City faithful for feigning excitement and wonder, but other than in their home games against Liverpool and Manchester United, surely they simply expect to win and win handsomely? So great are all the advantages they possess. Imagine Norwich City playing week in, week out in the Thurlow Nunn Premier. That.
The playing field is not just uneven; teams like Norwich are tasked with tackling a 45-degree incline, and there’s no way that can be good for the wider game. Two teams in the same division, one starting the day at 25/1 for the win. That’s healthy?
If days like yesterday drag the European Super League mark II that little bit closer, then maybe that’s no bad thing. But that’s a column for another day.
In there here and now, there are some wounds to be licked before Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup game against Bournemouth. While it does give Farke a chance to get some minutes in the legs of those on the fringes, it also offers the chance for those same players to force themselves into the reckoning for Leicester.
Nothing has happened so far to make anyone a shoo-in. While Farke will not panic and will see two incredibly difficult games against the best two teams in the land for what they are, he will still be smarting and will want and expect more.
But let’s not panic. No one is relegated after two games. Equally, let’s not kid ourselves – some major improvements are needed before we can consider ourselves competitive.
Just 36 to go.