‘You got me monologuing. The words are from the villain ‘Syndrome’ in the Disney Pixar Film ‘The Incredibles’, but could equally be applied to Daniel Farke after his pre-match press conference this week. Regrettably, there were no superheroes at Carrow Road today, nor anything Incredible.
Despite his passionate defence of his players, Farke made changes for this one. Those that screamed for the inclusion of Normann and Kabak last week were rebuffed by those saying that they hadn’t had time to integrate into the team. The thirst for their inclusion would have been sated by the team sheet; their subsequent performances have provided equal ammunition to those calling for patience.
The game started at a pace. Normann playing an expansive diagonal pass, Watford breaking straight back. From the start, it was evident that City were looking to get the ball forward much more quickly.
Sargent was heavily involved in the early exchanges, lending a physical presence long missing from the City front line. The early signs were promising, Kabak looking comfortable – City played a quick ball forward to Sargent who played in Pukki. The Finn was robbed and Watford tried to hit on the counter only for Kabak to make an intelligent interception.
On 16 mins, Sarr got in behind Williams but the loanee recovered well to block the cross for a corner. It was just a warning of what was to come though. A minute later, Femenia was given way too much space by the City defenders and delivered a threatening cross. Dennis was there, finding the gap between Hanley and Kabak, to head home.
Norwich applied pressure and were creating some decent opportunities, however where Watford’s crosses were always threatening, the City players struggled to deliver any real menace in their forays down the flanks.
On 27 minutes, the crowd got its first glimpse of Normann’s long throw which looped to the near post, but to no effect.
Watford then had a sustained period of possession, but City were well organised and pushed them all the way back to keeper Foster. Not for long though, moments later Femenia was away again but this time his cross was blocked.
On 34 minutes, the moment came that should give at least some comfort to City fans. A throw-in on the City right came to Normann. He played a glorious first-time pass into that special area on the pitch owned by Teemu Pukki. He needed no second invitation to make a trademark finish past Foster. Emi who?…
The half continued at a frantic pace, Watford as ever not afraid to show the physical side of the game. Sargent in particular will be bruised and battered.
At halftime, the feeling was that whilst City had never really gained control in midfield, there was sufficient threat being created with a more direct approach to getting the ball forward.
The second half began with a sustained period of City pressure. For maybe six or seven minutes they had Watford pinned into their half of the pitch, despite some crunching tackles from the Hornets. Twice Josh Sargent was flattened by Rose. Bizarrely, twice he was penalised instead, despite the second being checked by VAR for a penalty.
Chances came City’s way. Mclean had a shot blocked, Pukki and Sargent combined well but Pukki couldn’t poke the ball home. In an all too familiar manner, City created chances but failed to make the pressure count.
Watford were looking dangerous on the counter throughout the game and on 62 minutes, the contest was effectively over. King was found in acres of space on the right evading the attention of what was by now, a tired-looking Normann. He crossed. This time it was Sarr who found the space between Hanley and Kabak to finish neatly past Krul.
Pressure off, Watford then retained possession for a sustained period, frustrating City’s efforts to regain a foothold in the game.
On 69 minutes, Normann and Sargent gave way for Cantwell and Tzolis. City huffed and puffed, but ultimately failed to provide a major threat on the Watford goal. Mclean, who was largely anonymous for much of the game, intercepted the ball in midfield but his shot was from too far out, and too weak to worry Foster. A long ball, headed on nearly put Tzolis through but the keeper was out too quickly.
Unbelievably, or perhaps incredibly after all, Watford finished the game with another tight, but regrettably correct, VAR decision. McLeans side-foot volleyed clearance was picked up in midfield. Cleverly played the ball through and Sarr looked clearly offside, and was given as such by the linesman. The dreaded check showed, however, that Kabak’s foot was playing him on. Just.
The spirit and energy seemed to drain from the players in yellow. Idah came on, a back three was deployed yet all to little effect.
Ultimately, City were beaten because they failed to control the middle of the pitch. The trio selected by Farke today – Normann, Gilmour and McLean were unable to exert any pressure on Watford.
Normann was the pick of the three, but faded badly in the second half. Gilmour and McLean were largely anonymous until the late reshuffle when Gilmour finally began to receive the ball and pick a few passes. Of the three, only Normann can be sure of a place in the next league game.
Up front, Rashica, Pukki and Sargent did rather better – Sargent battling well against the Watford backline and combining well with Pukki on several occasions. Rashica showed once again that he can be dangerous, yet still the final product eludes him.
Predictably though, attention will focus on the backline. Kabak looked assured at times, yet clearly he and Hanley do not yet have the understanding showed between Hanley and Gibson last year. Williams, outstanding last week, never really had City’s left flank secured. You can point perhaps to the lack of cover from midfield, which goes back to my point about where the game was lost.
So, there were good signs that in attack, City may develop more menace. It’s back to the drawing board though in the quest to find the elusive midfield combination that will work this year. Only then will we be able to fully judge the defence. It’s still only five games in, but it feels a bit like two steps forward, three back this week.