After the dismal performance last week, everyone connected with Norwich was expecting both a reaction from the players and changes to the team. They got both but ultimately City were left with exactly the same. Nil points.
When the team broke, there was something resembling incredulity from many City fans, with what looked like a back three and Milot Rashica at left wing-back. Farke had a twinkle in his eye pre-match when asked about this, and for good reason as City lined up in what could easily be described as 4-4-2 – or at a pinch 4-2-3-1. Most incredibly of all, Omobamidele was selected at left-back to combat the Brazilian international, Raphinha.
City started on the front foot – Kabak making a driving run down the right, winning a corner. As the ball was swung in and cleared, there was what looked like a handball by a Leeds player. A VAR check elected to back the on-field referee and play continued.
In the early stages, Leeds had clearly identified Normann as the key in the City midfield and the Norwegian was on the end of a number of dubious challenges in the opening period. The referee was clearly intent on letting the game flow and the physicality went up a further notch as a result.
On 7 minutes, City broke out of defence but lost control in the middle of the pitch. The ball bounced in Leeds’ direction and a great through ball split Kabak and Hanley. Daniel James took the ball round the fast advancing Krul but his goal-bound effort was fantastically cleared by the recovering Hanley.
Minutes later, City had the chance to take the lead, the ball arriving at the feet of Pukki on the edge but his shot was wide. The game was being played at a frantic pace but City were more than matching the media darlings from the north, but once again failing to fashion clear chances.
McLean and Normann were working hard in midfield, able to make driving runs through the middle of the park. Following one such run, Mclean played in Aarons who was bundled to the floor. Once again, nothing given neither by referee nor VAR.
Leeds’ best attacking moments were coming from the Brazilian Raphinha on the right. Depending on your media outlet of choice, he was either hopeless and out of his depth, or did a good job keeping him quiet. Sorry Messers Redknapp and Hasselbank, I was in the latter camp and thought the young Irishman did well to restrict Raphinha to a single cross in that first period.
By 40 minutes, it was apparent that Hanley was struggling with an injury. The combative Scotsman had been dominant up until that point, including a number of excellent crossfield balls so it was a relief when he made it to halftime without the visitors taking advantage of his immobility.
All square at halftime was fair, with neither side really able to land a threatening blow.
Half time was dominated by Manchester United loanee Williams warming up extensively, but it was to the relief of all of the home contingent when Hanley emerged to lead the team out for the second half. He clearly wasn’t right – not fully mobile but most noticeably, his distribution was affected markedly.
City were straight back at Leeds – a back pass to Hellier was chased down by McLean who made minimal contact with the keeper, but the resulting theatrics from the Leeds stopper brought the Mayor a yellow card. Moments later, Hellier was at it again when Hanley challenged him. This time the referee took no action.
City were looking sharp in midfield – all game they were able to nick and intercept balls, yet never quite able to capitalise on the resulting possession.
On 55 minutes, Leeds broke the deadlock.
The goal was similar to any of the seven from last week. A fast ball out from left-back towards the front, a quick ball into the wide right area found Raphinha. Omobamidele did well to hold him up but he cut inside and evaded a number of players before lashing home.
It was a well-worked, quality finish but you can’t help but feel that City should have made the build-up more difficult.
Straight from the kick-off, City played a long ball forward, looking for the marauding Rashica. Shackleton played it back to Meslier who tried to be cute and return the pass, only to skew it out for a corner. This felt like the moment and sure enough, Omobamidele rose above all challenges to place a powerful header across goal and into the net. Carrow Road erupted.
Just as night follows day though, Leeds were straight back in front.
Kabak intercepted a ball coming out of defence. With bags of forward momentum, he was always unlikely to retain possession but attempted an audacious ‘Tettey Turn’. It failed. With no challenge forthcoming, it was left to Rodrigo to lash a long effort under the diving Krul. Initially it looked like an error from the Dutchman but replays showed his vision has blocked by a cross-field run by that man again, Raphinha. VAR took a look to see if the Brazilian was offside but the goal stood.
Leeds immediately surrendered any ambition of securing the game and embarked on a series of throw-ins, lace tying and simulated cramp in order to slow and disrupt the game. Farke brought on Tzolis for Dowell, who had had a quiet second half. The fact that Tzolis barely touched the ball twice in his 20 minutes on the pitch suggests the issue wasn’t with the individuals concerned!
Josh Sargent has been the recipient of a lot of criticism following the Chelsea game. This week he played well, without really being threatening. He ran the hard yards, made life uncomfortable for the Leeds backline and won and held the ball well. Several times he had a run at the Leeds defenders, producing some dangerous balls. He was replaced on 76 minutes by Idah but the Irishman was utterly anonymous and unable to have any influence on the closing minutes.
In a final roll of the dice, the battling Hanley was withdrawn and City fans were treated to the unexpected sight of Placheta making his Premier League debut.
It was a feature of previous campaigns that when faced with a team shutting up shot, City players didn’t waver from their collective tasks. We played the ball around patiently, pulled the opposition out of shape and waited for the moment to strike. Almost invariably we did.
The current crop of players need to rediscover this knack. From the moment Sargent went off we looked both toothless and clueless, resorting to long, hopeful balls forward from Krul or the ailing Hanley. A last-minute equalizer never looked on the cards.
So after last week, was this better. Emphatically.
Has Farke done enough to keep his job? Probably. For now.
The shape looked better, more threatening. The first goal was down to individual skill. The second, whilst Kabak’s ambition is easy to blame, was equally the fault of the surrounding players who did too little to close down the shot.
The Jury is still out, but the executioner has at least been given the week off.