International breaks that come after poor results often cause us fans to reflect on what’s going well at the club and what’s going horribly wrong.
Last weekend’s bleak away draw with Coventry is still fresh in supporters’ minds, with the unsavoury scenes between Canary fans at the full-time whistle summing up the current mood around the club.
The fixture itself was a strange one. On the one hand, City could consider themselves fortunate to come away from the Coventry Building Society Arena with a point. Norwich were by far the weaker side and would have surely lost the match if not for the heroics of Angus Gunn, or if the Sky Blues’ strikers remembered their shooting boots.
But on the other hand, despite the poor performance, you could argue that being 1-0 up in the 88th minute and not coming away with three points has to be seen as two dropped, which we may look back on in the spring as costly.
The more you look at Ben Gibson’s own goal, the worse it gets, and while the defender has been the scapegoat for the failure not to win the game, the physical and aerial presence from both centre-backs last weekend prevented an even worse result.
It wasn’t what we did off the ball that let us down, but rather what we did with it when in possession. Couple this with the strange substitution decisions in multiple games recently and you have to ask yourself – is David Wagner still the right man to manage Norwich City?
Let’s dive into that a little deeper. Watching the match last Saturday, you could clearly tell who was playing where and how Wagner had set up his squad, but the execution of the game plan by the players simply was not good enough.
Take Liam Gibbs for example – a hard-working central midfielder who’s probably at his most comfortable when making defensive challenges and moving the ball forward. Yet, despite everyone knowing this is Gibbs’ best position, Wagner proceeded to start the youngster in the traditional number 10 role – making him appear lost throughout the encounter and void of any creative ideas going forward.
Despite it clearly not working, the German still proceeds to mention in seemingly every press conference that Gibbs can play further forward during this injury crisis.
It’s this that some may argue has been Wagner’s main issue ever since he moved to NR1 – the fact that he is seemingly too loyal to players who may benefit from missing a few games.
The two centre-backs spring to mind this season, especially when the arrival of Danny Batth on deadline day promised to create much-needed defensive competition which we fans have been crying out for.
However, despite featuring regularly and impressing for a Sunderland side that finished inside the play-off places last season, Batth has been limited to bit-part cameo appearances because of the loyalty displayed in both Ben Gibson and Shane Duffy.
It will be interesting to see what selection decisions Wagner makes when Grant Hanley returns to match fitness – providing he’s still in charge, of course.
Marcelino Nunez’s start for the Chile national team during the week shows that he’s more than ready to come back into the first-team fold at Carrow Road after his injury. Despite being inconsistent when he featured toward the back end of last season, having a natural centre midfielder playing in that position will only help the side.
Similarly, despite bulking up since his last prolonged stint in the team, Przemyslaw Placheta still doesn’t really offer much when he plays, despite still being picked over the likes of Onel Hernandez and Christian Fassnacht.
What was also clear at Coventry was how wide the German wanted us to play when we had the ball. Whenever Placheta or Jonny Rowe received the ball, they never came short and always waited for the ball to reach them rather than fetch it for themselves. It was only after they started going narrower and linking up with play toward the end of the first half that we even got anything out of the fixture.
Had Wagner changed this earlier (which is something that was abundantly clear to most Norwich fans in the stadium), we may be discussing an impressive victory, as Coventry also left themselves vulnerable defensively.
You could argue though that this injury crisis has largely given Wagner the benefit of the doubt – both in the eyes of some City fans as well as the club’s hierarchy.
I feel as if Gabriel Sara has played his best football this season when he’s played deeper alongside Kenny McLean, allowing them both to link up and dictate the flow of the game. Both of Sara’s and McLean’s ability to defend as well as being the catalysts at creating attacks are crucial to City picking up points.
With this in mind, you can understand why Wagner may choose to go with someone else with less experience playing in a more advanced role, as using the Brazilian as a number 10 may compromise the spine of the team.
You also have to feel for the German with the current forward options at his disposal.
Like with the Gibson own goal, the more you see Adam Idah’s miss against Coventry, the worse it gets. If Idah gets any sort of connection on the ball it’s in the back of the net, and it felt as if Sargent had been on the pitch that chance is taken.
We all know that the Irish international is a confidence player, however you could argue that he is also the architect of his own downfall if he doesn’t fling himself at a loose ball in the six-yard box.
All this being said, the ability of summer signing Hwang Ui-Jo gives David Wagner a catch-22 situation when picking his strikers. In every game he’s played, Hwang hasn’t really contributed anything, and despite playing as a striker, spends most of his time in the opposition’s half with his back to goal.
If he was signed by the club because of his link-up play, then surely it would be a mistake to play him as a lone striker, especially when most of our creative players are either playing in deeper roles or injured.
Josh Sargent can’t get fit again quick enough.
Criticism directed at Wagner after the Plymouth result was, I thought, harsh after our start to the season, but looking at the mood around the club since, especially after the result against Swansea and performance against Coventry, the grumbles against his stewardship will only continue to grow unless results improve.
I dread to think what the atmosphere we be like in Carrow Road if we lose to Daniel Farke’s Leeds after the international break. If City fail to show up and are torn apart in that fixture, the calls for Wagner’s head may resonate with more of the Norwich faithful – and could signal the beginning of the end.