Well, we’re back here again, and in more ways than one.
Saturday’s defeat will take time to recover from. I’m still reeling from the game and am still bemused as to how City so carelessly threw in the towel against Daniel Farke’s boys after seemingly having control of the game at halftime.
For all of our good work in the game – and believe me, there were many positives to take – ultimately, it’s the final result that counts. The game will be remembered for the carelessness when defending, the clear gaps in the midfield, and the poor substitutions again from David Wagner.
A penny for Gabriel Sara’s thoughts, as his exquisite, tricky footwork for our superb second goal will be tainted by the failure to secure the win.
Aside from writing weekly reviews of Norwich City Women (who are doing the city proud by the way), I also contribute when I can the odd article on David Wagner’s squad, the first of which I gave my thoughts on our summer business, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the fresh faces we brought in to Carrow Road.
At the time, City were sitting in the top six of the Championship table, with the club’s only defeat coming against table-toppers Leicester City. It’s fair to say much has changed since then.
But has my opinion on the new signings changed?
I started my last article on this subject focussing on Ashley Barnes, so I’ll do the same here.
Since the Leicester game, it’s become abundantly clear that we need players who are up for the fight and will properly dig in and take games by the scruff of the neck. Aside from maybe the defence, we only really have Kenny McLean on the pitch who will fight for points. You can’t help but feel like some players down tools when we concede, and this was certainly clear by the manner in which we allowed Leeds back into the game on Saturday.
You must wonder that, if we had that physicality further a-field that Barnes brings, then maybe the outcome would have been different. Rather than looking towards a Championship-winner to create chances, we’re instead relying on an out-of-position Liam Gibbs to take us forward.
Yes, Barnes doesn’t guarantee you double figures in terms of goals but utilising him as a number 10 with his ability to hunt down the ball may lead to more chances once he gets himself match-fit again.
It will be interesting to see Adam Idah’s goal output once Barnes returns. It’s clear the Irishman is a confidence player, so having a player who’s proven at this level create chances for him may lead to more chances and more goals. While I don’t really see the point of relying too much on ‘xG’, it will be interesting to see if our xG rate increases once Barnes finds fitness.
I also said in last month’s piece that Jack Stacey is proving to be our signing of the season, and this is something I stand by. I’ll be very shocked if the full-back isn’t in the top three for the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy come the end of the season.
Stacey seemingly has it all – and rarely puts a foot wrong in games. His ability to get forward and consistently deliver dangerous crosses, as well as his tough-tackling defensive style is the sort of play we’ve been crying out for from our right backs for years.
For all of Max Aarons’ charm and undoubted ability, he did become very predictable when attacking, rarely causing meaningful attacks. I think it’s because of this that Stacey feels like a breath of fresh air.
At the time of Shane Duffy’s arrival in NR1, it was refreshing to see a centre-back with a wealth of Championship experience come into the side and challenge the established pairing of Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson, which many felt had gone stale. However, I now feel exactly the same way about the Duffy and Gibson pairing – it’s stale and they cancel each other out.
I do though think that both Duffy and Gibson have their merits. I think Gibson’s ability with the ball at his feet is second to none, and Duffy is good at shutting out attackers for the majority of attacks. However, both have made clear errors on multiple occasions this season, with many of the pair’s mistakes proving costly.
We have all heard of Danny Batth’s ability, so bringing him into the fold now for one of Gibson or Duffy could truly begin his Norwich City career. We’re in a position now where we have nothing to lose if we do change the centre-halves, so why not go for it?
The only thing that concerns me is that Batth also fits the mould of Hanley, Gibson and Duffy, and his lack of game time so far could make him rusty when he does come into the team for an extended period.
I’m perched on a fence right now.
I also suggested that Christian Fassnacht was ‘Mr Reliable’ for Norwich due to his ability to claw City back into tight games. I appear to have got that one wrong.
Beginning with the Leicester game, the Swiss international has seemingly gone missing when he has featured, with his inconsistent form leading to spells out of the starting eleven. It’s telling when, despite his history with Wagner at Young Boys, it appears the gaffer doesn’t trust him to start key games.
I’m not sure what has happened to Fassnacht or whether he has settled into life in Norfolk, but his current performance level, especially for someone with Champions League pedigree, is concerning.
Borja Sainz’s continued absence from the Championship XI is baffling and is definitely an argument used against Wagner’s management. Despite netting in the Carabao Cup at Craven Cottage a few weeks ago, Sainz is still yet to start a league match, much to the frustration (and even confusion) of fans.
I still believe that Adam Forshaw will turn out to be a sensible signing for us, and his signing highlights the one area in which we may be comfortable in terms of depth, although I feel he needs to be used sparingly.
Currently, our squad depth is bare, and it seems like we have nobody on the bench who could come on and make a difference. If Forshaw starts every week, despite the benefit this could bring to the side, we have nobody else currently who could do a similar job from the bench, so bringing him on more often than he starts may help the side to see out games in the short term.
Which brings me to Hwang Ui-Jo. I’m still mesmerised by what our scouts saw when signing him. He has looked lost in every game he’s featured and, other than a backheel that assisted Jonathan Rowe against Birmingham, has done nothing of note.
I was informed by my brother that he’s the club’s highest-rated striker on FC24. What the scouts out Carrow Road and Electronic Arts saw in the player must have been different to what he’s displayed during his stint. Much like how Przemysław Płacheta is highly thought of simply because of his pace, this shows you can’t always judge a player by their FIFA stats.
As for George Long, this is now his opportunity to prove himself after the injury to Angus Gunn against Leeds. While I don’t think any of the three goals we conceded on Saturday were his fault, it’s hard to deny that he’s been chucked in at the deep end!
So, I think this update reinforces what I said in my previous article. Despite some quality signings who I’m sure will or already have proved their worth, such as Stacey and Barnes, I still think we lack quality depth in every position, which has been more evident as the games go by.
By banking our entire season on the return of two players from injury in Sargent and Barnes, Norwich have clearly gone for a high-risk, high-reward approach. If we find ourselves in touching distance of the playoffs by the time the two return, we may just reap the rewards.
Despite a negative tone, I live in hope.