Fulham 1-1 Norwich City: Michael Bailey brings his six things learned from the Canaries’ opening Fulham draw
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Something new, in more ways than one – Michael Bailey brings his six things learned from Norwich City’s opening day draw at Fulham.
1 – Comparisons matter
Sure, it’s one game – but that doesn’t mean you can’t make some early and informed conclusions. Likewise, it doesn’t mean those conclusions won’t prove valid 10 months on.
For example, after last season’s opening demolition of Blackburn it was already clear City would be too good for most if they were given time and space by their opponents – while Rovers looked a side destined for relegation with Owen Coyle unlikely to survive the season.
So following this season’s opener, don’t be afraid to embrace what were several positives – and a few clear issues to resolve – just 90 minutes into the season.
Of course, the fact City left Craven Cottage on Saturday in a positive mood – even if it was still without a victory – arguably hasn’t happened in 30 years of trying. And against a very decent Fulham side at that.
It probably felt more constructive than that win at Blackburn too. Let’s hope that proves true.
2 – Underbelly passes first test
Of all the positives from the opening weekend, this was the one that got me – and Christoph Zimmermann agreed.
I asked him – and he replied: “It was crucial; it’s the most important thing for a defensive player that when you’re down by one, you don’t concede another.”
The sinking feeling consumed this correspondent when City slipped behind to Fulham and duly came under an increasing cosh. All last season away from home, a second concession followed. Often more.
At this point it doesn’t necessarily matter how City rode it out – just that they did. They found a way to throw bodies in the way, win their duels – or dig out some luck with the woodwork. Their effort and heart deserved that.
Sure, subs and tactical switches enabled Wes and Nelson to work their magic late on – but defensive resolve was the real foundation, and that is an extremely encouraging sign of what could be to come.
3 – ‘If they had a finisher’
The words uttered by one Fulham fan at half-time to underline one of the glaring issues with City’s opening day performance – their profligacy in front of goal.
“If they had a finisher…” started the sentence, with no points for guessing the rest. Marley Watkins was chief culprit, as a lively afternoon’s work was let down with some shockingly tame finishing. Maybe Marley prefers his chances 20-yards out?
For all City’s early issues in possession and lack of initial composure – quick possibly due to the apprehension of opening day and so much change – they created so many more and better chances than their impressive hosts, especially before Fulham took the lead.
Scoring goals really shouldn’t be a problem this season given City’s personnel and last term’s record – something a few national pundits seem confused over.
But they will need to be careful they don’t become a little complacent over what remains the hardest thing to do in football.
4 – Nelson’s revenge
It wasn’t a universally positive Saturday, even though it should have been. Bizarrely it was the most positive moment that bred the most controversial.
Sure, Nelson Oliveira’s reaction seems to have either enraged some fans or left others simply happy their number nine showed some passion.
Maybe, just maybe, Nelson pushed it too far and too long – but ultimately he used his anger to prove a point that benefitted everyone, including himself. That remains a significant plus point.
It also represents a first man-management test for Daniel Farke since arriving at the club and how he spoke to us about the incident after full time, only offered evidence that City’s head coach is wily enough to deal with what some of his players will throw at him.
And while everyone else spoils for a fight it’s worth remembering, City need both Oliveira and Cameron Jerome firing this season – not just one of them.
5 – Fulham need to be careful
There’s no doubt Fulham should be challenging for automatic promotion this season.
They’ve kept real quality in their squad for this season, added a £5m striker in Aboubaka Kamara who looks set to be a handful for defenders and perhaps most importantly, they still have Slavisa Jokanovic at the helm.
But it clearly wasn’t an easy pre-season at Craven Cottage and Jokanovic’s uneasy angst at feeling some decisions went against his side makes you wonder what might happen in west London if things do get a bit stodgy later in the season.
Fulham had no issues turning their quality on last season – doing the double of Newcastle and looking too good for Norwich at times.
Yet their consistency was only good enough to book a top six spot and couldn’t see them through in the play-offs. They’re good enough to prosper, but it will take more than that to achieve it.
6 – Three is still for keeps
Saturday proved once again why pre-season is horrible. The opening 10 minutes of City’s opener was played at 10 times the tempo of the summer friendlies combined – and for some, it showed.
At times, Mario Vrancic’s face held the expression of a man wondering what he’d got himself into. But for his opening Championship game, that’s perhaps understandable. We’ll see him again, and against sides less frenetic than Fulham he will shine far brighter.
So if we’re not going to write off Mario inside one game, let’s not do it to City playing three at the back either.
City’s major first-half issue was their midfield set-up couldn’t earn the possession they needed to protect the space behind their wing-backs.
Fulham are good at what they do – better than most. But there will be plenty of sides who won’t be as adept at halting City’s possession. And in turn, a back three will be a magic number.