Michael Bailey: 6 things learned from Norwich City’s Swansea win – Jamal, Emi, sacking and sound
PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 March 2019 | UPDATED: 20:39 11 March 2019
It was the status quo, but far from quiet – Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey pens his six things learned from victory over Swansea and a classic Championship weekend.
1 – The Canaries’ hidden progress
The rule is straightforward in the Championship: nothing is straightforward in the Championship. It’s why Daniel Farke has called a few recent games ‘complicated’ – and with good reason.
While some obvious things continue to earn huge praise as Norwich City ride their wave, there is something else that feels in need of credit.
One look at the form table since 2019 arrived – following City’s inexplicable 4-3 defeat at home to Derby and those floodlights – proves the point.
Victory over Swansea and some generally good defending in a disjointed first half especially, actually brought City’s third clean sheet in six games. Only five teams have conceded fewer Championship goals than Norwich in 2019.
Middlesbrough, Bristol City, Leeds and Sheffield United all have better records in terms of expected goals against – effectively a measure of chances conceded – this season, but don’t get stuck on City being miles off where they need to be.
2 – Emi winner: It has been coming
There has been a theme of waxing lyrical this season – especially about certain players. And of course, Emi Buendia has been far from an exception.
Buendia has been my man of the match seven times this season; 31 league appearances in which he has delivered five goals and nine assists.
But I’ve been waiting for the one moment of top-class quality that won a tight game in front of a big audience – and there it was on Friday. A goal as good as any you’ll see at this level.
Buendia now sits 10th in WhoScored’s Championship player rankings. Every time he has scored in the league, Norwich have won. The Argentine forward, Jamal Lewis and Tim Krul are the only players to have been involved in every league win this season. To flip that, City have won 21 times – but not once when Buendia hasn’t featured on the pitch.
And remember, the guy cost £1.5m, bought in January 2018 to make sure he was City’s. What price now?
3 – No one is above criticism
This time last season the atmosphere debate was akin to talking about club ownership – a long-term, borderline rhetorical question with no quick fix. Well, I’m now going to treat it more like a player.
Everyone is allowed an off-day – and it’s been a season of huge progress. But Friday night under the floodlights was flat.
Had Mike van der Hoorn’s late header been marginally lower, the passive ambience of the latter second half may well have cost Norwich dear.
It registered with some inside the club as well – that while the players were digging in during a tricky battle, those who came to support ended up watching. There was even the odd groan at half-time.
Now some may want to complain about this view – but save your energy. Save your energy for Hull, when even if it’s nervy or tight, if you’re cold or bored, remember what you would demand of the players – and offer it up yourself.
4 – Lewis deserves a nod
There were a couple of moments against Swansea where Jamal Lewis got ever so slightly ragged – and it reminded me of last season; his first as a professional. And even that only started on Boxing Day 2017.
But the realisation wasn’t a nod to Lewis regressing – rather a reminder how supremely consistent the 21-year-old has been in his first full senior season.
His actual stats this term compared to last appear a bit of a contrast mishmash – City’s own improvement muddying the water, while the club will no doubt have access to far more accurate and deep data than us journalists and supporters.
But three assists and increases in his crossing, longer passing, shots and dribbling tallies per game show how he has become a fundamental part of City’s attacking philosophy – while having the legs to cover the holes inevitably left behind.
Fresher faces have caught the eye, but Lewis’ progress has been just as noteworthy.
5 – Potter has the same City issues
In both games with Norwich, Swansea boss Graham Potter has been keen to point out how the Canaries have dealt with things since early 2017.
The squad rebuild, patience in a plan and the potential rewards such belief can earn – it’s a template many will want to follow, but in Potter and Swansea there are similarities more relevant than elsewhere.
The improvement in quality of possession and the way Potter had his side coached, compared to their November chastening in Wales, was stark.
Their inconsistency – a perfect lose-win sequence over their last seven games – tells of their transition; just like it did with Norwich last season, over longer spells.
But the Canaries’ work has involved a lot of elements – including selling big talents for big money, and finding genuine gems to replace them for a fraction of the price. That factor may yet be what determines whether Potter’s faith proves well-founded, come March 2020.
6 – The rivals appear desperate
Apparently not beating Ipswich is now enough to get you the sack – so the joke goes. Of course, Darren Moore’s situation at West Brom was a little more complicated than that.
But the Baggies’ brutal cull while fourth with 10 games to go did emphasise what City are competing with – and of course, they have also been in Albion’s shoes.
This is the Championship – where clubs spend every pound they earn on player wages. Some spend it twice.
Promotion is an expectation, not a hope. Middlesbrough, Derby, Stoke, West Brom, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest – all have gambled on going up this season. Between zero and one of will now achieve it. The rest will either find more money, or pick up the pieces.
And then you have a bunch of free transfers, past their best crocks, foreign unknowns and untried babies floating dangerously close to the top two... Imagine if City actually trumped expectation with hope.
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