Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s 2-1 Premier League defeat against Sheffield United
PUBLISHED: 22:18 08 December 2019 | UPDATED: 22:18 08 December 2019
Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt delivers his Sheffield United verdict after the Canaries’ 2-1 Premier League defeat
1. 'It's not football any more'
Norwich fans delivered their verdict in the aftermath of Chris Basham's red card, brandished by referee Simon Hooper for an ugly, mistimed, out of control lunge on Kenny McLean was over-turned by VAR. The fact the Sheffield United fans joined in, still irked by their own brush with VAR during the week in a home defeat to Newcastle, underlined how toxic this new innovation in the Premier League has become.
In the interests of balance, City themselves benefited earlier in the second half when John Lundstram was adjudged to be offside before the ball whistled past Tim Krul.
That avoided any scrutiny of Onel Hernandez's lunging challenge inside his own area fractions of a second before. Although there was post-game clarification the Hernandez and Basham's tussle had been looked at and was deemed to be a coming together. You could also look back at Norwich's goal when Christoph Zimmermann's outstretched arm was very close to the dropping ball lashed home by Alex Tettey.
But how VAR officials deemed Hooper had made a 'clear and obvious' error defies belief. Unless the official guidance has changed and the communication remains pitifully fractured.
City will rightfully point to missing out on the potential to drag themselves back into this game against 10 men for the final 20 minutes. That should not mask their own deficiencies. But it was a baffling intervention from Stockley Park.
Norwich went in at the interval leading 1-0 and looking full of confidence. Within seconds of the restart it was apparent the Sheffield United players may have had to endure some paint-peeling criticism from Chris Wilder.
City shipped twice in three minutes and despite the later VAR-interventions they were unable to pick up the pace again.
The oxygen and the energy was sucked out of Norwich's urgings. That composure in midfield areas, with Mario Vrancic and Emi Buendia keen to make a good impression, disappeared.
The Blades could and should have won by more. David McGoldrick spurned chances on the counter which kept Norwich in the contest.
Dean Henderson brilliantly foiled Todd Cantwell late on but it was a sporadic disruption to a one-sided second period.
The ability to change gear and City's inability to go with an opponent was evident before at Carrow Road this season, against the likes of Manchester United and Aston Villa. Norwich, too often, simply lack the collective and individual resistance when Premier League opponents surge.
This was Sheffield United's eighth Premier League away game. And eighth without defeat. That would be impressive for title challengers. It is remarkable for a club who followed Norwich out of the Championship.
The Blades moved a distant 11 points clear of Daniel Farke's boys with a second half comeback win at Carrow Road. There really was nothing between these rivals last season, before City upped the ante in the final furlong to claim the title. But there looks clear blue water at this stage.
Farke highlighted United's defensive resolve - and how that is easier to translate in the quest to make the challenging leap from the Football League - when he spoke to the media in the build up. In contrast, City's strategy of attacking, possession-based football has failed to make the same seamless leap.
How that changes from here is difficult to see. Norwich have built a squad and a philosophy that retains an emphasis on their work with rather than without the ball. But there is no doubt which of these two newly promoted clubs, right at this moment, looks best equipped to not only survive but perhaps flourish.
4. Better Buendia
The result and the second half performance were desperately disappointing. But Buendia did enough to suggest he is learning from harsh lessons. Most know what he can do in a Norwich shirt now. The key to Premier League progress is knocking the rough edges off his game and an acceptance he is still a work in progress.
Tettey's opening goal came from an initial Buendia corner.
There were some gorgeous long range passes and an intelligence in the right area of the pitch which adds a different dimension to the Canaries' attacking thrust.
But what his head coach and those supporters also needed to see was none of the sloppiness in the wrong areas that essentially contributed to his demotion for a period of reflection. There was another facet without the ball that was heart-warming - his willingness to track back and offer sustained support to Max Aarons.
We saw none of the petulant flourishes or a failure to accept he needs to offer something without the ball when City is under pressure. Harness both sides of his craft and Buendia can reclaim his rightful place as a key part of Farke's plans.
5. Good, but must improve in all areas
Vrancic must have felt his hugely-influential end to the Championship title-winning campaign marked a watershed in his Norwich career. His priceless goals in the biggest matches on the run in supplemented his quality on the ball and a decent physical presence when required.
Injury intervened to curtail his early Premier League involvement and then Norwich's productive recent spurt further limited his chances.
But a first ever top flight start in England was grasped with both hands by the Bosnian in the first half. Yet much like the rest of his team mates he was unable to exert anywhere near the same influence after the interval. He was also, alas, beaten far too easily by George Baldock's pivot and thumping finish for what proved the visitors' winner.
Vrancic is not in the side for his defensive work but it illustrated again Farke's hunt for a central midfield mix that can be residually effective, both with and without the ball, goes on.