Six things from Norwich City’s unusual League Cup loss at Luton
As Norwich City’s season gets off to a false start, David Freezer assesses a 3-1 loss at Luton in the League Cup first round ahead of the Championship season getting started at Huddersfield on Saturday.
1 - Cup loss is no cause for panic
It was a disappointing way for Norwich City to start the new season but in reality this game had much more of a pre-season feel to it.
To play without over 20 players would be a big ask of any club, as football keeps slowly working back towards normality amid the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was however a 12th consecutive defeat for the Canaries, as a club record streak continues - although including the extra-time loss to Manchester United in that does feel rather harsh.
So the game came as a reminder of the anger and upset which are still just below the surface after last season, with the reaction of some supporters indicating that a great deal of patience may not be afforded if the league season starts slowly.
Prior to Timm Klose going off though, sparking the late flurry of goals, City had plenty of chances - with Alex Tettey, Lukas Rupp, Marco Stiepermann and Josh Martin all denied by decent James Shea saves.
2 - Unusual challenge for Farke
The Canaries opted not to try and get the Luton tie moved to the previous Saturday, as Daniel Farke felt a full training camp in Germany was crucial for team bonding and gelling a much changed squad.
Blackburn, Preston and Stoke all did that and made it through to the second round so we will have to wait and see if the decision has paid off in Championship terms.
Yet let’s just look at who was unavailable. As well as the 13 first teamers away on international duty there was Emi Buendia suspended, as well as Josip Drmic, although the striker has been excluded from the squad as he looks for a new club alongside Mo Leitner and Tom Trybull.
Then add Grant Hanley, Sam Byram, Xavi Quintilla, Aston Oxborough and Akin Famewo as injury absentees - and new signing Ben Gibson not arriving in time.
Six debutants, young Dan Barden in goal and four U23 prospects on the bench. Only a fool would read too much into this display and result.
3 - Get used to fired up opposition
What also seems to have been overlooked by some is that the hosts went into this game in good spirits.
Whether that was through complacency or arrogance, this defeat may just have provided the reminder that was needed. City are not a top-flight team any more and as Alex Tettey said recently, they have lost the right to think of themselves as Premier League players.
Nathan Jones returned to Luton and pulled off a miraculous Championship escape, taking 16 points from a possible 27. He was also only missing two players due to international duty and had only a few injury issues.
The Welshman was like a jack-in-a-box on the sidelines, demanding 100pc from his players, knowing the chance of a win was there if they remained solid.
James Collins took full advantage of the errors after Klose’s exit to knock the Canaries out. Every team Norwich face this season will be desperate to knock them down a peg or two.
4 - Dowell is ready for central role
The highlight of Saturday was pretty clearly the fine strike from Kieran Dowell which had levelled the score, however briefly.
City, remarkably, only scored five equalisers in their 43 games in all competitions last season, all of which were during defeats, other than at Spurs in the FA Cup fifth round penalty shoot-out win.
So as the summer arrival reacted sharply to slot home on the half-volley within two minutes of Luton’s opener from the penalty spot - adjusting as a clearance fell to him kindly, shaping his body to put his laces through the ball powerfully.
The 22-year-old specialises in shots from the edge of the box and that will be a welcome addition to City’s arsenal but will he get a central role?
Much like Buendia or Todd Cantwell, Dowell wanted to move into the middle and dictate play, linking well with Josh Martin. He also showed he’s strong on the ball and willing to battle - and looks sure to start at Huddersfield.
5 - Can Rupp find some rhythm?
Kenny McLean and Oliver Skipp currently look to be the most likely pairing in the centre of City’s midfield, so where does that leave Lukas Rupp?
The January signing started alongside Alex Tettey at Luton and was full of energy but also a mix of good and bad moments, earning some stick from supporters during the first half.
The German found the side netting with one shot, wasted a chance to test the keeper in the box, forced Shea into an awkward low save and made one fine charge forward, showing good control to lead a counter attack which saw Martin have a shot saved.
Rupp has become a bit of a scapegoat for some already, unfairly on the whole. He may not be spectacular and he really should have scored at least one goal for City by now, but he works hard and has a decent passing range.
It will be interesting to see how the 29-year-old’s season develops, having made over 130 Bundesliga appearances prior to joining the Canaries.
6 - Replacing Lewis will not be easy
In the background of this weekend there has also been an evolving situation for Jamal Lewis, with Newcastle making a bid worth around £15million for the left-back.
If that return to the Premier League is sealed then it’s a real feather in the cap for City’s academy. To play 100 games in three seasons, become a full international and be named the best left-back in the Championship in 2019, before being sold for a big profit, is a big success.
Yet while Norwich fans will wish the 22-year-old well, perhaps a degree of caution is still needed.
We are yet to see how well Xavi Quintilla settles in England and Sam McCallum was playing at step four of the non-league pyramid in 2017-18 before emerging at Coventry.
Lewis may not have quite found consistency in the top flight and was kept out of the team by Sam Byram for a while, yet he was very good during the Championship season of 2018-19. Replacing his quality won’t necessarily be straight forward.
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