Melissa Rudd: We’re at the stage when City don’t have anything to lose
PUBLISHED: 20:00 19 February 2020 | UPDATED: 21:09 19 February 2020
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A few days may have passed since Norwich came away with nothing from another terrific performance versus one of the Premier League’s elite, but a sense of disappointment is still niggling away at me.
Of course, it was impossible not to leave Carrow Road with a huge sense of pride at the shift City put in against the champions-elect, to push the European kings so close when on paper the points deficit between the two sides was the largest ever in a Premier League fixture. To almost earn a point against a team so far ahead of second place that the title has become a foregone conclusion in February.
It's that word again, one we have all become used to painfully muttering in the aftermath of a Norwich result, especially in the last three months.
A mauling at Manchester United aside, City haven't lost by more than a single goal margin since early November. The Old Trafford thrashing is the anomaly in 12 of 14 league matches which have ended in a draw or a defeat.
While those oh-so-near results have steadily racked up, the gap between Norwich and Premier League safety has steadily widened.
On Saturday night I received a couple of texts from friends who support other clubs, praising the kind of football Norwich play, reassuringly stating that Daniel Farke's men are by no means the worst team in this league.
Only the league table tells us that they are. And unfortunately it's exactly how history will remember the Class of 2020 if they keep failing to turn promise into points.
On Saturday the head coach surprised many by sticking with the same team that kept a clean sheet at Newcastle, therefore naming Emi Buendia among the substitutes.
Perhaps that shouldn't have come as a shock considering the way Norwich were picked off with ease at Anfield on the opening day, and were caught out in possession too many times to count.
There was certainly logic in Farke setting his stall out to be disciplined and as compact as possible to limit the visitors' chances. For the most part, that's how it played out. A superb double save from Tim Krul was the only notable opportunity Liverpool had before Sadio Mane's clinical finish broke the deadlock.
Yet there was a period around the hour mark when City were almost camped in their own half, beginning to show signs of weariness which was understandable given the level of concentration they'd had to apply to thwart Liverpool's attacks.
They looked as though they needed a new outlet, an injection of energy, somebody who would want the ball at their feet, to travel with it and give the defence a bit of respite by trying to create a chance or two. Even Alex Tettey took it upon himself to make a surging run on one occasion, smacking his effort against the post.
In Buendia and Onel Hernandez though Norwich had two players warming the bench who would have naturally fulfilled that role - and Farke had a decision to make.
By rolling the metaphorical dice to increase City's chances of scoring, the obvious risk was that he might leave his side vulnerable when they had worked so hard to be resolute against a front three capable of running riot against far better opposition.
Try and protect a point or go for broke? He would probably face criticism either way should Norwich end up losing.
The predicament that City find themselves in now though, rooted to the bottom of the table with games running out, means that draws won't see them survive.
Goals have been drying up, but Buendia has assisted almost a third of their total. He surely has to be utilised if Norwich have any hope of reversing a worrying trend that has seen them score just twice in the last five league outings, three of which Buendia hasn't started having missed the Tottenham game through injury.
In the eight minutes plus stoppage time the Argentine had to make an impact, he still managed to play a through ball that split a formidable defensive line in two and provide Teemu Pukki with his only chance of the game.
Going all out for a win when you're holding the best team in the country to a draw may seem a big gamble, a stupid one in some quarters, but we're almost at the stage now where Norwich have nothing to lose.