Michael Bailey: Six things learned from Norwich City’s Millwall debacle
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After an afternoon that only raised questions about where Norwich City are headed, MICHAEL BAILEY tries to pin down six things learned after a desperate day at The Den.
1 – The self-fulfilling possession prophecy
There’s only one P-word dominating City’s season so far. No, not pants – possession. It was another 72pc in Norwich’s favour at The Den.
Five games in and City are the current Championship leaders in possession percentage (56pc), total passes made (2,723), total successful passes (2,290) and passing accuracy (84pc). For the record, they also share the division’s shortest average pass length with Fulham (17m).
But if you think these starts are all down to City playing their new style really well, then your wires are crossed.
Millwall were not the first team – and won’t be the last – to let City have the ball, sit in defensively and then pick their moments to really press high and either force a Norwich mistake or simply wait for it.
The greatest worry at present is how simple it is to play against City, to nullify their strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses. Surely it’s all too obvious not to improve?
2 – City have lost their fitness
Not literally, of course. They will still be as fit as fiddles. What they have lost is the ability to show how fit they are. All those pre-season sessions were aimed at making City fitter so that, I believed, we would see them run over teams and hunt in packs.
I wanted some players to leave us wondering whether they were playing two positions, given the ground they were covering.
Yet there was almost no running on Saturday. The recovery runs were jogs, if that, and the forward play rarely involved speed.
Meanwhile Millwall were made to look like football machines able to burst through brick walls, which would have put up far more of a resistance than the supposed barriers of City’s midfield and defence.
City’s work without the ball so far this season has generally been poor. On Saturday it was woeful. In the Championship, that gets you beaten nine games out of 10.
3 – It wasn’t the skipper’s fault
Let’s pick the goals apart. The first saw Marcel Franke going for a header he should’ve either left, or at least won having gone for it. James Husband got distracted, Millwall took advantage. Number two is bemusing, given how City end up in such a positional mess from a simple throw-in.
Millwall’s third was symptomatic of City’s inability to play out of a press. James Maddison wrong-footed, Mario Vrancic’s half-hearted chase and Franke’s shot-shy block.
As for four, the zonal marking debate continues. I’d love someone to explain to me how a defender making a standing jump can repel a centre-back steaming in with a late run to a perfect delivery.
Four goals, none owing any serious blame to Russell Martin who instead was roundly booed until he was subbed.
Leadership is rarely about one person; neither is defending.
The City captain is a scapegoat for many. There’s no point dressing it up as anything more rational.
4 – The order of liability is clear
For Daniel Farke, it wasn’t a debate. The problems in south London were down to more than their holding midfielder. That’s right to a degree – not much was Harrison Reed’s fault.
However, City’s over-exposed defensive line and limited defensive nous in midfield left a predictable outcome. Few experienced Championship watchers would disagree. How Farke handles this debate may well be key to how things are resolved from here.
In truth, the real fallout from Saturday will come further down the line, depending on whether City’s hammering was when the penny dropped or the nightmare was realised.
The players need their coach – a highly regarded one at that – to show the way and get them playing in a more robust fashion immediately. They need a platform to build from.
If Farke can’t do that, either he isn’t good enough or the players brought in aren’t good enough – and at that point, Stuart Webber knows the scrutiny will start to include him.
5 – Morison learned a lot from Grant
Millwall were 2-0 up, 26 minutes gone, when Lions goalkeeper Jordan Archer hurriedly punted clear in a bid to send the hosts forward. For once, it almost backfired – and so the slanging match began.
Lions captain Steve Morison, formerly of this parish, started balling and gesticulating at his keeper from the halfway line – managing the remarkable feat of making himself crystal clear from 50 yards.
Not every touch came off. No everything his brain told him to try, ended how it was intended. One miss-hit volley in the second half should have brought his goal, but instead only delivered a wry smile.
And none of that mattered. The Millwall faithful love Morison, his 250th appearance was excellent and his time spent alongside Grant Holt really seems to have rubbed off on him.
Unlike Russell Martin, Morison had the men around him – but that shouldn’t detract from the player and influence he has become at The Den.
6 – There are delusions of grandeur
It’s still early days. It’s just those early days don’t look great and the international break is set to feel pretty long, even if it’s only a five-game table pinning City in the bottom three.
Of the remaining bottom eight, City have played three and lost them all – for Sunderland, Aston Villa and now Millwall, their only win has come against Norwich. The team sat just below that trio, Birmingham, visit Carrow Road next.
There are ominous signs for those that remember what following City was like before 2009 – coincidentally, the last time City looked this ineffective in the Championship.
We had it last season: the suggestion City could turn up, pass the ball around and let their quality win them a game. It’s rubbish if it doesn’t come with hard work and respect for what you’re coming up against.
And if the realisation every Championship game is a scrap doesn’t hit them, then something far worse will.
• For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey, Facebook @mbjourno and Instagram @mrmichaeljbailey