Michael Bailey: Six things we learned from Norwich City’s latest torrid Aston Villa trip
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Norwich City are hit hard at by Aston Villa at Villa Park – and not for the first time. Michael Bailey brings his six learnings to the fallout table.
1 – It’s as we expected
The emotions have fluctuated as much as ever, yet the reality is we’ve probably seen what we should have expected so far from Norwich City. In fact, from equivalent fixtures they have exactly the same points as they managed last season.
Despite their false position in the table and false start to the season, Villa have the money and talent – they didn’t even need Gabby Agbonlahor to tear City apart.
Indeed, data on the quality of chances City are creating against those they’re conceding show they are bang in the middle of the early Championship picture.
Given the project that is under way, City drawing at Fulham was arguably better than some hoped – likewise losing at home to freshly relegated Sunderland was worse. Then the QPR win offered a sign of where City’s bottom lies.
Therefore the trip newly promoted – and winless – Millwall should offer a happy entry into the international break. That’s the theory anyway.
2 – Josh is picking up the baton
Outfield there was only one player in yellow and green who shone on Saturday – and his name was Josh Murphy.
One tweet I received from Alex (@alecb97) on Saturday evening recalled how he “overheard (a) Villa fan on the way out (saying) that Norwich number 11 (was) one of the best wingers I’ve seen down at Villa in years”.
It’s felt a bit of a slow-burner from Josh so far but while in the first half on Saturday he was lively, come the second the end product was arriving too.
In fact as soon as Daniel Farke’s team selection was revealed, it stuck out like a sore thumb that City would be relying on Murphy as their key outlet at Villa Park ahead of anyone else – and so it proved, effective down the right but also centrally too.
If you want to take anything positive away from Saturday, he’s it – and it could prove a big deal.
3 – Cam looks in a jam
There is no denying Cameron Jerome’s pedigree. Nor his role here in recent successes. I find him engaging to talk to and his work rate has often helped others flourish.
But so far this season, there has been a stark difference in City’s attacking potency from when Jerome has led the line to when it’s Nelson Oliveira doing the honours.
It begs the questions why now, and why so much? It seems legitimate to wonder whether Farke’s style and possession framework is pushing Jerome’s 31-year-old football background too far out of his comfort zone: too many touches and simple misplaced passes that are leaving even Cameron banging his head in frustration.
He certainly looks fit but we’ve yet to see him really harry defenders into submission, as we’ve seen him do so many times before.
It doesn’t feel like City have vast options up front – so they need Jerome to find his feet, and quickly.
4 – Progress must start at the back
There has been progress in the work in progress – that was the second-half defensive performance against QPR. But it was definitely a few steps back at Villa Park.
For the first time, the step-up in class really caught up with Christoph Zimmermann – but perhaps more surprising is how Marcel Franke was completely dominated by a 19-year-old striker making his full Villa debut.
Keinan Davis may well prove to be the real deal – he certainly looked it on Saturday. But if it was simply an inspired debut, then that is bad news for City’s defensive task.
These things take time of course. Even Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce take several games to get their new clubs tight.
Farke’s Dortmund II side was defensively sound, albeit at a lower level. When we start looking for tangible progress over the coming weeks here, City’s defence is where it needs to start and where Farke needs to get it right.
5 – They’re Villans of the peace
Listening to Villa boss Steve Bruce plead poverty was one of the more bizarre experiences of Saturday. Sure, they haven’t got as much money as they would like. Few do. But they’ve spent silly money compared to the rest of the Championship, and not all of it particularly wisely.
Likewise, if they don’t finish in the top six this season they will have under-performed massively – something that Bruce seems more likely to call nonsense than worry about.
Villa’s poor start left Villa Park a lukewarm venue for football again, and you do wonder if the club has it in it to really get itself going.
But as a Birmingham-based colleague said to be at full-time in the press box, a fair few Villans were almost rubbing their hands at the timing of Norwich’s visit given how good their record is at home to the Canaries.
If Villa do go up and City don’t, they’ll miss those banker home points.
6 – They will get another go
Unlike Charlton manager Karl Robinson, who has already vowed to make wholesale changes come Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup visit to Carrow Road, Daniel Farke actually wants the League Cup high on his priorities – and he’ll name another side to warrant the billing.
So he should, injuries accepted. It was only the absence of James Maddison – apparently not an injury issue – that really left some scratching their heads.
Marley Watkins was struggling, while Oliveira’s weekend involvement was curtailed by a groin issue and Russell Martin is still to shake off an ankle knock.
The reality is City are trying to find good performances to buy some time. That’s why the win over QPR was so important, and another one in the Championship will need to arrive fairly soon.
Likewise City need game time on the pitch to work through this huge change. Tuesday is another chance do to just that – and it shouldn’t be wasted.