David Freezer: Unforced errors must be eliminated if Canaries are to salvage a Premier League future
It may have been a bleak weekend but Norwich City are far from relegation write-offs yet. So what does Daniel Farke need to work on if this imploding Premier League campaign is to be salvaged?
The stark financial realities as a self-funded club were emphasised last week when the Canaries published their annual accounts, however they also illustrated the huge prize on offer if survival can be achieved.
Prior to the top-flight cash returning to the club's coffers a pre-tax loss of £38m was concerning, yet City expect to actually post a profit of £20million at the end of the season.
That's the cushion for if relegation does happen, to combine with parachute payments to keep finances strong enough to allow for promotion to be pursued again immediately.
However, should Premier League football be secured, all of a sudden the club would be in rude financial health, with a little bit more spending power to try and kick on with.
Yet if some very basic mistakes on the pitch are not eliminated very quickly, it will be back to the Championship and that financial recovery continues on the long, hard road to becoming an established top-tier club.
That youthful vibrancy and naivety that Farke and Stuart Webber spoke about last season as almost being an asset, is having the opposite effect at the moment.
Ben Godfrey is developing into a very good player, his swift elevation to England Under-21 captain and comfortable adjustment to playing alongside the country's top talent is clear when he's been on international duty. The same can be said for Max Aarons.
Yet, with his senior centre-back colleagues so crucially kept out of action by injury, there is an unfair amount of pressure on the 21-year-old.
That may explain why, just a minute into a crucial bottom-of-the-table clash with survival rivals Watford, Godfrey was trying to push forward on the left wing, totally vacating his position at centre-back.
Subsequently his loss of possession left Jamal Lewis stranded and a gaping hole waiting to be attacked. That Emi Buendia, still just 22 himself of course, compounded the situation with an attempt to back-heel his way out of trouble was frankly ridiculous. He knew it, Godfrey knew it, the whole team knew they'd just shot themselves in the foot.
It felt like a gut punch to the Carrow Road faithful, seeing their team implode just 76 seconds into such an important game. Those mistakes must surely come down to those talented young men feeling the pressure. Godfrey and Buendia are better than that, we've seen it.
Tom Trybull equally should have used his experience and made sure he brought down Gerard Deulofeu before he reached City's box, one of those necessary tactical fouls that Tim Krul has spoken about in recent weeks.
These were basic errors which just should not be happening, such risks cannot be taken by a team in the relegation zone - basic errors which can be ironed out in what should be a no-risk strategy.
Kenny McLean chipped in with his own bizarre attempt at a back-heel near his own penalty area midway through the first half, just as Aarons' pace and Godfrey's strength had superbly halted a goal-bounced Roberto Pereyra. As Farke said after the game, such attempts are fine in the attacking half, but when in defence it is totally unacceptable.
However, the Canaries made it quite clear that they were good enough to beat Watford, a team without a win before this game let's not forget.
A season-high of 66pc of possession saw the hosts dominate as the Hornets sat deep, making more passes (595) than any other game so far and earning a joint-high of 10 corners - although set-pieces is clearly another focus for the training pitches at Colney, after some woeful attempts.
It's also only during the win over Newcastle that they had more shots on target than the five on Friday. This was not an abject performance, Teemu Pukki was not left chasing shadows and without any chances as an isolated striker, it was one where confidence had been zapped by that early disaster.
Onel Hernandez should have pulled the trigger sooner on two occasions, McLean tested Ben Foster with a header, both Lewis and McLean tested the keeper with fine long-range efforts after good work from substitute Todd Cantwell, but it never really felt like a goal was coming.
Now it's about getting a foothold in this season, with the approaching return to fitness of Grant Hanley and Christoph Zimmermann allowing Farke the option of switching to a more defensive 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formation, freeing Alex Tettey and Ibrahim Amadou to go and get stuck into their preferred midfield battles.
It's a 'back to basics' approach that's needed: no risks in your own half, long balls if you have to, being more physical. Find that more solid base and work out new ways to pose attacking threats, that's the challenge, and the route to rebuilding confidence.
This is the first time a Norwich City team has only had seven points on the board after 12 games of a Premier League season, joining the relegated side of 2004-05 as the only City team to have not reached double figures by this stage.
That Canaries vintage still agonisingly close to survival however and for further emphasis of the time for recovery that remains, look at 1994-95. That team were seventh and had 19 points in the bag after a dozen games - but somehow slumped to relegation.
Turning this season around is still possible - but only if the unforced errors are cut out, now.
NCFC AFTER 12 GAMES IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE
- 2019/20 - 20th (7 points)
- 2015/16 - 15th (12 pts) - relegated, on 34 points
- 2013/14 - 16th (11 pts) - relegated, on 33 points
- 2012/13 - 13th (14 pts) - finished 11th
- 2011/12 - 11th (13 pts) - finished 12th
- 2004/05 - 19th (8 pts) - relegated, on 33 points
- 1994/95 - 7th (19 pts) - relegated on 43 points (42 game season)
- 1993/94 - 2nd (22 pts) - finished 12th
- 1992/93 - 1st (26 pts) - finished third