Robin Sainty: Time for Norwich City to find the ugly side of their game
PUBLISHED: 08:20 14 December 2019 | UPDATED: 08:20 14 December 2019
If anyone comes across Norwich City’s identity could they return it to Carrow Road as soon as possible please?
The masters of free-flowing possession football that we all fell in love with last season seem to have been replaced by a Jekyll and Hyde outfit who seem unable to maintain a performance for a full 90 minutes.
The first half against Sheffield United was everything that we could have wanted with City on the front foot, moving the ball quickly and creating all sorts of problems for the visitors' defence as they finished with a deserved lead. Surely this was the turning point that we had been waiting for.
Mario Vrancic and Emi Buendia had been finding space to receive the ball short and then move it on, something that City had struggled to do in recent games, and the back four were coping comfortably with the little attacking threat that the visitors were able to produce.
However, the Blades returned to the pitch after the break bristling with intent while City strolled out with the air of a team who had already done all the hard work and within seven lackadaisical minutes had completely surrendered control of the game.
Ironically, many people felt that City's more cerebral style of football would make them a perfect fit for the Premier League where the perception was that their creative players would not get the sort of rough treatment that was sometimes meted out in the Championship.
Equally, the view was that Sheffield United's more robust style wouldn't be so effective, and yet the opposite has proven to be true, and that can't be explained away by talking about new players because each team started only one player who had not been with them in the Championship last year.
To be honest, Sheffield United's style doesn't appear to have changed significantly, but it is still just as effective as it was last year, built as it is on sound defence and a strong work ethic. However much he may have irritated City fans in the past the simple fact is that Chris Wilder is an excellent manager.
It's quite clear that the Blades know exactly what they are trying to do and how to do it, and I don't think that there was a single City fan at Carrow Road on Sunday who wasn't expecting them, despite their poor first-half showing, to come back hard after the break, but the worrying thing is that when they did so they met so little resistance.
Two shocking pieces of defending within three minutes appeared to completely knock the stuffing out of the home team who seemed totally unable to muster any sort of sustained response, despite Dean Henderson's brilliant late save. The fundamental problem facing Daniel Farke is that (inevitably to an extent) City's attacking brio has been dimmed by playing at the higher level, but the quality of their defending hasn't improved. Put simply, if a team's ability to score falls away and yet they continue to concede with the same regularity there is only one possible end result.
Of course, injuries haven't helped, but with most players now back something has to change, because currently they are unable to put teams away at one end or shut them out at the other.
With fewer and fewer passing movements developing from the back, Tim Krul is being forced into more long kicks, despite City's lack of height up front, so possession is invariably surrendered yet the side continues to be set up on the basis of dominating the ball, and in fairness when they do they look good, but when they don't they can look horribly vulnerable.
We all want to see open attacking football, but it's time for a new more rugged identity and willingness to grind out ugly results if City aren't to make a swift return to the Championship.