There's simply no case for Norwich City's defence
PUBLISHED: 07:45 25 January 2016 | UPDATED: 18:30 25 January 2016
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Norwich City had conceded 34 goals in 11 meetings since they last beat Liverpool in 1994.
In those nine defeats and two draws there had only been nine City goals to cheer.
For anyone too young to remember that Jeremy Goss winner 22 years ago, the haunting memories from this fixture tend to outweigh the positive ones. The mere mention of Luis Suarez is enough to bring a shiver to your spine at the thought of him leaving one yellow shirt after another in his wake on the way to scoring a third-hat-trick past us.
Another defensive capitulation akin to those wasn’t to be on the cards again though on Saturday. This was a ninth-placed Liverpool team playing without a striker, while we had two multi-million pound defenders ready to step in and rescue us from another horror show witnessed against Bournemouth. Or so we thought.
It’s hard to know where to start when discussing issues around the City defence. Norwich had the third worst defence in the Premier League when relegated in 2014. Going back to when Neil Adams was in charge, Jos Hooiveld and Carlos Cuellar had brief stints at the back to try and improve it in the Championship. However, it was Alex Neil’s decision to recall Seb Bassong that did so dramatically.
Neil added Andre Wisdom on loan, but aside from him there were no reinforcements brought in to address the fact that we were heading back to the Premier League with the same defence that, even with Bassong, on average conceded more than 1.5 goals a game in that same division two years earlier.
Fast forward to January and Neil finds himself picking Ivo Pinto but having to leave out Tim Klose, who cost £7.4m, through a reluctance to field a back four with two new faces in. As great as it is that City have spent money in the past week, doing so in the January window rather than the summer one brings with it these problems.
Neil explained his reasoning to revert to Russell Martin at centre back was because he’d be better suited against Roberto Firmino. The manager’s insistence on picking players with the opposition in mind has become a regular trait. It’s one of the main reasons behind so many different starting XIs, why he hasn’t fielded the same line-up in consecutive games since August and perhaps why more than halfway through the season it seems Neil still isn’t sure of his best team.
Martin’s individual howler aside, as a unit the back four were as shambolic as we’ve seen all season against Liverpool. Every attack looked like it could have resulted in a goal, much like we saw at St. James’ Park. Back then, Neil blamed it on his own tactical naivety in making attacking substitutions.
On Saturday it was the decision making of his players that was to blame. At 3-1 there should have been no way back for the visitors. Switching off to allow Jordan Henderson to pull a goal back when the Carrow Road crowd were still celebrating Wes Hoolahan’s converted penalty summed up our defensive display and turned out to be a defining moment.
With Klose and Pinto now in the squad, Neil must stick to playing our best defenders in their best positions and give them time to gel. Other managers don’t rearrange their side every week to negate the opposition’s threat. They start their best players and trust them to adapt to and stick to a tactical gameplan.
The same goes for in midfield and attack. The obvious positive to come out of Saturday’s defeat was scoring four goals, which Steven Naismith contributed massively to, offering an outlet we have been so badly missing in the final third. Like any new signing he’ll need a few games to settle and gel with his teammates, and getting used to having the same players around him would no doubt help that process.
Without what would have been a perfect opportunity to get the new additions game time together in an FA Cup tie at the weekend, it’s another test of Neil’s credentials as to whether he can put right the defensive wrongs before the visit of Tottenham.