Six things you might have missed following City’s loss at Sheffield United
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After a narrow defeat at Sheffield United, David Freezer assesses the state of Norwich City’s survival battle with six things that you might have missed following the battle at Bramall Lane.
1 - New ideas are needed in attack
During their nine games of Premier League football in 2020 so far Norwich City have scored just four goals - and only two of them were from open play.
From scoring nine during the first five fixtures of the season, that is a remarkable downturn, leaving City on an average of 0.86 goals per game, tied with Newcastle as the bluntest attack in the top flight on 25 from 29 games.
If there is to be any hope at all of keeping this season interesting, something has to change, whether that's in style or personnel, as the current system is not doing enough to give Daniel Farke's team any chance of heading back to the Championship.
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Teemu Pukki is a hero at Carrow Road for his exploits but 11 games without a goal from open play mean even the Finn's place is under threat from the fit-again and fired up Josip Drmic.
None of City's attackers can complain if they find themselves benched as fresh options are explored during this final nine matches.
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2 - Wilder has worked out weakness
Chris Wilder is proving to be something of a nemesis for the Canaries.
The contrast in styles of City and the Blades is stark, with Wilder's side putting in an average of 24 crosses per game - the Canaries average 13, the fewest in the division.
On Saturday Wilder told his team to whack that up a notch and 34 deliveries were aimed towards Tim Krul's penalty area, knowing full well that City struggle under aerial bombardment.
To be fair to Krul, Grant Hanley and Ben Godfrey, they got through a huge amount of defensive work to survive the first half with just one goal against, somehow. Yet the space vacated by Todd Cantwell and the slow cover provided by Ondrej Duda gave John Lundstram time to roll his foot over the ball and pick out Billy Sharp with a pinpoint cross for 1-0.
United have now won four and drawn one of their last five against City - securing their first league double over Norwich since the second-tier season of 1938-39.
3 - Formation challenge for Farke
Another problem which has emerged during this season is a fallibility against teams setting up with three at the back, as the Blades do in a 3-5-2 formation.
City have been beaten home and away by both United and Wolves, while Watford also set up in a similar fashion for their crucial win at Carrow Road in November.
The 0-0 draw at Newcastle and 2-2 home draw with Spurs have been exceptions, also winning 3-1 at home against the Magpies, although Steve Bruce's set-up is more of a defensive 5-4-1.
In the first half at Bramall Lane it left Pukki to plough a particularly lonely furrow, with City's attacking midfield trio all keen to get on the ball, rather than offer penetration in the way the injured Onel Hernandez was able to last season.
To Farke's credit, a change of shape to a 4-4-2 diamond at the break addressed that imbalance but the usual plan A of a 4-2-3-1 shape seems to struggle against teams with three at the back.
4 - Confidence crucial to fightbacks
Dean Henderson's heroics have taken much of the credit for the Blades holding on to all three points, as City's improved second half offering at least applied some pressure.
And Farke's team had gone into the game on the back of their first fightback of the season - something which had been a speciality in the Championship last season, claiming 27 points from losing positions.
Equalising at Spurs to set up the joyous shoot-out success in the FA Cup was, remarkably, the first time City had managed to turn a game around all season.
So had Henderson not denied Godfrey and Jamal Lewis, had Drmic's header have not flown just wide, the boost in confidence another fightback would have given City could have been huge.
So often last season it was fitness that was credited with those buccaneering charges to late comebacks but so much of football comes down to confidence. The Blades had plenty, City have little.
5 - Blades are scrapping for success
It should be noted that the Blades had an extra 24 hours rest from their midweek FA Cup exploits but that didn't appear to have a huge bearing on proceedings.
This was a United team that were superbly organised, disciplined and determined, putting so much emphasis on second balls and pressing the Canaries when in possession.
That eased slightly once they had the lead and City found an attacking foothold after a change of shape, explaining how the visitors had 58pc of possession.
Yet the intensity on the pitch and in the stands was a clear example of why the Blades are flying high and in with a chance of European qualification. That was exemplified by the work rate of John Fleck - nephew of Canaries legend Robert - who was at the heart of all the hosts' best play - after escaping an early booking for a poor tackle on Max Aarons.
They may have reportedly spent around £65million this season but they are earning their unexpected success.
6 - It's win or bust time for City
And so it's down to the mathematics once again.
City now need to win five of their last nine to have any chance of survival, possibly even six to take them to a final total of 39 points. Which, for me, makes this Saturday's home clash with Southampton a trip to the Last Chance Saloon.
Nothing less than a win will do, everything has to be thrown in the direction of a Saints side which have slipped back into bad habits since climbing to the safety of mid-table, losing four of their last five.
Fail to find a way to bag three points and it will be time for full focus on that first FA Cup quarter-final since 1992, at home to Manchester United - and to start looking to the future.
Fine margins may be a cliché in football but City have proved how tiny the difference between success and failure is in the Premier League, losing eight games by one goal. Sheffield United? They've won eight by one goal. Fine margins indeed.