Six things you might have missed from City’s impressive Bristol City victory
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Five unbeaten and up to fourth in the table, Connor Southwell analyses City’s progress in the Championship.
1 - A performance marrying up with the result
In recent weeks, the major criticism of Norwich City has been that performances haven’t been as encouraging as results.
That’s why a major positive to emerge from their comfortable win over Bristol City was the nature of the display. Caveat this with the Robins’ defensive vulnerabilities, but this was the most complete performance of the season from Daniel Farke’s men.
From offensive cohesion to defensive structure, City felt like they had gears to shift through, something that wasn’t the case in the Premier League.
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They were composed in possession and disciplined without it, with visible improvements still necessary to take them to the next level. The table doesn’t lie, City are five unbeaten and one point behind second place.
Now, they’ve got momentum and a positive performance under their belt, sustainability and consistency are the next things on Farke’s to-do list.
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2 - A real step forward for City
Forget the result, this was the first time City have scored three league goals since that famous win over Manchester City in September 2019.
In the opening portion of the season, they were finding themselves enjoying the majority of possession but lacking the effectiveness to make it count.
Possession is a bit like money, it’s all well and good having it, but you need to invest it wisely and use it productively to get rewarded.
In fact, the Canaries have averaged 59pc possession from their opening nine fixtures, which is more than anyone else in the division. At Ashton Gate, City had 56pc of the ball and managed to convert that into 19 shots, with eight of those on target.
Had Emi Buendia’s shot not have rebounded off Daniel Bentley’s face or Przemek Placheta have been wasteful, this would have been a more comprehensive scoreline. But that offensive productivity is a step in the right direction for City.
3 - Magic Marco in-form again
Nobody has been able to grasp the mantle and nail down the number 10 position for City.
The last man to do so was Marco Stiepermann, when he impressed in the Championship to score nine goals on the way to their title win in 2018-19.
Stiepermann lost his way and his place in the Premier League with Moritz Leitner, Kenny McLean and Ondrej Duda all tried in that position.
Of late, it’s been Teemu Pukki’s job to fill in and attempt to aid creativity in that role, but eventually City have gone full circle and find themselves back with the German.
Stiepermann’s performance was proof he still has plenty to give. One assist, 86pc pass success rate and a revival of that connection with Pukki which served City so well last time in this division. With Pukki, Buendia and Stiepermann all firing, this was similar to a vintage City display from two seasons ago.
4 - Hanley’s quietly improving
It’s been a really difficult spell at Norwich City for Grant Hanley.
Just as he was re-discovering his rhythm in the Premier League, and looking like City’s best defensive option in the process, injury struck.
That saw him miss the entirety of the Canaries’ Project Restart games plus the pre-season that followed. Now, the Scot is back and is slowly building up his level of performances with every passing fixture.
Partnered alongside the dependable Ben Gibson, the pair are vocally encouraging and physically commanding. When added with Tim Krul, that is a defensive trio that oozes experience and ability at this level. Hanley made a series of defensive clearances, blocks and headers that relieved pressure off City. Quietly, he is returning to his best.
He won’t get the praise that will arrive at Buendia’s or Pukki’s door, but the defender is proving his worth to the Canaries once again after a prolonged spell away.
5 - Buendia’s joining the party
On pure ability, Emi Buendia is the best player in the Championship.
Forget the arm-waving or sulky body language, this was further proof that City are witnessing one of those talents that don’t don yellow or green all too often.
As Ben Gibson floated his pass from deep, Buendia was already on the move. From a creative midfielder, he hasn’t backed up his quality with a constant stream of goals, something that may have put off potential suitors in the summer.
But the manner of the touch was exquisite. The grace of how he plucked the ball from the air was sublime. There are not enough superlatives to describe it as a piece of raw skill.
It was like watching an artist put paint on a canvas, there was an elegance and beauty about the control. Nobody else on the pitch would have been capable, but Buendia was. Keep him fully-fit, focused and firing and City will have a fun and successful season.
6 - Beginning to look the real deal
Plenty of questions were surrounding City’s start to their Championship campaign.
Underpinning everything they do is expectation. Rightly or wrongly, the bar has been increased. Against a side who harbour top-six ambitions, whether realistic or not, this was proof that they are heading in the right direction.
They’ve had to contend with plenty - a poor end of the season, churn to the squad and unsettled players owed to a frantic transfer window.
But this victory felt important. Different. This felt like evidence of City’s quality at this level which, if sustainable, proves they are too good not to challenge at the top end of the table.
Complacency can’t enter their thoughts, however. This league doesn’t suffer fools lightly. City need to continue with this mentality if success is to follow them this season. With Millwall and Swansea to come this week, there is no time to wallow in their win.