Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from the Canaries' 1-0 defeat against Watford
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt delivers his Watford verdict after Norwich City's 1-0 Championship reverse.
1. Doubles all round
No, we are not back at the Norwich promotion party. Two home defeats in the space of a few days. Watford following Bournemouth to double a Norwich squad who for the most part of this Championship season have been a cut above.
The ferocity of the Hornets’ opening quarter may not have brought a breakthrough. But it rocked Norwich back and set the tone.
City did look sluggish and lethargic into the bargain, but Watford hunted with an intensity that suggested they wanted to probe for the inevitable physical and mental lull, after City had scaled the mountain.
Norwich did haul themselves off the ropes prior to half-time but Daniel Bachmann was untroubled after the interval. This was a game too far.
Daniel Farke hinted this might happen with the champagne only just getting opened on Saturday night. In his post-match interview after that defeat to Bournemouth Farke admitted he would rather his players headed to bed, not the karaoke machine and a well-deserved chance to savour their achievement.
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Those celebrations, coupled with playing the Cherries for 70 minutes or so with 10 men, clearly took a toll with the title in their grasp.
You feared the worst when the television caption flashed up Farke had lost his three previous meetings with Watford since arriving in England. Different coaches, different players in many respects, but what is about the Hornets that has proved quite so problematic for the German head coach?
Maybe it is just one of those quirks but when Watford did get themselves in front, through Dan Gosling’s first time finish, there was a flashback to Boxing Day and the reverse fixture at Vicarage Road.
On both occasions, Norwich have really struggled to break down a resolute squad packed with plenty of Premier League experience. But looking at the cushion Watford now have to the chasing pack below, Farke will in all probability get another couple of chances next season in the big league to put that particular record straight.
Ben Gibson provided a real insight into the genius of Farke in an interview with BBC Five Live on Monday. In his view, his head coach has a level of technical and tactical insight that sets him apart. Set this Watford hex in its rightful context.
3. So it begins
Farke also spoke tellingly ahead of this game about the ‘Premier League’ attacking quality in the ranks of both Bournemouth and Watford. Arnaut Danjuma was superb for the Cherries at the weekend.
Fellow wide player Ismaila Sarr enjoyed the open spaces of Carrow Road prior to the break. At times it was bordering on cruelty how he lined up Xavi Quintilla in a first half where the recalled left back was pulled into deep water.
The power, the intensity and the sheer quality of both was a snapshot of what is on the horizon.
Farke knows better than any City’s magnificent defensive resolve, for the most part this season, will have to make a smooth transition. Norwich will not be able to outscore teams on a routine basis in the top tier.
With inevitable question marks over the prospect of Max Aarons lining up in green and yellow - if the big boys really do come calling in the summer transfer window - and Sam Byram absent for over a year now, City will need to perform some delicate surgery to their defensive unit.
They need to prepare for the inevitable attacking onslaught they will face at times, however good they can be at the opposite end of the park.
4. Tough gig, Xavi
A first Carrow Road league start since October 24 last year. Facing arguably the sharpest winger in the division in the expensively-purchased Sarr. Far from an easy gig for the Villarreal loanee.
The man signed from Rennes for a reported £25m looked many levels above the English second tier.
There was a series of bursts when he teased Quintilla; turning on the after burners and moving through the gears. When the tables were turned he looked less inclined to track back defensively towards his own goal. Sarr was also too hot for Jacob Sorensen at Vicarage Road, in an extended emergency shift with Quintilla out injured.
Add a period on the sidelines with coronavirus and then the January arrival of the highly-rated Dimitris Giannoulis and this loan stint has not gone to plan for the likeable Spaniard. To give him his due, Sarr was far less effective after the interval as Quintilla tried to stop him at source.
There is no doubting his quality on the ball or at set pieces, but irrespective of Giannoulis’ mid-season arrival it looked unlikely he will be back at Carrow Road for the Premier League voyage. He certainly would not wish to encounter Sarr again anytime soon.
5. Insurance policy. Cashed
City remain five points clear with three games left to play. That looks a wager any Norwich City fan would still take in order to embellish another Championship promotion with a fresh piece of silverware.
But two defeats on the spin has removed any further margin for error. Watford have to play both Brentford and Swansea but by then the game may be up, in terms of the race for the top two, and the focus may already be shifting to play-off battles ahead.
There is absolutely no doubt this group of Norwich players would view blowing the title from this position as a blight on a campaign which should, rightly, be regarded as a special tour in the history of the football club.
Farke has spoken in recent days about the next target after the next target. Promotion is assured. Automatically into the bargain. Now the priority is that trophy.
With a few days to rest and some time to let the rollercoaster of emotions subside, expect City to get back down to business for a weekend trip to QPR.