Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from the Canaries' 2-0 defeat at Everton
- Credit: PA
Paddy Davitt delivers his Everton verdict after Norwich City's 2-0 Premier League loss.
1. Same old story, Norwich?
Not quite. Well there was another VAR call that went against the Canaries. They did dominate possession for long spells. They did fail to stick one past Jordan Pickford. And they did generously allow a functional Everton under Rafa Benitez’s charge to seal the win, when Kenny McLean dawdled long enough to be pickpocketed deep inside his own half.
You know the rest.
Demarai Gray sparked the counter that ended with Abdoulaye Doucoure finishing underneath the largely redundant Tim Krul.
All those facets have been prevalent in what is now six Premier League defeats on the spin.
But there was a composure and a cohesion in a defensive three, there was a commanding display from Mathias Normann and there was promise in the manner two young wing backs eventually picked up the baton and swarmed forward in the second half, when it looked to any in attendance that Norwich’s players actually believed they belonged on this grand stage.
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But as Daniel Farke said himself after last weekend’s damaging, toxic loss to Watford, no one wants to hear that.
It sounds like excuses and mitigation.
Norwich continue to do many things right, and too many wrong. That was still the nub of this Goodison Park defeat.
2. Nice work Normann
It was no exaggeration to state at one point in the second half, Norwich’s new midfield import seemed to be everywhere. Breaking up attacks on the edge of his own area and roaming forward to offer the most potent threat to Pickford.
He produced one superb tip over from the England keeper. Perhaps that led to a dollop of over-ambition when he tried to beat Pickford again from fully 30 yards after being hauled down on another burst.
But there is no doubt Normann’s body of early work suggests he has the personality to leave a positive imprint on this City midfield.
As Farke said last week, he is no Olly Skipp clone. There is far more to his game in an attacking sense. Perhaps less so in that protection he affords a back four, but with McLean and Pierre Lees-Melou deployed either side there was enough experience to protect City’s back three; until McLean’s late aberration.
Normann made way when Farke unleashed Milot Rashica and Christos Tzolis. There seemed to be a conversation had with City’s backroom staff in a break in play that may raise a concern or two following some on pitch assessment, after his build up was disrupted by a knee issue.
Farke will clear that aspect up in due course. But even after two Premier League outings, the Norwegian appears indispensable in a problem position for the Canaries.
3. Back to the future
Farke opted to reunite his Championship title winning central defensive pairing in Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson. With the added ballast of Ozan Kabak in another outing for a defensive three. That particular debate on ‘base formations’ has been had.
Farke clearly is not averse to altering his set up in ‘the last row’. More intriguingly perhaps moving forward is which personnel he can trust to make it work.
Certainly there is plenty of experience, if not genuine Premier League nous, in that trio at this stage. Hanley and Gibson still must prove they are consistent top flight performers and Kabak only had a brief taste on loan at Liverpool. He more than most will not have wanted any part in the Toffees’ first half penalty award on his first competitive return to Merseyside.
Allan appeared to need no invitation to tumble in the Norwich box, after Kabak’s mistimed right footed clearance. It took a VAR pitchside review but the overturn came as no surprise. That apart, the Turk added some much needed aerial presence defending his own box. Plus some eye-catching runs with the ball from his own defensive territory.
Gibson, as Farke pointed out following his recent demotion from the side, is the best centre back he has worked with at bringing the ball out of defence.
It feels like there is a little something of everything required in what looks at this stage Farke’s best trio of centre backs. But it is up to them to deliver.
4. Wing and a prayer
There may be a red herring in focusing on the debate around whether Norwich deploy a defensive three.
Farke himself highlighted one key aspect last week of any switch to that formation – namely the three does not become a five pinned inside their own defensive third. There was evidence of the former in the first half, with Brandon Williams and Max Aarons unable to offer that attacking thrust and vital width to get out. Not so in the second period.
One presumes Farke and his coaching staff had urged the youngsters to be more progressive in their starting positions, and in their intent.
Aarons squared up Lucas Digne and snapped into tackles on the halfway line to turn home attacks in visiting counters.
Williams showed an impressive burst of speed to leave Ben Godfrey trailing in his slipstream. Not only did it provide an outlet for City’s central midfield to escape the press, it also offered more support to the likes of Teemu Pukki and Josh Sargent.
It may take time for both to adapt to the dual demands of the role, if Farke opts to persist with this formation. But there was a promise in the second half and something to build on.
5. Changing man Farke
The Rashica/Tzolis double change was a bold move with Norwich firmly in the ascendancy and some audible groans from the home fans.
McLean’s error to prompt Everton’s match-sealing second perhaps rendered the attacking substitutions largely academic in the time that remained.
But it underlined again, allied to retaining a change of shape and more changes of personnel, the City boss is not blindly trying to follow the same path.
It remains short of what is required. Norwich is now the only professional club in England and Scotland without a point. They have prolonged their worst ever league start to a season. Those are damning statistics no amount of angst over another VAR call or another individual mistake can mask.
Until the German is able to deliver a seam of results every decision and every word he utters will continue to be scrutinised. It comes with the territory.