Connor Southwell’s verdict: City staring relegation in the eye as little miracle hopes fade
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The Premier League’s return was designed to lift the spirits of the nation – but Norwich City supporters will have been left feeling suitably gloomy after their side were well-beaten 3-0 by Southampton at Carrow Road.
There was no match-day buzz and banners covered up the empty seats that left NR1 feeling suppressed.
As kick-off approached, apathy had been replaced by excitement – supporters gathered in front of their television sets in the hope that the Canaries could prove their doubters wrong.
By the final whistle, you could have forgiven any supporter who felt compelled to push the button that turned off the television.
City’s performance was as close as Daniel Farke’s men have been to waving the white flag all season – if Southampton are an example of the quality required to secure a mid-table finish in the top-flight, then City are miles off the standard.
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Farke’s tactical alteration gambled with the risk and accepted that City would need to play through the velocity of the Saints press if they were to emerge from the opening fixture of the restart with a victory.
Tom Trybull’s inclusion over Alex Tettey was geared to connect the thirds in possession – aesthetically and technically the German offers more than the Norwegian, but without Tettey in the side, City lack structure and effectiveness against the ball.
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Southampton profited from the space City allowed, the Canaries were left floundering as the Saints continued to overload and dominate in the transition.
There was social distancing aplenty as Carrow Road reopened for business from a footballing perspective, but the distance between City and the prospect of survival continues to get significantly smaller.
No longer is this a little miracle, it’s now akin to converting water into wine.
Physically, Southampton were fitter. Danny Ings and Michael Obafemi seemed willing to run all day in order to suffocate the Canaries in possession and were adept in triggering the press.
City looked like a side who hadn’t kicked a competitive ball in three months. In possession their efforts were laboured and ineffective. Off it, they didn’t pose the same threat as their visitors.
It isn’t for a lack of trying, but City just don’t possess the quality of their counterparts in this division, nor the ability to seamlessly alter between numerous tactical approaches.
The Canaries raced out of the blocks – displaying energy and a willingness to stamp their mark onto proceedings.
Trybull couldn’t re-adjust his footing to unleash a shot from an early Emi Buendia free-kick – which was as close as City managed and second-half goals, courtesy of some generous defending at times, from Danny Ings, Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond sealed a comfortable win for Saints.
There’s plenty to admire about City’s approach to life in the top flight. After all, promotion had been unexpected. They’ve attempted to break the mould and prove their way can be effective, but the praise culminates there. Fundamentally, City aren’t good enough for the Premier League.
The hierarchy will point towards a lack of squad depth, particularly defensively given they haven’t possessed a full quota of centre-backs for selection in 13 months – a valid reason for their struggles, but City’s head coach must almost absorb a portion of the blame.
City’s tactical approach, one that Farke devised – was too reactionary. The German’s nature is to deploy a system that has been worked on meticulously – but his inability to change tact at key moments within games means City are being cut adrift.
It was a performance that lacked confidence and energy – Southampton possessed a greater level of fitness and quality.
Last night’s fixture began a bold new era for Premier League football – with stadiums closed and balls constantly being disinfected after being cleared into the stands.
But, there was one constant – City’s level of performance.
The season appears to be slipping through their fingers – the ideas seem to be running out. The intensity City displayed in the opening phases weren’t repeated for the rest of the match.
Overloads and a dominance in transition allowed Southampton to tighten their grip – City’s failure to adapt within games and defensive insecurity saw them lose it.
City’s survival hopes are fading quickly – now, it will be about the manner in which they suffer relegation, rather than if.