Early sightings suggest this Canary has fire in its belly
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
One week into the season and we’ve already seen the promise and potential pitfalls of this rebuilt Norwich City squad, an impressive league point at Fulham being followed by a Carabao Cup display that included some sumptuous creativity but also some horribly familiar defensive lapses.
With both teams starting with a back three at Craven Cottage there was plenty of space on the wings, and while Yanic Wildschut gave Ryan Sessegnon a torrid time whenever he ran at him, he found himself under a great deal of pressure defensively trying to deal with Floyd Ayite, and it was no surprise that Fulham’s goal came from the winger, albeit via a very fortunate deflection off the heel of an unsuspecting Russell Martin.
With Marley Watkins (twice) and Mario Vrancic having already spurned good chances set up by Wildschut it looked like the same old story for City at their bogey ground as Fulham’s midfield fluidity, which revolves around using Sone Aluko as a false number nine rather than a traditional target man, saw them get into good wide positions without finding the right final ball.
However, Daniel Farke’s switch to a back four made City look more solid defensively, although initially at the cost of losing a little momentum going forward, but after weathering a tricky period early in the second half City started to dominate, only to be let down by more weak finishing before Nelson Oliveira’s classy strike from a magnificent through ball from Wes Hoolahan, the very epitome of an impact sub.
The introduction of Hoolahan also marked the third change of system by Farke, who took off the impressive holding midfielder, Harrison Reed, in order to give the team three creative central midfielders for the final push.
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A point was no more than City deserved and the fans, who’d sung their hearts out all game, predictably celebrated in style, with the away section still chanting Oliveira’s name 15 minutes after the final whistle.
I saw nothing on Saturday to change my opinion that Fulham will be major contenders this season, which makes City’s performance even more impressive, and in Christoph Zimmermann it appears that they have found the dominating central defender that Timm Klose should be at this level, but too often wasn’t last season.
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The towering German won every key challenge and was consistently well positioned to snuff out danger. He could be the find of the season if he can maintain that form.
Of the other debutants, the indefatigable Reed was the pick for me with no one having a particularly poor game, although Vrancic struggled to adjust to the pace of the Championship and sometimes tried to force passes which resulted in City losing possession unnecessarily. However, he looks comfortable on the ball and links well with James Maddison.
Tuesday night’s game was more of a mixed bag, with City veering from some quality attacking play to shoddy defending, including two awful back passes from Vrancic which could easily have resulted in goals.
I’m not a huge fan of zonal marking and both the goals conceded came from mismatches which saw Josh Murphy, Reed and James Husband trying to deal with much bigger opponents.
However, whilst I think that we must accept that with so many defensive personnel and system changes there will inevitably be teething problems, if Tuesday’s errors result in improvements abgainst Sunderland then a negative will quickly become a positive.
The Championship is an endurance test and I’m fairly relaxed about City being some way from their peak at this early stage, as long as they are able to build progressively. Of course, there will be setbacks, but the early signs are that this squad have considerably more fire in their bellies (perhaps a tad too much in one case!) than those of the last couple of seasons and that’s absolutely key to lasting the distance in this most demanding of leagues.