Experience counts now at Norwich City – for all sorts of reasons
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One of the most difficult things about writing about a performance as poor as that at Millwall is trying to strike a balance between objectivity and the sheer frustration and embarrassment that we felt in the away end.
With all due respects to Millwall, they are a limited side who play to their strengths but ultimately they crushed a City team that once again had the lion’s share of possession but, after a promising start, did very little with it.
For me the problems started before the game with the team selection. Going into a game at the New Den with three attacking midfielders and a single holding player seemed to be asking for trouble, and if ever there was a game that cried out for another holding midfielder to sit in alongside Harrison Reed this was surely it.
I would also question whether Mario Vrancic and James Maddison can both be accommodated in the same side away from home when Wes Hoolahan is also involved, as they both perform the same function of picking the ball up deep and looking to link up play, and leaving one out would allow an extra holding player to be utilised.
It was a harsh lesson for Daniel Farke to learn, but teams around the division will have noted how lightweight City were on Saturday when faced with a physical approach and there will be plenty of strikers marking how much Steve Morison dominated City’s defenders, making the omission of their most physically imposing centre back, Christoph Zimmermann, all the more difficult to understand.
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The ease with which Morison beat Marcel Franke to knock the ball down to Lee Gregory for Millwall’s opener set the tone for what was to come, but quite how one simple flick-on can be allowed to find a totally unmarked attacker eight yards from goal will be one for the Colney post mortem, with City’s central defenders barely within waving distance of each other.
Worryingly, City also once again conceded as a result of a player picking the ball up some way out and being allowed to run unchallenged into the box, with Vrancic simply abandoning his pursuit, while the fourth goal illustrated how much the side are struggling to get to grips with the zonal marking system which Farke, like many continental coaches, clearly favours.
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The big problem with the system is that the defenders are basically static and therefore if someone is allowed an unblocked run from a deeper position, as Shaun Hutchinson was, he is going to be odds on to win the ball.
Inevitably the nature of defeat, as much as the defeat itself, has generated a huge amount of negativity, with the quality of the players and the ability of the manager to adapt to football in this country already being brought into question.
While it’s perfectly reasonable that people have those concerns I don’t think that any sort of definitive answer can be expected after five league games, and a bad defeat doesn’t suddenly mean that the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater.
Most commentators have regularly pointed out that there would be setbacks and Saturday was a particularly brutal one, and surely must result in some changes to how the team is set up away from home, but City’s course is irrevocably set and Farke and his assistants must find a way to make it work.
The fact that the club adjusted its plans to bring in Grant Hanley as a direct result of Saturday’s performance suggests that the message has been received, but the imminent return of Timm Klose may prove even more pivotal for a central defence that has sorely lacked Championship experience until now.
If greater defensive presence can be linked to a midfield formation that strikes a more equal balance between creativity and steel there is no reason why performances and results can’t improve quickly.