Melissa Rudd: Dreadful game for neutrals - but City fans will settle for it
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There is little doubt that Norwich’s goalless draw against Chelsea was a dreadful game for the neutrals tuning in to watch it live on television.
In terms of entertainment, it was hardly a thriller. The scoreline may have been the same as the last time the two teams met for an FA Cup tie at Carrow Road, but unlike that afternoon in 2002 when Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini kept the Premier League side in the game, Willy Caballero didn’t have a save to make on Saturday.
That’s not to detract from what was a very good performance from Norwich, who for the second time this season matched one of the best teams in the country and restricted them to few, if any, clear-cut chances. Antonio Conte may have made nine changes but with a squad as strong as Chelsea’s the term ‘second-string’ takes on quite a different meaning.
It is no mean feat to keep the likes of Willian, Pedro and Michy Batshuayi quiet and while the visitors’ collective performance was definitely underwhelming, City played their part in restricting their threat, especially in a first-half that the home side dominated.
In order to do that, Daniel Farke matched Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation, where Ivo Pinto and Jamal Lewis, who in only his third start for the club put in another assured performance, both looked comfortable playing as wing-backs.
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Saturday’s solid display may well convince the head coach to return to the shape he adopted in the early weeks of this campaign more often.
The gulf between the clubs on paper was no more evident than in the middle of the park, where Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull, who was acquired on a free transfer last summer, held their own against Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko, two recruits who combined cost Chelsea around £75 million.
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Tettey has been something of a revelation for City this season, having had a relatively poor 2016-17 campaign under Alex Neil. Under Farke he seems to relish his responsibility as the most experienced man in the core of midfield and it is not surprising that Norwich’s recent run of seven defeats in 10 games coincided with the Norwegian’s absence through injury.
The statistics speak for themselves so far - Norwich have yet to lose this season when Tettey has started, winning seven matches and drawing two.
Without a recognised striker on the pitch though the Canaries lacked a real focal point up front. Another energetic display by Josh Murphy almost did as much to excite the home fans as it did frustrate. Much to his credit he managed to get himself in great positions but on each occasion failed to deliver with the end product.
City’s toothlessness in front of goal was perhaps forgivable given the class of Saturday’s opposition, but converting promising attacking play into goals has been a problem all season. Nelson Oliveira’s starting place was of course sacrificed for an extra defender on Saturday but the link-up play between the Portuguese frontman and the midfield simply must be improved if Norwich are going to climb the table.
James Maddison’s recent performances garnered national media attention in the build-up to this tie, and it seemed the extra spotlight coupled with the live TV cameras being in attendance caused him to try and do too much on the ball at times.
While he wasn’t outstanding, unfortunately for City fans his competent display wouldn’t have put off any potential buyers. It might be a case of making the most of the 21-year-old while he is still in a yellow shirt.
In truth, neither club wanted a replay, least of all Chelsea who already have two legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final to contest in between weekend Premier League fixtures. For City, the ‘sadness’ that Farke said he was feeling post-match will be because he realises that his team’s best chance of progressing has passed.
Despite the overwhelming sense that the end outcome of this tie is very likely to match that of 16 years ago, no one could argue that Norwich didn’t earn their chance to have another crack at the champions and it feels good to at least be in the hat for the fourth round.