Melissa Rudd: ‘Losing could seriously crush morale and tremendously improve theirs’
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There is a crisis of confidence in this Norwich City squad... so what better team to face than the only one beneath you in the table?
If Daniel Farke could choose City's opponents tomorrow night, winless Watford would be top of his list.
The problem with playing the only side faring worse is that losing to them could seriously crush morale and tremendously improve theirs. It's an outcome none of us wants to envisage, but to get a result at Carrow Road, Norwich simply must cut out the defensive errors that led to another defeat on the south coast last weekend.
On recent evidence the Bournemouth clean sheet appears to be a blip. Week after week City are gifting the opposition opportunities to score. Aston Villa, Manchester United and Brighton all had more than 20 attempts at goal. On average, teams have had 6.64 shots on target against Norwich this season. Not only is that the most in the Premier League, it's the most in the entire football league.
It's little wonder Tim Krul is producing outstanding saves most weeks, like he did again on Saturday, and still conceding two or three goals. He deserves more from the players in front of him who at times seem unable to adhere to the basic principles of defending.
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A lot has been said about how Norwich must adhere to the philosophy that got them promoted. That Farke's men are cut out for creative, flowing football, and conceding a few goals is merely a bi-product of the kind of swashbuckling attacking play that blew away the rest of the competition in the Championship.
For the best part of two months now, though, that side of City's game seems to have ebbed away. There has been the odd fleeting moment, a great passage of play that has resulted in a good chance not being taken, or a consolation goal that has like Onel Hernandez's against United.
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But by and large the goals have dried up as City have found chances harder to come by. They failed to register a single shot on target at the AMEX. Teemu Pukki is getting no service, Kenny McLean admitted as much in his brutally honest post-match interview.
The current defensive malaise isn't the result of an all-out attacking approach that is leaving City vulnerable. The truth is they are struggling to find any sort of rhythm at either end of the pitch.
While City's defensive issues have escalated in the absence of last season's leader Christoph Zimmerman, Watford have faced a similar problem in front of goal with talisman Troy Deeney missing since undergoing knee surgery in August. He and team-mate Etienne Capoue both returned to training this week after injury, but it remains to be seen whether they are fit enough for tomorrow night's trip.
The Hornets have scored only six goals all season, though a run of three consecutive draws before defeat to in-form Chelsea last weekend suggests their form is improving.
Few would have predicted them to struggle this season given that since being promoted with Norwich in 2015 they have avoided being dragged in to a serious relegation scrap. Five managerial changes later and Quique Sanchez Flores is back at the helm, the man who guided them to a 13th-placed finish in 2015/16.
The result may be billed as crucial in the fight for survival, but in reality with 78 points still to play for after tomorrow's game it's the effects of the outcome on confidence in both camps that will be a much bigger factor, at least in the short-term.
Two of City's next three fixtures are away against teams directly above them in the table, in Everton and Southampton, while Watford play the latter and Burnley in their next two fixtures. Whoever comes out on top at Carrow Road will be getting a timely confidence boost directly ahead of matches against potential relegation rivals. It will be hard to see past this current slump if it doesn't happen to be Norwich.