Melissa Rudd: Too many players who weren’t carrying knocks failed to do the basics
- Credit: PA
When Jack Grealish slotted home Aston Villa’s third goal less than five minutes into the second half on Saturday, it laid bare Norwich City’s shortcomings more than any other.
Not only was his first-time finish from the penalty spot unchallenged, his view of Michael McGovern's goal was unrestricted. There were no yellow shirts sliding in his path to try and block the shot, none even making a desperate last-ditch attempt to put their body in the way to narrow the angle.
That wasn't due to a lack of effort, it was because City's central defence had been split by a simple one-two that many of us in the stands could see coming after Grealish had made his way to the edge of the penalty area without having to ride a tackle. It highlighted the lack of bite in midfield more than any other passage of play.
Positionally, Norwich were abysmal for four of the five goals, but this was particularly painful to watch given it came minutes after half-time and killed the match as a contest. It was clear the City players knew that too.
This squad, of course, has been stretched to the bare bones, decimated by injuries to players both absent and in the starting XI as Daniel Farke admitted post-match that several had to be dosed up on painkillers to even get through 90 minutes.
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That may be a reasonable excuse for such a poor display, but it can't be used to shrug off all of the inadequacies that were exposed time and again on Saturday. Too many players who weren't carrying knocks failed to do the basics. Pressing high and keeping possession have been staples of the so-called Farke way. There was no evidence it existed on Saturday.
The fact remains that Villa thrashed City 5-1, but didn't have to work particularly hard for it. That hurts far more than the actual scoreline.
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A central midfield trio of Moritz Leitner, Kenny McLean and in front of them Marco Steipermann are averaging half the amount of tackles per match than Villa's John McGinn, Marvelous Nakamba and Grealish. That was shockingly evident at Carrow Road as the visitors bypassed City's midfield with ease.
Since Alex Tettey went off injured after 13 minutes at Burnley, Leitner and McLean have been partnered together to form the pivot of the Norwich midfield. It's obvious why Farke hasn't done so before. Without a ball winner, Norwich are not turning over possession like they had done so well against Newcastle and Manchester City, and an inexperienced back four is left vulnerable. Some players have their reputations enhanced more through their absence, at the moment Tettey and Tom Trybull are two examples. Swapping either McLean or Leitner for one of them won't be a magic tonic to stop this City side shipping goals, however. They have to improve defensively as a collective unit.
It is no surprise Norwich have the worst defence in the Premier League given they have conceded more shots than any other team - an average of 18 per game - and rank in the bottom six for the number of interceptions, tackles and fouls. The latter may not seem a bad thing, but it does make you wonder if City should be, for want of a better phrase, getting stuck into teams a little bit more.
No one could have foreseen the amount of injuries Farke has had to juggle so early on, but even before a ball was kicked there were still significant question marks over City's centre halves given that both Timm Klose's and Grant Hanley's careers at the club had been blighted by injury.
Failing to bring in another recognised centre-back has left the head coach having to deploy Ibrahim Amadou, who is primarily a defensive midfielder, in that position. He is the obvious candidate to add more physicality to Norwich's midfield, yet while Zimmerman is out Farke has little choice.
You have to hope Norwich's dreadful luck with injuries will improve. For the most part, that is beyond their control. Their defensive record, however, is something they are capable of changing. They simply have to if they are to survive.