Six things from Norwich City’s damaging defeat to Southampton
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Following a disappointing Friday night restart of the season for Norwich City, David Freezer takes a look at six things we learned from the Canaries’ home Premier League loss to Southampton.
1 - Must-win territory already
No, it wasn’t a nightmare. You have woken up on Monday morning and the hope which provided a buzz in the build-up to Friday’s game has quickly subsided.
It almost felt like the start of a new campaign, as thoughts of what could happen during this six weeks wandered towards whether Norwich could defy the odds and pull off a great escape.
Yet after an initially bright opening, you could feel the belief draining from the City players as half-time loomed and the visitors took control.
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Daniel Farke didn’t react and less than 10 minutes into the second half he was forced into changes, as the Saints roared into a 2-0 lead. Fans may not have been allowed in to Carrow Road and it was clearly a surreal match without an atmosphere, but you could still sense the feeling of impending doom.
Followed the next day by Brighton moving out of reach with a late winner against Arsenal and already beating Everton is now an absolute necessity.
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2 - Midfield selection back-fired
The central midfield pairing of Tom Trybull and Kenny McLean won Farke’s heart during a brilliant run of eight consecutive wins last season, after an injury to Alex Tettey.
The duo played a key role in driving City towards the title and it was the pairing which Farke opted to kick-off with at Anfield all the way back in August. Despite some bright sparks, a 4-1 defeat quickly saw that idea shelved.
Yet when injuries forced Tettey into defence in October, it was Trybull and McLean chosen as the midfield engine room again. Damaging 2-0 defeats to Brighton and Watford saw Tettey back into his preferred position as soon as possible.
Both have proven they are capable at this level in fits and spurts, but neither are suited to a fully defensive role and they never looked in control against the Saints.
Just look how far out of position both were for the second goal as evidence, with Trybull’s tackling effort poor for both the first and second.
3 - Chances were there for strikers
Going with a 4-4-2 didn’t work out for Farke either, with City managing just one shot on target.
That’s for only the second time at home this season - with the other being the 1-0 loss to champions-elect Liverpool - and that solitary effort was a weak shot that McLean didn’t connect with.
Josip Drmic put in plenty of effort but is no more of a target man that Teemu Pukki is in truth as they are similar players. There were early signs of life though, when Pukki unselfishly poked a pass to his strike partner, only for a terrible first touch to waste the opening.
Drmic’s angry reaction perhaps gives us a hint at the tension a relegation battle brings for forwards who know that their goals are desperately needed.
Drmic returned the favour at 2-0 but inexplicably Pukki took a touch with the keeper waiting to be tested, having reacted similarly when freed by Todd Cantwell a few minutes earlier - so chances were still there to be had.
4 - Third goal was all too familiar
Unfortunately the final goal was all too familiar, as Emi Buendia lost possession in the opponents’ half and left his defence totally exposed as the Saints countered.
The sight of McLean calling desperately for support as he realised he was the last man with Irish youngster Michael Obafemi steaming through explained the Scot’s furious reaction to Nathan Redmond making it 3-0.
Five players were still upfield and seemingly giving up hope after seeing an attack break down so unnecessarily. Buendia was replaced immediately after Danny Ings read his turn on the ball like a book.
Part of that ambling back to defend in the 79th minute may well have been down to match fitness after three strange months, but the four Saints players who charged forward had all been on from the start.
Relegation battles are not nice environments but on this occasion, with no fans to rev them up, City were feeling sorry for themselves.
5 - Difficult debut for youngster
I felt a bit sorry for debutant Josh Martin, as he was given his first taste of Premier League action and barely saw the ball come anywhere near him.
Perhaps it was just seen as an opportunity for him to get some nerves out of his system ahead of more game time this season, having recently signed a new deal.
Yet at 3-0 down and with his team-mates desperate for the final whistle to blow, coming on for Drmic in the 89th minute was hardly the moment the 18-year-old had dreamed of.
It reminded me of Josh Murphy, who had initially played in the League Cup and had scored on his debut at Watford, only to then be brought on at half-time by Chris Hughton with Norwich trailing 4-0 at Manchester City - in a 7-0 top-flight loss.
Martin will be hoping his next taste of action will come in better circumstances, with Southampton making all five of their changes in the last eight minutes of normal time to totally kill the game off.
6 - Positive changes needed
So where do the Canaries go from here then?
Everton at home on Wednesday is now a must-win match to have any chance of keeping this season interesting. That’s not even necessarily about survival. It would keep them just about in the hunt if results elsewhere aren’t too bad, of course, but it could also help to ensure there isn’t too much damage done to Farke’s overall project at City.
Mario Vrancic did at least have the ball in the net, before realising he was comfortably offside, and if he’s not next to Alex Tettey in midfield then it really should be Mo Leitner getting a chance to reemerge.
Ondrej Duda or even Marco Stiepermann in support of Pukki in a 4-2-3-1 would be my preference, with full-backs encouraged to be just a little more pragmatic - as Timm Klose and Ben Godfrey were being left very exposed.
If this is like a play-off series, then the final has arrived early. City have to take out their frustration on an away team which will have had 48 hours fewer to prepare.