Six things you might have missed following City’s cruel FA Cup loss to United
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After an agonising loss to Manchester United, David Freezer takes a look at six things you might have missed following Norwich City’s first FA Cup quarter-final in 28 years.
1 - Krul seals his spot as favourite
The restart of this campaign created more than enough uncertainty but there is one thing Norwich City fans can probably be certain of now: that Tim Krul will be voted Player of the Season.
You had to feel for the big Dutchman as he trudged to the dressing room looking thoroughly disappointed after seeing a penalty shoot-out snatched away from him, his area of expertise.
Yet it can’t be forgotten just how many superb saves Krul made. From the denial of Paul Pogba with his feet and of the follow-up from Odion Ighalo, to the miraculous denial of Harry Maguire, it was an inspired display.
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Krul’s consistency has been top drawer this season and he had been recalled by Holland for the first time since 2015 before the season was suspended.
If he lifts the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy he will become the first keeper to do so since Andy Marshall in 2001 and the fifth overall, joining Bryan Gunn, Chris Woods and Kevin Keelan.
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2 - Bodies on the line in fine effort
A new Carrow Road record may well have been set.
Back in August a supremely entertaining game saw City lose 3-2 to Chelsea, with the visitors having 23 shots at goal - the most an opposition side had managed in almost six years.
On Saturday, admittedly with extra-time and with the Canaries down to 10 men, United had a quite ridiculous 36 attempts at goal. Records for such statistics only go back so far but when you add City’s 10 shots to take the overall tally to 46, few games in history in NR1 can have seen so many.
The 5-4 loss to Liverpool in January 2016, for example, that featured just 19 overall.
The key however, against a talented and in-form United squad, was the defensive commitment of City - blocking 15 of those shots. Alex Tettey and Ben Godfrey were responsible for four each, Max Aarons, Lukas Rupp and Tom Trybull three apiece. Added to Krul’s heroics, Daniel Farke’s men got stuck in to this challenge.
3 - City show they’re not beaten yet
Lady Luck was not on City’s side however.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team may have had 66 percent of possession and 12 corners to the hosts’ two, but they were thankful to two bits of kind fortune for the win.
Ighalo’s opener saw Timm Klose inadvertently knock an attempted clearance back towards his own goal and Maguire’s scrappy winner owed a lot to the ball deflecting kindly off Godfrey after Anthony Martial got the slightest of touches on the loose ball.
Indeed, after Cantwell’s brilliant equaliser it was the hosts who looked more likely to win the tie - only for Godfrey to miss the ball by a matter of centimetres in a tackle and Klose taking one for the team by hauling Ighalo down to earn his red card in the 89th minute.
Relegation battles can be like a black hole, slowly sucking the life out of a squad. This was a show of character that proved this Canaries team have not stopped battling yet though.
4 - Change of shape for the better
City might just have found their most balanced formation of 2020.
The 4-5-1 shape allowed Rupp, Tettey and Kenny McLean to build a solid midfield which offered more protection for Cantwell and Emi Buendia when they roamed in search of space to work their magic.
Yet it was a further tweak which moved City into the ascendancy, with Onel Hernandez coming on to the left wing in more of a 4-4-1-1 which allowed Cantwell to bridge the gap to the striker, with Josip Drmic much more involved than Teemu Pukki had been.
Staying solid and strong, conceding an unfortunate goal, and then going for the jugular so nearly paid of. Yet this was against a top side, as will Wednesday at Arsenal.
Mix that solidity and focus on scrapping for every ball with that attacking intensity against Brighton, Watford and West Ham, then maybe all hope is not lost. Farke’s team have performed against the big boys before though, have they learned to battle?
5 - Should we actually be relieved?
Part of me was relieved that City lost on Saturday - if I’m being totally honest.
Going to Wembley for just the fourth FA Cup final in the club’s history but without supporters? I suspect that situation would have left many Canaries fans feeling more upset than excited.
So perhaps Maguire actually did City a favour when he scrambled in that late winner, in spite of how cruel the moment felt after a valiant effort by 10 men to hang on in extra-time when up against Pogba, Martial, Marcus Rashford and other top players.
From our position in the press box at Wembley during the play-off final in 2015 I could see the wall of yellow, the epic day in London of all who were connected to Norwich City. A semi-final behind closed doors would have been horrible.
Here’s another odd quirk for you. City now haven’t won any of their last eight home ties in the FA Cup, since beating Burnley 4-1 in the third round back in 2012.
6 - Other sides fail to take advantage
It’s the hope which kills you, isn’t it.
While City had the dramatic distraction of a first FA Cup quarter-final since 1992, two of their survival rivals were in Premier League action and both fell to home defeats.
Aston Villa lost 1-0 to Wolves on Saturday and Watford 3-1 to Southampton yesterday afternoon. Wins for both would effectively have relegated Norwich but just a tiny bit of hope remains.
Perhaps not at Arsenal, who have bounced back from successive defeats with a 2-0 league win at Southampton and a 2-1 win at Sheffield United in the FA Cup. Returning with a point from the Emirates would still be a good outcome, undoubtedly.
Yet the three games which follow offer one last chance to keep the great escape alive, with home games against Brighton and West Ham either side of a trip to Watford. It still looks highly unlikely but sitting six points from safety, somehow, means City cannot be written off as relegated just yet.