Norwich City rotate but the clich�s stay the same
During anyone’s formative years following football, it is customary to learn the clich�s. It doesn’t matter which manager or player is speaking, nor the club. Those same stock phrases come out easier than Andy d’Urso’s notebook and pen.
At this point I should list a few but given they are renewed every weekend up and down the country, forgive me if I avoid the temptation.
That is, apart from one I remember being particularly favoured by a recent collection of Canaries bosses, Nigel Worthington, Bruce Rioch et al.
“It’s not about the opposition, it is about us and what we do.”
The basic principle makes perfect sense. If you send out 11 players who decide they’re unable to kick a ball for 90 minutes you will lose, no matter who’s involved and the tactics you choose.
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But generally that clich� is a response to team selection, tactics and a plan of attack for whoever is next on the fixture list.
There will be a favoured formation every week, a set of familiar heroes sent out to replicate – or improve on – the job they did last week, as well as fans on the terraces looking forward to seeing if Grant Holt will do the business this time… depending on whether the centre-back is likely to give as good as he gets, or crumble under the pressure.
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It was such at Carrow Road too under Paul Lambert – until August 13. But now we are officially in “let’s see what the opposition have got first” territory – before working out the best plan to try and beat them.
It may be something that settles down once Lambert and the Canaries come to terms with the rigours of the top flight, but it is a startling statistic that Marc Tierney is the only player to have started every top-flight game to date, while flat back fours, lone strikers, diamonds and three centre-backs have all been brought to the table so far.
Criticising this now is irrelevant. It all comes down to results. So far, City have been solid and – maybe West Brom apart – on a decent curve of improvement.
He is unlikely to wax lyrical about it, but from his actions Lambert appears to be a manager loving the Premier League challenge; loving to think an opponent through before trying to solve the problem of beating them – the Championship Manager approach, with a pitch rather than a patch (ask a computer geek).
At Bolton, that problem-solving with assistant Ian Culverhouse worked a treat: targeting the Trotters’ weak points and seeing out the game in a way that suggested City are learning.
It may be squad utilisation rather than squad rotation, but the problems are the same. For some reason, City’s squad feels big – full of players at similar levels, all perfectly capable of providing a threat or doing a job.
Given the management – on the evidence so far – view reserve football as more useful to the club’s youngsters, high tempo training for the likes of Simeon Jackson and Andrew Surman is going to be key. Although I’m sure even a half-fit Simeon would have dispatched what Fernando Torres failed to covert at Old Trafford.
How Norwich will line up on Monday for Sunderland’s visit remains anyone’s guess – if only because Lambert and Culverhouse may still be sorting the details.
Not only will it be a big game against a side I believe will be in the relegation shake-up come May – even with their 4-0 win over a lacklustre Stoke at the weekend – it will remind us of what City are trying to do this season. That is, establishing themselves in the top tier within two seasons of watching Lambert’s second 11 – literally – League One outfit put to the sword by the Black Cats in a 4-1 Carling Cup thrashing.
A Premier League clash under the floodlights – what better way to prove that it may not be about the personnel on the pitch, but it will always be about doing the jobs they are sent out to do.
• If the Premier League relegation mix doesn’t include West Brom and Bolton come April, I’d be surprised. I would add Arsenal, but I’m sure they will benefit from the returns of Wilshere and co – no doubt in time for November 19.
• I figured the new, nasty Norwich would get a rough deal from pundits eventually – but it’s happened without us doing anything particularly harsh. Still, the likes of Lawro and Shearer are doing a good job of providing the motivational speaking.
• I will admit it: I have no idea what constitutes a foul, penalty or red card at the moment. The rules seem to be completely different in the Premier League. Not a clue.
• My favourite quote in years, from Mick McCarthy as he was being prodded by the press to hit back at Joey Barton’s criticism: “Opinions are like backsides – we have all got them but it is not always wise to air them in public.” Brilliant.