Paddy Davitt verdict: The warning light is on for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
You know its bad when the frustration and the anger lingers days after Norwich City’s Championship calamity at Millwall.
Change was demanded by many who felt the Canaries had become stale. Change has been delivered by the custodians of the club. But let us not lose sight of the aim before a ball was kicked this season. There were enough elements retained from Alex Neil’s squad to expect another top eight finish was not beyond Norwich City.
That is a fanciful notion until not only an identity emerges but a template that is residually effective.
If anything, Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber are ahead of schedule in that regard when it comes to developing a DNA. Championship rivals now appear to know exactly how City want to go about the task, and have countered with a high pressing, all-energy, suffocating gameplan that bar the home league win against QPR has overwhelmed a group of young men and a head coach who appear to lack the nous to reply in kind.
Farke has been hamstrung by a debilitating injury list and a concerted attempt, partly driven by financial necessity, to thin out the squad. But such mitigating factors are now rapidly in danger of being used as excuses.
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City look woefully inadequate out of possession and predictable with it. They seemingly lack the physicality or the energy to deal with experienced, battle-hardened operators like Steve Morison. The slavish adherence to zonal marking at set pieces continues to leak goals and clear sights of Angus Gunn’s goal. Either the players are struggling to adapt to Farke’s methods at dead balls or they are simply incapable of grasping what is required. Either way, it is not a recipe for success, merely an ever growing goals deficit.
Farke knows it. He acknowledged it again, without being prompted, as he started to sift through the wreckage at the Den. His dissection of City’s lack of intensity without the ball on the eve of battle was no less thorough, but the messages are not getting through. The drive to overhaul a tired squad and inject some youthful freshness was commendable. But increasingly it lurches towards naivety.
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A vibrant, fluid, easy rhythm on the ball is pleasing on the eye when it works but there is a worrying rigidity to how City set up and the chasm between a harassed defence and midfield was exposed again with relish by Millwall.
Those who travelled again to witness another four goals stuck past Gunn for the second consecutive weekend understand the concept but they need a tangible sign or two of progression. This is every bit as bad as the diabolical defending served up under Neil’s watch last season. But unless Josh Murphy or Nelson Oliveira can conjure something instinctive they do not carry anywhere near the same attacking potency.
Before Norwich can start to win games in the Championship they have to be competitive. Right now, they are a soft touch. Lightweight.
The usual lament when the international breaks appear in a congested fixture calendar is to rue the lost chance to continue gathering momentum. Not this time. Farke and his coaching brains have two weeks free of the incessant drive for league points to clear their heads and come up with some answers. The majority of their squad will remain at Colney. By the time Birmingham visit Carrow Road it is imperative there is visible signals of a refinement to the German’s approach.
City’s squad is not good enough to dominate games at this level with their weight of possession. They have to respect the threat posed by less technically-gifted rivals and match such fury, organisation and defensive resolve.
Progress is a laudable longer term aim but for now City fans want to see a team on the park who do not implode when the pressure comes on, who are not out of games by half-time, who do not stumble along the same path in hope rather than expectation when all the gathering evidence screams they need to adapt.
Yes, these are early days. Yes, it will take time. Yes, Farke and his troops can rely on the support of the home fans when they emerge from this international hiatus against the Blues. But the signs are troubling. There needs to be an acknowledgement and then a reaction.
Perhaps it is understandable City would have to go backwards first to go forwards. But at present they are stuck in reverse.