Robin Sainty: Canaries are reaping the benefits of continuity

Todd Cantwell of Norwich and Grant Hanley

Todd Cantwell and Grant Hanley celebrate victory over Cardiff - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

On December 19, Watford sacked Vladimir Ilic, Championship Manager of the Month for November, after just four months in charge, and installed Xisco Munoz as their fifth manager in little over a year.  

Despite a strong squad on paper, they have looked disjointed and lacking in self-belief on the pitch and are losing ground on the top teams. 

Norwich City, on the other hand, continued their imperious progress at the top of the league against Cardiff, playing with total freedom under a manager who both trusts in, and has the trust of, his players. This is not a coincidence. 

Continuity is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in football where the easy answer to a bad spell is invariably to sack the manager, but it’s notable that the clubs that do so on a regular basis seldom prosper and you only have to look at the likes of Nottingham Forest and Derby County to see that. 

How things will work out for Watford is something that only time will tell, but although there is always the risk of a new manager bounce, the fact that Munoz only took training for the first time on Tuesday is hardly ideal preparation for facing the league leaders. 

It used to be the case that when a manager was sacked a faithful club servant would be on hand to hold the fort until a new boss had been selected, but it’s increasingly the case, as here, that the whole coaching unit follows the manager out of the door, leaving players to come to grips with not just a different style of play but also a whole new set of coaches. 

Christoph Zimmermann and Alex Tettey

Christoph Zimmermann and Alex Tettey celebrate victory over Cardiff - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

For Norwich fans after a year that has seen more than its fair share of lows, and not just in footballing terms, it’s a wonderful feeling to spend Christmas with City five points clear at the top of the Championship and seeing more players returning to fitness by the week. 

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Last Saturday looked like a potentially awkward game, with Cardiff coming off a good run and with a fearsome reputation from set-pieces, but despite some profligacy in front of goal, City made their victory look pretty easy. 

That was partly due to the fact that Cardiff appeared to have no plan for scoring other than lumping the ball towards Sean Morrison, a centre half whose defending suggests that he is largely selected for his attacking threat, but the real key was the quality of City’s passing and movement. 

What really impressed me on Saturday was the fluidity of the midfield. With Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell in the side you would expect plenty of positional interchanging, but what really caused Cardiff problems was the fact that Kenny McLean, ostensibly a holding midfielder, was able to get into advanced positions, including coming within a whisker of opening the scoring, and was heavily involved in the build-up to both goals. 

The visitors just had no idea whether to stick or twist when it came to dealing with Buendia. For City’s first goal when they dropped off as he attacked the box, he simply picked his spot and when they tried to crowd him out, he manoeuvred the ball between four converging defenders for Cantwell to score the second. 

Kieran Dowell of Norwich

Kieran Dowell is approaching full fitness - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Both midfielders seem to be nearing top form and what’s going to concern City’s rivals is that Kieran Dowell, who has looked like the quintessential Daniel Farke player in his limited appearances, and who will add significantly to City’s goal threat, is also approaching full fitness and will only strengthen the unit. 

Having been struggling to even name a full bench a few weeks ago Farke will shortly have an embarrassment of riches to choose from and whilst the pandemic has sucked most of the pleasure from what has been a horrible year, he and his team have at least put a smile on all our faces. 

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