Robin Sainty: It will soon be over, then Norwich City can revisit the blueprint
- Credit: PA
The only positive of Project Restart from the perspective of Norwich City fans is the fact that the relentless schedule of games means that our suffering will be over relatively quickly.
Since the return of football, City have been a tough watch, with the false dawn of a battling FA Cup defeat to Manchester United soon eclipsed by an error-strewn performance at the Emirates in which even the apparently superhuman Tim Krul was culpable.
I don’t think that many of us realistically believed that City would be able to avoid relegation in the post-restart maelstrom of games given the relative thinness of their squad and a mounting injury list, but, equally, none of us would have expected to see them submit so meekly to their fate.
The lack of a significant goal threat combined with the defensive errors that have been a constant throughout the season have made for some grim viewing, and an increasing level of frustration amongst those watching.
Once again against Arsenal we saw how quickly Premier League managers pick up on and exploit weaknesses in their opponents. Against United, Daniel Farke’s revamped midfield with a tight central three giving Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell a licence to get forward in support of Teemu Pukki worked fairly effectively, but Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta had clearly noted the space behind City’s full-backs.
As it turned out, that was exacerbated against the Gunners by the absence of Timm Klose, which meant that the full-backs were required to play much narrower to protect City’s makeshift central defensive pairing, and as a result Arsenal’s wingbacks consistently made late runs into the corners which, when not tracked by Cantwell or Buendia, resulted in plenty of time to pick out a pass or cross.
Ironically, the player who would have been seen as a potential weak link, Alex Tettey playing out of position at centre back, proved to be City’s best performer on the night, but far too many of his team-mates failed to produce the standard required at the top level.
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The fact that Tettey has usually been one of City’s best players at the age of 34 gives a good indication of how City’s young stars have too often failed to live up to the promise of last season on a consistent basis, but they have not been helped by the attempts to strengthen the squad.
When the post-mortem on this season is done it will inevitably focus on the fact that of the seven new first team acquisitions this season only one, Sam Byram, can be considered to have made a significant contribution, with the loan players in particular proving ineffective, with only Ondrej Duda still at the club.
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I have some sympathy for Duda, and particularly Lukas Rupp, who seems to have become something of a scapegoat. It is often the case that January arrivals take longer to find their feet, particularly in a team that is already struggling and low on self-belief, and I can see Rupp being a significant player next season.
The start of his City career is reminiscent of Kenny McLean’s, in that the Scot was far from an instant hit (and still isn’t with some fans) but is clearly a player in whom Farke places a great deal of trust. Like McLean, Rupp is mobile, works hard and shows some good touches, but he clearly lacks confidence at present.
Such players are easy targets for frustrated fans, but another lesson that should be learned from this season is that flair is great to watch, but if it’s not backed by sufficient steel and work rate it can be bullied into anonymity, something that happened occasionally in the Championship but has been all too regular in the Premier League for City.
The principles of the long-term plan remain sound, but clearly some re-evaluation and tweaking will need to be done this summer.