Robin Sainty: Norwich City’s ‘final’ day... let’s just get it over with
- Credit: PA
So, just the one game to go. Unfortunately, it’s against probably the most potent attacking force in the Premier League, City’s most creative player is suspended, their best striker can’t buy a goal and they’ve got one fully-fit centre-back. What could possibly go wrong?
For over half an hour against Burnley, City actually looked pretty decent, but after Emi Buendia’s stupid act of petulance, closely followed by the ultimate forward’s tackle by Josip Drmic, I expected a massacre.
The fact that it didn’t materialise does huge credit to the nine remaining players in yellow and green, but there can be no excuse for the two who left them in the lurch.
Buendia is a hugely gifted player, but unless he controls his temperament he will never reach the levels that his ability promises. This is not the first time he’s got himself sent off needlessly, and his tendency to take matters into his own hands when he feels wronged is something that he has to overcome.
Drmic is an experienced international and should know that diving into tackles, particularly against a team as streetwise as Burnley, is asking for trouble, although he, like me, will no doubt have wondered why an almost identical challenge by Paul Pogba in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, warranted only a yellow card.
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Burnley have done a remarkable job of solidifying their place in the Premier League and have done so by being the very antithesis of all that City stand for under Daniel Farke.
They are intensely physical and their defenders in particular make a point of following through the player when making aerial challenges in the centre of the park. They are very adept at the dark arts as the theatrical overreaction to contact in both sending off incidents demonstrated, which is ironic given the following comment from Sean Dyche in August: “The game’s in a really poor state for people just literally falling on the floor.”
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Clearly it’s not a bad thing if perpetrated by his own players.
Burnley’s tactical approach is very simple. They field an array of ball winners and a couple of big strikers and get the ball into the box whenever possible. It’s ugly and it’s tedious but it works, and they have found a formula that has allowed them to become a Premier League fixture.
Would I want to watch that sort of football every week? Absolutely not, but credit where credit’s due, they have identified their strengths and play to them relentlessly.
In comparison, City have become obsessed with finding the perfect pass in and around the opponents’ box. Shortly before Buendia’s dismissal, Jamal Lewis received the ball in full stride level with the edge of the Burnley box, but rather than attacking the byline and fizzing the ball across the face of goal as defenders struggled to get back into position, he checked back and initiated a sequence of eight sideways passes from one side of the field to the other, by which point the visitors had men back in numbers.
One of the reasons that Onel Hernandez has looked impressive since the restart is that he is at least prepared to try to commit defenders, but that has become something of a rarity in a team that is manifestly lacking in self-belief.
The last few weeks have been hard to take, with the only thing left being damage limitation, and the sooner that Sunday’s game is over, hopefully without too much pain, and thoughts can turn to next season the better.
The club are already active in the transfer market and the freshening up of a squad that is likely to bear some significant mental scars is well underway, but with so little time before next season there is an awful lot of work to be done if City are to hit the ground running in the Championship.