Six things you might have missed from Norwich City's defeat to Swansea
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's tough week in the Championship concluded with a disappointing defeat to promotion rivals Swansea. Connor Southwell analyses six things you might have missed from the clash.
1 – A game of fine margins
Crunch promotion clashes are often decided on small margins, and this fixture was no different.
One of Norwich City’s major strengths this season has been how they have managed games. There wasn’t much between the sides, but Tim Krul’s spill and a catalogue of errors for the second ensure Steve Cooper’s side secured a vital three points.
Had Teemu Pukki displayed the predatory instinct he’s become renowned for since arriving at Carrow Road in 2018 in the first half, then this game could have developed differently.
The Swans defensive record placed such an onus on grabbing the game's opening goal, and when Andre Ayew pounced as Krul failed to claim a routine catch, it looked like an uphill battle for Daniel Farke’s men.
Then Gibson’s fierce pass was miscontrolled by Kenny McLean, and Conor Hourihane’s strike from range was pinpoint and deadly.
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City is off colour and watching as their competitors gain confidence and momentum from a string of positive results. The true test of their character is to come, as they seek to respond with victory over Stoke City next week.
2 – Conor Houri-not you again
Every so often, a player appears on the opposing side of the team sheet that provokes fear and is almost certain to find the back of the net.
Conor Hourihane has become one of those players. His goal in this fixture is the seventh of his career against the Canaries.
Admittedly, one of those was a hat-trick during City’s 4-2 defeat to parent club Aston Villa in August 2017, but the only current professional to have netted more goals against the Canaries is a certain Luis Suarez.
The Irish international was a target for City prior to his move to Villa Park in 2017 after leaving Barnsley. Formerly of Ipswich Town, Hourihane has a habit of popping up with a goal against the Canaries.
Hourihane now has three goals in three games for the Welsh club and has added an extra dimension to their play in the view of their boss Steve Cooper. Despite the Swans overperforming their metrics, the on-loan midfielder could inject the additional quality they require to gain promotion.
3 – Don’t write off Przemek
Daniel Farke opted to retain Przemek Placheta in his starting XI despite a clamour for Cuban winger Onel Hernandez to be given the nod after returning from an adductor injury that ruled him out of action for a significant chunk of the season.
The Polish international is yet to showcase the full range of his talent, but there are clearly the raw materials present that could yet be moulded into an exciting winger.
There are elements of his game that require improvement, such as his technical ability in tight spaces and the use of his right foot.
Placheta is still a young man adapting to life in England. Prior to his injury setback, he was beginning to look like he was acclimatising to life in the Championship, albeit slowly.
His pace is terrifying. But he isn’t a player capable of conjuring up a chance from nothing; he needs a more creative presence to feed him the ball into space. By his boss’ own admission, there is more to come from the 22-year-old, and he has time on his side.
4 – Three is the magic number
There is a big difference between being aware of Norwich’s qualities and possessing the quality to halt them.
In the first half of the season, it seemed as though very few sides had a remedy to prevent the Canaries eventually finding a breakthrough. In the last three league matches, City have encountered sides with a coherent game plan that has proved successful.
The similarity between those sides is the decision to deploy a three at the back-formation. For Middlesbrough, that allowed Darnell Fisher and Marc Bola to abandon their conventional positions to shadow Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell with success.
For Swansea, it enabled a solid defensive shape and ball progression through their impressive wing-backs.
What it does is allows opponents to form an even tighter defensive block. The spaces become even fewer and far between, and City are shackled in what they can create. An emphasis is then placed on working the ball into wide positions, with space presenting itself if the opposing side can turnover the ball and break with purpose.
For City, it is risk versus reward, but they are being nullified from an offensive sense. Fortunately for Farke and his side, their creator in chief Buendia returns from suspension next weekend.
5 – Out of rhythm
When Norwich City had an endless list of injuries, they managed to produce results against all the odds.
Even with a virus-suffering Marco Stiepermann leading the line as a makeshift striker, they still managed to find a way to overcome their opponents.
Farke has just welcomed a host of injured players back into the fold with open arms, but they are yet to prove their worth on the pitch. Lukas Rupp is still shaking off the rust and is yet to recapture the level that earned him plaudits in the early stages of the season.
Kieran Dowell is yet to show why City have earmarked him as a long-term successor to the troublesome number 10 position, and Adam Idah hasn’t shown a consistent step forward in his development this season, although injuries and Covid have stifled him somewhat.
Admittedly, some leeway must be granted due to the various injuries and illnesses these players have just returned from, but City need them to discover their form if they are to contribute to their promotion push.
It may only be a handful of players, but that can seep into the team more widely and begin to affect performances.
6 – Solutions needed
Much has been made of City’s struggles to create chances, but what are the viable solutions to ensuring they are more productive in the games to come?
Naturally, Emi Buendia adds a much-needed dose of quality, but Farke will be tasked with constructing some alternate remedies to their current toothlessness.
The Canaries must inject some pace into their play in the final third. When confidence is low, the likelihood of players taking risks decreases. If City concede possession, they may be able to make counter-attacking situations count. However, that isn’t something Farke wants to do, so the solution has to come from the individuals.
There is a reason City recruited different options last summer, the buzzword was variation, which was evident in the signings of Jordan Hugill and Przemek Placheta. The former’s injury arrived just as he was beginning to link the play and improve his performances.
One thing is for sure, City and Farke won’t panic. City’s boss will coach his way through their problems and back his side to find the goals again.