Six things you missed from the Canaries Boxing Day defeat to Watford
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
A festive defeat for Norwich City but no need for any soul-searching. Our Canaries correspondent Connor Southwell analyses City's defeat to Watford.
1) Don’t press the panic button
Nobody likes losing.
No player does. No manager does. No supporter does. But the upside is that Norwich City haven’t lost many games this season. This wasn’t a performance that was disastrous and worthy of extensive criticism – it was just a bad day at the office. Everybody in all walks of life has them.
Good teams lose football matches. When players do suffer a dip in performance levels, then others need to be at a level capable of carrying them. That has been the case for a large portion of the opening half of the season; this wasn’t an occasion where that was seen.
In a way, this was a predictable defeat. It was a clash of styles on and off the pitch. Watford’s new manager extracted a further 10pc from his squad whilst the Canaries performed below their usual high threshold in terms of football.
Given the respect they’ve been shown since relegation, a result of this nature was going to come eventually. You can’t have the free-flowing attractive football without the frustrating defeats. In typical football parlance, it will be about displaying a bounce ability that will define them as promotion contenders.
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- 10 'As good as I've seen him!' - City fans laud Cantwell performance
2) An Achilles Heel?
With only QPR and Barnsley to play before the halfway stage of the season, for Norwich City to have only been beaten on four occasions is a testament to their negotiation of a disheartening and dispiriting relegation.
Half of those defeats have arrived against fellow sides relegated from the Premier League in Bournemouth and Watford. Both of those were 1-0 defeats where City were off colour but still dominated in terms of possession.
Those sides, unlike others in the Championship, have the quality to push the Canaries for 90 minutes. They can turn to their bench and bring on full internationals such as Nathanial Chalobah. Their block is reinforced by further quality and that hinders Norwich’s capability of grinding them down.
Equally, Watford have the best home record in the division. Bournemouth will return to the top two should they win their game in hand over Millwall, but both have to come to Carrow Road. Some may look at those defeats and consider the Canaries as flat-track bullies, but they’ve beaten seven teams currently in the top half and drawn at Brentford.
Replicate that over the second half of the season and they will return to the Premier League.
3) Here comes the cavalry
The manner in which Jacob Sorensen and Michael McGovern have deputised has been noble.
In the Dane’s case, this fixture marked 13 games as a makeshift left-back for the Canaries. Considering he hadn’t even played in the position prior to the Brentford draw, he has been a dependable servant.
Teams have begun to target him knowing that he’s operating outside of his comfort zone. Xavi Quintilla’s return will hopefully mean a chance for him to stake his claim as a central midfielder. There was even a whisper of possibility that Tim Krul could return for Tuesday’s game against QPR.
McGovern, despite being shaky with his distribution at Vicarage Road, has silenced the doubters and produced numerous saves worthy of attention. If City do go on to gain promotion from here, then those who played a part during this period deserve respect, gratitude and attention.
When you add the returns of Ben Gibson, Lukas Rupp and Quintilla into the mix, there is suddenly a wealth of options available to Daniel Farke that exposes the embarrassment of riches he has at his disposal this season.
City have ground out results, now they can manage their squad and extract real quality as witnessed against Cardiff City on a more consistent basis in the weeks ahead.
4) Ben 10
Daniel Farke’s triple change that saw Mario Vrancic, Jordan Hugill and Ben Gibson introduced and City change formation to a 3-5-2 did inject a fresh impetus into their attacking efforts.
The Bosnian midfielder added a creative spark to their play, but Gibson was also influential in terms of his progressive passing. Unlike City’s other options, Gibson steps into midfield and can find the creators with incisive passing.
It enables the Canaries willingness to be protagonists in possession and ensures City move away from lateral possession to something more vertical.
He breaks the lines and that helps Buendia and Cantwell in particular to locate pockets of space where they can hurt teams and affect matches. Add in his conventional defensive qualities and he is the Canaries most talented option in that backline.
The pursuit of his services were prolonged but the rewards look seismic. For all the attentions of the goal scorers and chance creators, Gibson looks to be developing into a crucial component of this side providing he can stay fit.
The dilemma for Farke is who Gibson replaces rather than whether or not he comes into the side.
5) Feeling Blue
There’s an easy joke to insert here about teams who wear blue kits being unable to win football matches. But given Norwich City wore it on Boxing Day, perhaps that is one best left in the Christmas cracker.
It was somewhat surreal to be watching a Canaries side in blue taking on an opponent in yellow. It was jarring, even. Daniel Farke said post-match that his side's attacking efforts lacked intensity. It’s a real shame they couldn’t utilise the ‘petrol’ and turn it into real fuel.
The reality is that City are yet to record a win in any of their alternate colours this season. The most joy that the blue shirt has managed was a 1-1 draw at Brentford. If there is a lesson to be taken from this defeat to Watford, it is that, unless absolute necessary, the blue away kit should be packed away and never seen again.
Tradition hasn’t been too evident during this festive season, but it really is best when it comes to football shirts.
6) Stars not shining
There are usually three Canaries players you can depend upon to perform in the vast majority of Championship matches – Max Aarons, Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia.
In the second half, the Argentine misplaced a pass under no pressure, if there was ever a graphic illustration more conclusive in terms of the direction of travel for this game, it was that. Even for Aarons, whose City career has been a revelation, failed to hit his high standards.
Touches were sloppy, passes misplaced and wrong decisions dominated.
When those three are on form, the Canaries win football matches. This was one of those once in a blue moon evening’s where all three failed to find their rhythm. Watford do deserve credit for that also, something that can be overlooked in the tribal world of contemporary football.
Xisco Munoz didn’t opt for vast changes but subtle tweaks that built upon Vladimir Ivic’s defensive foundations. He was a beacon of positivity throughout the game, his hands would have required some ointment post-match due to him constantly thrashing them together as his players won tackles, headers and completed passes throughout.
He extracted the extra few percentages required to win the football match. One of his shouts resonated more than others, when in the first half he barked ‘Buendia in the middle’ relentlessly at his defenders.
They nullified his threat and defended their way to victory. There was no Panic at the Xisco.