Norwich City’s buccaneering football was a proverbial breath of fresh air last season.
Set up home or away in a 4-2-3-1 regardless of opposition, designed to get the best out of the twinkling feet and vision of Emi Buendia, they religiously played out from the back and pushed their full-backs up high. They were brave, pleasing on the eye, and most importantly of all very good at what they did, with their progressive ways securing them the Championship title.
Their final haul of 94 points was a testament to the Canaries’ methodology but even in their finest hour however the league table highlighted doubts as to the logic in continuing with their high-wire act when coming up against lethal Premier League attackers. Granted Norwich scored a highly impressive 93 goals throughout the campaign but they also shipped in 57, the fourth worst concession rate in the Championship’s top ten. Surely, now that the promised land had been reached a compromise or two would be necessary or they would be torn to shreds?
Not so, according to their head coach Daniel Farke who spoke on the matter immediately after seeing his side lift their hard-earned trophy: “We can’t stay in the Premier League just with individual quality and signing unbelievably expensive players. We have to stay in the Premier League with our identity, philosophy, work ethic and principles and we will 100% stick to our plans.”
If alarm bells rang at that point, they were more than justified. It seemed that the 43-year-old German believed that their open and attacking principles was of equal importance to the players and as we have all witnessed many times down the years, that is an ideal that can quickly prove extremely costly in the unforgiving climes of the top flight. Unless of course you have individual quality and unbelievably expensive players.
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Their opening test against the bigger boys was a doozy: away at Anfield against a ravenous Liverpool and though Norwich’s display led to an impressive 12 shots being carved out they were duly – and predictably – dispensed with 4-1. It was all told a ‘tough lesson’ for the newbies but again Farke was resolute: “We have to stick to our beliefs,” he said post-drubbing. “I want us to be brave and go out and play like it’s playing football with mates.”
In the 21 games that have followed the Canaries have certainly done that; making them one of the most attractive and interesting teams to watch this term. Their approach has resulted in some memorable afternoons, most notably an early 3-1 win over Newcastle and a stunning defeat of Manchester City.
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The problem is that it has additionally left them rock bottom with 13 losses to this point and although there has been an uplift in results recently, recording back-to-back home draws against Spurs and Crystal Palace, it is difficult to see them even competing to survive the drop unless they tighten up fast at the back. Even those two points gained saw three goals go the other way.
At home to Aston Villa in October they afforded the visitors a staggering 22 sights of their goal while away to Brighton a month later 21 shots rained in against an over-exposed Tim Krul. Both teams can be viewed as relegation rivals.
Overall Norwich have conceded 41 goals in 21 and that seriously concerns. It is a near two-in-one ratio that could end up almost equalling Huddersfield’s woeful tally from last season should it continue and the undeniable truth is that it will continue unless changes are made.
“The most important thing is you stick to your central principles because you can’t be one day like this and then other days like that – like a flag in the wind,” Farke said back in November.
You can – it’s called tactical flexibility. And at this point, Farke doesn’t really have a choice but to go back on those words if Norwich are to survive.