Michael Bailey: More Nelson panto, inevitable Leeds and a futile pairing - Six things learned from City's Elland Road defeat
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A familiar feeling but in any way a better day? MICHAEL BAILEY offers six learnings from Norwich City's 1-0 EFL Championship defeat at Leeds United.
1 – Short on breathing space
There was a lot of criticism flying about on Saturday night. It didn’t tally with the general quality of City’s performance or the context of where they were playing. For that, Norwich City were being slightly hard done by.
Of course, where it was fair was the wider scheme of things. The hope that after a horrible run was snapped at Carrow Road last weekend, the Canaries would conjure up a positive equivalent.
Instead, they were stuck digesting a sixth defeat in nine Championship outings.
While failing to win obviously causes problems, that stat is arguably more of an issue. There have been moments of salvage this season – one of which came quite recently – but there really is too much of a losing habit about Norwich at the moment, and that has to break from here.
In reality, the margins were pretty fine on Saturday against a decent side. It’s the months of failure to earn some breathing space before that, which is suffocating.
2 – It’s all zonal’s fault – or not
City conceded from a set-piece again? It must be that darn zonal marking. They all stand there waiting for the ball, while forwards run on and score. Disgrace!
Only, the free-kick on Saturday that led to Pontus Jansson’s winner never looked like one City were defending zonally – effectively defenders patrolling areas rather than man-marking.
And then Daniel Farke suitably confirmed after the game that his side actually switched from zonal to man-marking for the game, specifically to counter Leeds’ set-piece threat.
None of this is to say City’s defending doesn’t merit criticism. However they set up to defend, they didn’t manage it. Marco Stiepermann lost his man and Jansson headed home.
Reading lost at home to Norwich earlier in the season after making the same defensive switch, and Jaap Stam’s face said he regretted it. Extending the logic, Farke may well feel likewise.
3 – Time is both friend and foe
Last week it was the arrival. The first time Alex Pritchard and James Maddison started together this season. And it was great. The prospect of the pair earned plenty of column inches.
Both had a golden chance to score at Leeds. Neither could take it. But at times there were also signs that it’s not going to be as simple as sticking the two players in the XI and bang.
It was always going to take a little bit of time, and that’s great of course – except when you consider the reality of where Norwich are. How their hopes of promotion are already hanging by a thread. And how that makes the prospect of the pair having any affect on the Canaries’ progress beyond the summer, nothing but a pipe dream.
It sticks in the throat and dampens the joy of seeing them combine now. It’s no wonder City’s current plight isn’t being met by gratitude.
Taking time has worked for Mario Vrancic however. He looked much improved again at Leeds, and that bodes well.
4 – Nelson can add Leeds to the list
We’re now almost halfway through the season and when you start to look back, you just wonder if it’s been something of Nelson Oliveira soap opera. Plot twists at every turn.
First weekend out we had ‘The Fulham episode’, when playing for the name on the front of your shirt was duly noted as more important than the one on your back.
From thigh to groin, teeth, Ipswich and the selfish streak that arguably cost City their best shot at victory in Cardiff – we can now add the latest chapter.
Oliveira’s plummet to the Elland Road turf after a late clash with Jansson posed a serious question of Darren England, and the referee dealt with it well: yellows all round and plenty of stick from the Leeds fans, who got hold of the footage on social media after the game.
It caught more attention than the wonderful flick that sent James Maddison through on goal. Sadly, that kind of sums up the season Oliveira is having.
5 – Few get as angsty as Elland Road
We all think Carrow Road can be a tough place to play if the home fans aren’t happy – and that’s true. But the level is upped at Elland Road.
The attendance was more than 30,000 again – and given the grumbles and groans from most, it seemed they didn’t think their side played particularly well. City can take some credit for that.
Thomas Christiansen’s late switches may have invited Norwich on as they pressed for an equaliser – the home fans didn’t like that either. Yet the win ensured everyone had made up and Jansson’s lap of honour had those supporters who were left purring.
It’s inevitable. The weight of the club in current terms – fan base, attraction to players and now seemingly much-improved management of the club as a whole – means Leeds will end up back in the top flight one day.
The knack of winning a game like Saturday will help their cause too, even if this season may still prove too soon for it to happen.
6 – City only have one option now
So as we know, there is no breathing space. And as we predicted, things are about to get edgy.
There are plenty of Norwich City supporters out there who fear for their club. They question whether the turn taken at the end of last season is the right one.
They don’t feel the current ownership can make the Canaries competitive without parachute payments.
The next four games won’t alter the issues for those already convinced of their beliefs – but they may well go a long way to preventing more joining their cause. And all on the eve of season ticket renewals too.
Brentford were spanked 5-0 at Carrow Road last season, and currently sit above City in the table. Birmingham are a royal mess with Steve Cotterill already under huge pressure. Norwich head there on Boxing Day before they go to scrappers Burton the following Saturday. Millwall visit on New Year’s Day. Four games, 12 points and a crucial way to end the year.
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