Robin Sainty: Norwich City will face test of resolve against aggressive press tactics
PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 August 2018
I would suggest that Saturday's first half was probably the most impressive and sustained attacking display from City under Daniel Farke.
They were sharp, incisive and full value for their lead, with Moritz Leitner running the game.
However, from there the Canaries were architects of their own demise, starting with Ben Marshall’s dreadful misjudgment of a high ball resulting in a penalty for the visitors when they had previously barely got into City’s box.
While that was a setback it shouldn’t have been too serious as City almost immediately got a spot-kick of their own, only for Jordan Rhodes to make a complete hash of it, and that’s where the game changed.
Instead of going in battered and behind, Albion were able to regroup and came out with a much higher and more vigorous press which produced almost instantaneous results as Alex Tettey attempted to channel the spirit of James Maddison 10 yards outside his own box and surrendered possession.
Even then there seemed to be no immediate danger, but Tim Krul will have nightmares for weeks about how the resulting long-range shot from Jay Rodriguez slipped through his hands.
While the first two goals were down to individual errors the other two were more worrying. Firstly, Ivo Pinto was caught out of position and Timm Klose was slow to react to the danger before three City players got sucked towards the ball leaving an untracked midfield runner to slot home.
Then, despite City having everyone back for a corner, Tettey completely lost Ahmed Hegazi and Hal Robson-Kanu converted his knockdown in front of a statuesque Pinto.
Shades of last season but I think the time to judge the defensive unit will be when everyone is fully fit and available. The continued absence of Jamal Lewis and poor form of James Husband is a problem, Ben Marshall and Felix Passlack look better equipped as wing backs rather than a full-backs, and Grant Hanley is only just getting up to speed.
There will inevitably be some calls for a return to a back three and two holding players, but it would be a shame to see the greater attacking options that the current system provides sacrificed for a more defensive set-up so early in the piece, although with tough games on Saturday and next week, Farke will undoubtedly be tempted to make greater solidity his priority, at least in the short term.
Tuesday’s night game will have done little to concentrate his thinking with a team with 10 changes looking predictably incohesive, and the fact that the introduction of Onel Hernandez, Teemu Pukki and Kenny McLean were needed to put Stevenage away suggests that none of those who started in advanced positions has made much of a case for inclusion today.
The fact that Leitner played most of Tuesday’s game would suggest that he will not be a starter against a Blades team who will undoubtedly be physical, and I suspect that we may see much more of him at Carrow Road than in away games this season.
The question that remains unanswered is whether City are going to be better able to cope with teams who press them aggressively than they were last term and today’s game will be a massive test in that respect.
Only Farke‘s most blinkered critics would dispute that we’ve seen signs of real progress in City’s attacking play this season, but it’s also the case that we have yet to see a similar improvement in defence, although there are, as mentioned earlier, mitigating circumstances.
If he can resolve that issue a more entertaining and successful season awaits, but clearly if City continue to make the sort of unforced errors that have cost them goals in each competitive game this season the isolated rumblings will grow louder. However, let’s not forget that we are just two games into the Championship season!