A week that has provided fresh impetus for Norwich City fansWhen we finally get to look back on this season of change I suspect that this last week may prove to be a significant staging post on the journey towards a new-look Norwich City.
Despite expectations that the January transfer window would be quiet at Carrow Road, it seems that the dismantlement of the old squad and its crippling wage bill has accelerated, even if some of the outgoings are only on loan, and the ground has been cleared for a younger, hungrier group of players.
While the squad was at its most threadbare last Saturday, the arrivals of Onel Hernandez, Moritz Leitner and Dennis Srbeny this week have both provided reinforcements and generated new fan interest as we await to see how they adapt to Championship football
Realistically, I also think that last Saturday was the final conclusive proof that, while Daniel Farke’s team are developing, they are realistic play-off contenders this season, and that the priority now should be to use this window and the one in the summer to build a squad that can mount a genuine challenge next season.
The fact is that when everyone is fit City can beat anyone, but the squad has lacked the strength in depth necessary to cope with the inevitable injuries that the Championship helter skelter brings.
That is particularly true in midfield where City’s performance seems to hinge on which defensive midfielders are available. Tom Trybull and Alex Tettey have been the most effective pairing, but on Saturday the partnership of Tettey and Harrison Reed was a major factor in City’s under-performance.
Neither is an incisive passer, and both prefer to sit just in front of the back four, and as a result there was too large a gap between them and City’s attacking players, space that Sheffield United made full use of to take control of the opening half hour.
While I admire Reed’s work rate, for me he flatters to deceive on the ball by completing lots of short passes that take the team nowhere and encourage opponents to press higher up the pitch.
Compared to the games at Bristol and Chelsea, City lacked the ability of Mario Vrancic to keep the ball moving and put some impetus into their attacks and as a result were once again much too slow in getting the ball forward.
It didn’t help that James Maddison had his least effective game for some time, and it was perhaps a salutary reminder after he has been hyped to the heavens that he is only just 21 and playing his first Championship season. He looks jaded, and why wouldn’t he?
City’s other young star, Jamal Lewis, will also have learnt a valuable lesson from the needless concession of the corner that led to United’s opener. However good you may be on the ball there are some situations where Row Z is the best option rather than trying to play in the wrong areas. That said, Alex Tettey’s gaffe for the decisive second goal showed that experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee good decision making.
In fairness to Sheffield United, they had a good game plan and executed it perfectly. Maddison was buffeted by whichever United player was on hand, and they were abetted by a weak referee who took way too long to cotton on to what was happening, but they started on the front foot knowing that getting the first goal would be vital against a tired side.
They may lack flair, but they’re organised and committed and fully deserved their win.
It was a bad end to their latest unbeaten run, but City must pick themselves up and dust themselves down because today’s game against an in-form Brentford team will be just as tough. However, if they can reproduce the grit shown at Ashton Gate and Stamford Bridge there is no reason why they can’t produce a result.