After the heroics performed at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, the implications of a gruelling 120 minute encounter against the Premier League champions were visible on Saturday.
These players were lauded by all associated with the football club after that performance at Chelsea, and rightly so, the performance personified character and determination. Fine margins decide games in this division and fatigue was undoubtedly a factor in this defeat.
But crucially, not the only factor.
A debate surrounding the merits of a potential cup run can last as long as you wish, yet it played a significant hand in this defeat. Norwich resembled a leggy, lethargic and fatigued outfit against an excellent Sheffield United side gunning for the playoffs.
This was a carbon copy of that game against Derby County after that gruelling and spirited performance at Arsenal. Whilst pinning the defeat solely on the fatigue would be wrong, as a chronic lack of movement and tactical nullification were also key themes in this fixture. This game proved how far away from the top six Norwich currently reside in regards to quality.
Offensively, Norwich lacked imagination.
Without James Maddison firing on all cylinders, Norwich appeared unable to create anything of note until the introduction of Wes Hoolahan. This game graphically underlines how critical it is for Norwich to retain his services beyond this window to ensure this season is ended on a positive position.
This will provide a monumental learning curve for those younger players present in the squad. Jamal Lewis conceded the corner which subsequently led to the opening goal. For him, with a limited amount of experience, this will aid his ongoing development.
Norwich lacked a real output. They required a player full of dynamism and energy to inject some intensity into their play whilst also offering variation in regards to how they offensively influence games. This current crop severely lacks athleticism and a player who poses a constant threat through direct running.
Yet, Sheffield United must be prised thoroughly for their performance at Carrow Road. The visitors were undeniably tactically superior, pressed magnificently and nullified the threat of Maddison, Chris Wilder deserves praise for his tactical plan. They fall second behind Wolves as the best side to visit Carrow Road this season.
United pressed Norwich at the right points.
Wilder was conscious of the effort his counterpart’s side had put into that replay three days previous and he was keen to restrict time on the ball in order to force the Canaries into making poor decisions. Another area whereby the Blades were superior was their dominance over second balls and that proved the starkest difference in that first period. Alex Tettey is the player responsible for shielding the back four and breaking up the rhythm of the opponents play. Tettey, however, was dramatically off the pace and United benefitted as they flooded the midfield and pushed men forward in that first period.
That extra body in Sheffield United’s midfield left Tettey with a forest fire that needed extinguishing and as pleasing as Tettey’s performances have been, he was simply left with too much to do. His partner in crime, Harrison Reed buzzed enthusiastically but this was a sacrifice for defensive positioning at periods.
Hindsight presents the argument that Farke should have rotated the squad.
This game poses the questions, do supporters prefer the memories from those, albeit fruitless, cup encounters or is progression in the league a priority? Admittedly, rotation in the cup or in this fixture doesn’t guarantee a victory here, but it does improve the chances slightly. This division relies on fine margins to win games.
Nelson Oliveira has transformed from unplayable to unfashionable in just a matter of months. Rumours of Oliveira’s attitude are there to be heard, but the striker needs to reaffirm his commitment to the cause as off field antics have taken prevalence over his on field display.
It appears likely the Portuguese striker will be a Norwich player come February and thus he needs to buckle down and rediscover the form which excited his supporters. He continues to look ineffective and his goals have dried up. He desperately requires support.
Sheffield United was critical of Norwich’s gamesmanship at Bramall Lane in September, but Wilder’s side displayed an equal adeptness to that which Wilder publicly challenged in Yorkshire previously. Yet the repeated unwanted attention James Maddison endured across the piece.
They deserve credit for their game management, but Wilder’s stock won’t have risen following overzealous celebrations which were met with hostility from those left in the ground.
For Norwich, this provided a reality check, they are way of the standard required to reach the top six. Yet, a run of form could propel them back into the picture; it’s an unpredictable and relentless division.
What Norwich need to ensure is that this doesn’t become another rut. With incomings likely in the coming week, Farke should have more options to contemplate introducing against Brentford and thus those underperforming and running on empty will be granted a needed rest.