By Norwich City’s standards, this game lacked drama. Some might even brandish it as routine.
Late drama has been rife this season.
Many supporters will have left with a sense of comfortable satisfaction after this game, rather than the ecstasy or pandemonium of snatching a draw or win from against the realms of probability which they’ve managed on numerous occasions.
Given the nature of this season to date, some supporters will revel in the comfort of this victory. If not for their heart rate.
Norwich has been the Late, Late Show specialists of this Championship campaign, with a large percentage of their goals scored coming in the closing embers of fixtures. Yet, this time out, it was the first half whereby Norwich completed their best work by asserting their philosophy effectively but also possessing an abundance of quality in the offensive phases.
Friday’s fixture was all about pace setting ahead of the bulk of games taking place less than 24 hours later, Norwich had the ability to place the pressure firmly at their competitors’ doors.
More than anything, this was a side keen to underline their promotion credentials.
With quality oozing from their first-half display, Norwich was in the ascendency throughout, displaying a performance which firmly told Birmingham to ‘get out of our way’. Commanding and decisive. Impressive considering they are still without key operators through injury.
At the Hawthorns, they struggled to adapt to the intense pressing of West Brom, who were relentless in the way they collectively restricted the space. Birmingham sought to replicate that in the opening exchanges, but City appeared more adept at breaking that press through passing through the thirds and seeking to break the defensive lines of the Blues.
They found numerical advantages mainly due to the formation Birmingham deployed, but Norwich’s quality on the ball located pockets of space which allowed them to attack with such energy and fluidity.
Perhaps more impressive was the contrast in both halves.
The first was about asserting their philosophical approach and gaining control of the game through their possession. From there, it was all about being effective with the ball, using it with care but also ensuring they created chances. This has been a reoccurring characteristic of their play throughout this season.
But it was in the second half where they opted to display a new face, one with an emphasis on pragmatism and game management. This proved timely considering fears from supporters over how many goals have been conceded of late.
They possessed maturity in the way they operated. Ensuring the pendulum didn’t swing in the manner it has previously. Norwich solidified their shape and was safer in possession, albeit at the cost of conceding the ball more frequently.
Once more, they resembled the side which many have marvelled at to date. The cohesion they have is a result of effective practices on the training pitch, Norwich is both a well-balanced and superbly coached team. Each phase of play is meticulously devised to their strengths.
All of this managed without the need of spying. Incredible.
Supporters marvel at the transformation of this side, but the foundations were laid last campaign.
This season has been about the minor improvements which include moving the ball with more pace, possessing two dynamic, young full-backs and sourcing a goal scorer. Once you add self-confidence and togetherness you get a recipe that could lead to success come May.
Whether it be the combination of Marco Steipermann and Teemu Pukki or the addition of Tom Trybull, Norwich possesses quality in abundance.
That aforementioned partnership is blossoming effectively.
Stiepermann has been a miss for the Canaries, mainly due to the physicality he brings to Norwich’s game but also because he aides the defensive shape Norwich retreat into once they lose possession. There is a deceptiveness to the partnership those operators have constructed, Stiepermann often pushes beyond Pukki and acts as the battering ram in offensive phases.
Pukki is an intellectual striker, perhaps more than he is credited for. The nature of his movements in the penalty area is reliant on quick thinking and his pace over short distances. Discredited at points, however, is the manner in which he links the play whilst being a constant threat by occupying the space in front of centre-backs but also beyond them.
People will state his poaching ability is down to possessing a knack of being in the right position at the right time, but it’s not down to luck. It’s quality. Pukki manufactures his positions in the box, recall his goal at QPR where he adjusted his entire body shape to chest the ball into the back of the net. This is not a constant coincidence but a mark of his quality.
Both cost Norwich little in terms of finance, but have developed into integral players for their system. That is their new cultural approach to a tee.
On May 6th, Norwich will pay homage to a true legend, somebody who provided a constant reminder of why football is so joyous to consume. Wes Hoolahan and his talent brought smiles to the faces of punters at Carrow Road in times of darkness and hope.
Replacing him was always going to be impossible, but Emi Buendia is operating with shades of Hoolahan’s style.
Buendia is technically outstanding, without a doubt one of the finest players in this division presently. The manner in which he commits defenders coupled with his improvisation is majestic. Players who operate in this way get fouled constantly, that is a compliment to the way he plays.
Unlike Hoolahan, Buendia has his best years ahead of him.
His potential is frightening, but Farke’s role is patently clear, he must ensure his young operators keep their heads in the clouds but also ensure they remain grounded. There is nobody more capable of producing young talent than Farke at present.
Buendia needs more protection from referees, but he is simply a joy to watch.
Without Alex Tettey, history shows Norwich struggle. Tettey is the one cog of Norwich’s blueprint that there isn’t an obvious replacement for. His role is reliant on positioning and often, supporters notice his impact when he isn’t on the pitch. There was an apprehension surrounding how City would adjust without the Norwegian.
Enter Tom Trybull.
The midfielder was a prominent part of last season’s exploits but has had a watching brief for an extensive period in this season. Trybull’s lack of homegrown status has proved costly to his chances and his performances have dropped considerably compared to those he registered last campaign.
It appears Trybull needs motivation or personal incentive to perform at a high standard.
Last season revolved around his new contract. This time out, it was about proving he is a viable option outright, not simply as a replacement for Tettey. And boy did he.
Trybull isn’t a like for like replacement for Tettey, he lacks the defensive nous of his colleague but is a more mobile operator who can help Norwich’s possession-based game. He added bite to Norwich’s philosophy, breaking up the play successfully whilst shielding Norwich’s young back four with aplomb.
This was a proper show of force from the German, who resembled himself at his very best last season. If this is the Trybull Norwich will have for the remainder of the season, then that could be another pivotal dimension to Norwich’s operations.
Given the crucial period, the Canaries are currently in but also the games on the horizon, this win could prove to be a monumental injection of confidence in the weeks ahead. Ahead of a tough encounter against old nemesis Sheffield United, that could be a factor that provides them with an edge, however faint.
Enduring a minor blip was also going to be a feature of this campaign but it was how they would respond to five fixtures without a win that displays their quality. This was a performance that responded to their doubters, those who have placed Sheffield United in the ascendancy.
Less than twenty games to play, key operators to come back from injury and excitement building, this is an enjoyable period to support Norwich.