If Norwich needed any reminding about the potential pitfalls of this cup competition, then they merely needed to cast an eye south of the border.
Those included in Daniel Farke’s starting line up had the opportunity to present a compelling case for inclusion into his thoughts for an intense outing against Sheffield United on Saturday.
Opportunity knocked for numerous academy prospects in Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons and Ben Godfrey, all of whom are hoping for a breakthrough similar to that which Jamal Lewis experienced during last campaign.
However, even the youthful exuberance present in the starting line up couldn’t prevent a laboured and passive opening period for the Canaries.
Stevenage came to Carrow Road with an astute and thoroughly devised game plan. Effectively, they attempted to press as a collective unit whilst holding a high line in order to make the areas which Norwich had to play in restrictive.
Norwich didn’t possess the tools capable of breaking down a well structured Stevenage outfit.
For all of Moritz Leitner’s buzzing and Louis Thompson’s composure, the themes which became frustrating last season were recognisable in this game. The theoretical aspect of Farke’s football is apparent for all to witness, but the practicality of its execution still holds huge question marks for some supporters.
It requires variation in the final third in order to be successful and also footballers who are intelligent off the ball as well as off it.The first half was a struggle. It was paint by numbers football with a lack of punch and connection of the thirds, in truth, it was a team who looked like they’d never played together.
Tonight was merely an exercise centred around providing game time for players who have been on the fringes this far. The lack of cohesion is a result of a lack of collective match fitness that undoubtedly contributed to a lethargic opening period.
The collective frustration at offensive dead ends and emphasis on possession is seemingly as much due to the decisions being undertaken by the players on the pitch as oppose to solely being received as instruction from their coaching team.
Similarly to Saturday’s loss against West Brom, Norwich lacked the game management to successfully retain a lead. The opening goal was expertly crafted by Leitner, but Norwich couldn’t capitalise on that good phase and allowed Stevenage a foothold in the game.
Hernandez and Pukki really feel key to making us tick this season. #ncfc
— Cory (@iwritethings23) August 14, 2018
Although the strike from Ball was stunning, it arrived as a result of self inflicted error made by the home side. Christoph Zimmermann switched off before making a desperate lunge to prevent a goal scoring opportunity.
Another self inflicted episode. Something they desperately need to cut out of their game or it could be season defining.
Kenny McLean’s introduction proved to be the difference. As oppose to being a metronome type of footballer designed to keep the ball ticking over, McLean’s game is based on a longer passing range and energy from box to box.
As oppose to Tom Trybull’s ponderous possessional play, McLean looks to break through the thirds by carrying the ball as oppose to unlocking from deep. His game centres around committing defenders before offloading after creating an overload. It’s clever and similar to the mould of Jonny Howson.
3-1 win in the cup. Could be worse. Might have just been setting off on a long journey home from, oh, I don’t know, Exeter after losing on penalties #ncfc
— ? Ian ? (@Ian_M1) August 14, 2018
There’s much to like about McLean thus far, but he offers something unique that no other City midfielder has; a genuine desire to break through the thirds whilst in possession as oppose to simply shifting of the ball.
Teemu Pukki and Onel Hernandez also possess the ability to be major protagonists for Norwich this season.
Pukki’s natural ability to locate and exploit space makes him a pivotal component for the methodology which Farke is attempting to deploy. In order for Norwich to move the ball effectively through the thirds, they require a connection between the midfield and attack.
Pukki is an intelligent footballer because of the work he does off the ball. He’s not an out and out striker due to his lack of physicality, but what he allows is an option for Norwich to move the ball quicker. If he can create a profitable relationship with Jordan Rhodes, then the profligacy displayed last season won’t become a problem this term.
Onel is everything we wanted Josh Murphy to be. Using his pace to his advantage, taking his man on everytime, winning corners, cutting inside, drawing fouls etc. We got him for a tenth of the price Murphy cost Cardiff #ncfc
— Chris (@CTSNcfc) August 14, 2018
As for Onel Hernandez, he seems to be grasping the mantle vacated by James Maddison following his big money sale to Leicester City in the summer.
Hernandez’ directness, ability to beat players on the inside and outside alongside his raw pace and athleticism make him a constant headache for defenders. His introduction encouraged Stevenage to retreat their defensive high line whilst providing width and a source of creativity for Norwich.
Hernandez displayed glimpses of his quality last season, but without operating in Maddison’s shadow, Hernandez has the opportunity to become a talisman and shine with a prosperous season backed with a comfortable return tally.
The priority was progression through to the next round of this competition and ensuring ammunition wasn’t provided to those awaiting disappointment to criticise the club. It took some getting going, but ultimately the priority was negotiation of the fixture.
Now all eyes turn to newly named ‘Disrespect Derby’ against Sheffield United on Saturday. All thoughts of potential problems arise when uttering that mere mention of that fixture, but for now, they can be swept under the carpet.