As the Championship continues to pose Norwich City questions, they are answering them in an emphatic and impressive manner.
Rotherham posed a challenge that would have been difficult to overcome last season, a resilient, compact and organised side looking to come to Carrow Road with the objective of upsetting the odds. Intention from the lower teams in the league can be compact and unambitious, but Rotherham opted to play an altogether different and unconventional role in the opening exchanges.
For the first half, they executed a game plan to perfection.
Considering their league position, Rotherham could have opted to defend deep and seek a draw. They fulfilled the role of antagonists, managing time, winning set pieces and playing some attractive passages at points. Had Ryan Williams strike have kissed the inside of the post and gone in, then the likeliness is that Norwich would have faced a completely different proposition.
Paul Warne is a likeable character; no doubt enhanced by the romanticism of his narrative coupled with the backdrop of his affinity with Norwich. Based on the empirical evidence of this showing, they seem to possess enough to keep their heads above the water this campaign. Norwich fans will wish him and Rotherham well.
If games were concluded at halftime, the statistics reveal Norwich would be laying in 22nd place.
At halftime, the general consensus among those occupying the terraces was this had the potential to be defined as ‘one of those afternoons’. Rotherham deserves credit for a bullish and impressive first-half display, but from there on in, it would be Norwich who was producing the headlines.
The longer Norwich maintain their current position within the league table, the more likely that sides will adjust their philosophical and tactical approach to counteract their style. In terms of compliments, they don’t get bigger than that.
In the first half, Norwich was overplaying in an attempt to shift and manipulate their opponent’s defensive shape.
There was the intricacy commonly associated with this side presently, but they operated with an air of caution. Major protagonists such as Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell were marshalled well. Norwich’s joy was coming from the wide areas, with Max Aarons proving a constant threat throughout.
The first half was one of problem-solving. The ball was being moved into the final third before ending up back at the source before being moved out wide. That said, Norwich was overplaying and in doing so, displaying shades of last seasons football. The comparison is stark. This is a very different Norwich side to the one that graced Carrow Road’s turf a year previous.
Mo Leitner’s omission through injury was felt, Norwich lacked tempo but also the ability to dictate the rhythm of the game. On his day, he is one of the divisions finest and Norwich will be keen to ensure he gets back to full fitness promptly.
Contrast this with the second half and the difference is night and day.
Patience transitioned into confidence, intricacy turned into directness and slow became fast. This was Norwich City at their devastating best, locating space, using the thirds successfully while manipulating their opponents.
When they play as they did in that second period, they are irresistible to consume and irrepressible in their play.
Individual quality is pivotal to unlocking a compact defensive shape; it requires both improvisation and creativity. This time out, that was delivered through Cantwell.
It’s been quite the emergence for Dereham’s finest.
Few would have predicted that Cantwell would be in the matchday squad for his boyhood club, let alone starting on a consistent basis. His journey has been unique, signed by the club at 8, progressing through the age groups culminating in a first senior goal in front of a backdrop of the Barclay.
He’s living the dream of every Norwich supporter.
His inclusion is a credit to the graft of his Head Coach. Many would have used Cantwell’s lack of physicality as a factor against his inclusion, not Farke. He is a coach willing to take risks with younger operators, and Cantwell has been the biggest risk of all the academy graduates currently in City’s starting eleven.
Technically excellent, but some would have favoured an experienced operator over an academy graduate. Even prior to this campaign, there was discussion over whether he’d be sent out on loan again. Instead of previously loaning him to a lower league side where he’d have been physically dominated and fouled, they sent him to Holland, a more technical league thus enhancing his game.
Reaping the benefits of his technical quality, all Cantwell was lacking was a goal. Before Saturday.
The relief was palpable, both etched on Cantwell’s face and for those inside Carrow Road. He became the driving force. After his goal, he appeared to be a foot taller and stronger. Consistency is now key, Cantwell has set his bar, whether or not he sustains it is another question.
Tim Krul has had an indifferent start to life at Norwich City.
Experienced, draped in Premier League and international pedigree, it’s fair to say he arrived with an accompanying fanfare in Norfolk.
He’s made mistakes, that’s undeniable but goalkeepers mistakes are always magnified to a greater extent. Contextualisation is key, he hasn’t played a full season since 2014-15, rustiness was always going to be prevalent within his game.
The mere fact that criticism is being directed at him is a testament of the current climate embracing the club. Improvement will come, but with Norwich’s defence, worrying can be left for now, at least.
Talk of City being under the radar continues, but in terms of inside football, everybody will be conscious of how they play but working out how to stop them is an altogether tougher task. Norwich is dominating sides without reply or methodology of how to stop them asserting their game onto proceedings.
The myth that Norwich don’t have a Plan B under Farke is something that needs to be eradicated from discussion.
Norwich’s alternative plan is to tweak and adapt the original game plan, this fixture provided a glowing example of that fact. Philosophically, Norwich retained the DNA of the original plan, but tactical tweaks are more fluid.
Evidence of this was visible in that second period.
Norwich pushed both Cantwell and Buendia wider in order to expand the defensive shape of Rotherham, providing more space in central areas. Saturday was an example of two contrasting halves from Norwich and how Farke implements those changes.
Nobody predicted Norwich to be at the summit of the division for any period of time prior to this season.
Daniel Farke’s celebration in front of the Barclay captured the sense of excitement and togetherness being constructed with every growing fixture.
This Norwich side has personality and are developing a mutual connection deeper than it has been for numerous years. Carrow Road is responding, bouncing from its foundations, being vocal and colourful in support of this team.
Academy graduates flourishing, bucking the trend in terms of finance and delivering a level of football that could have only been dreamt of in years gone by. This is a special period to be associated with the football club, one drowning in positivity and optimism.
Nay-sayers have become believers, Norwich consistently operates with belief and self-confidence.
That second-half performance was as though they addressed the Millers and informed them to move out of their way. Call it positive arrogance, call it swagger but it’s most definitely ruthless.
Top of the league, developing a five-point gap between the top spot and third and looking value for money. As ever, this is a marathon, not a sprint and nothing is won in December. They will lose games, and when they do, it’ll be intriguing to monitor how they respond.
This is more than a positive run of form, this is a trend. Norwich is an adept side answering constant questions in an array of ways. At halftime, the question was how big their reserve was, they answered and then some.