Uncompromising Norwich and disproving the theory of ‘stepping up’
There are always taking points and potential issues to dissect at the start of a new league season. Questions to be asked, prospects to look at, expectations to be developed; that’s basically the leg on which every season preview piece stands. And at the start of the Premier League season, there were questions unsurprisingly directed at Norwich City.
How would the Championship champions cope after making the step up? They thrilled last season, but would Daniel Farke have to compromise his side’s style for the holy grail of ‘survival’? Would Teemu Pukki do as well as he did in the second-tier? Farke himself has continued to trash talk the notion that his team would have to sacrifice some of their flair and fun for the glory of 17th place in the top-flight.
And the Canaries have followed their manager’s words in action; they began their season with a 4-1 defeat at Anfield, but despite their defensive frailties, they looked a threat throughout against Liverpool, and that 4-1 could easily have been 4-3 or 4-4 (although it could have been a 6-1 loss as well). Pukki bagged his side’s only goal on the opening night of the campaign, and the Finn followed that up with a hat-trick against Newcastle a week after. After that result came a rather unlucky 3-2 defeat at home to Chelsea, the tame defeat at West Ham, before this weekend’s big hit against champions Manchester City.
It wasn’t just that Norwich saw off the champions at Carrow Road. It wasn’t that Farke’s side did so with 11 players – including their defensive and midfield pairings – out injured. Or that this was against a side to whom they’d conceded nine times in their previous four meetings (and two of those were goalless draws). It was that Norwich didn’t compromise their style. That they didn’t sit back and hope for a miracle or three.
It was the fact that they pressed Manchester City into chaos, the fact that the two goals they conceded seemed generous to their visitors, and that at some point, they even bossed possession. Pep Guardiola’s City team have lost games before, although they come at a premium (this was only a third defeat of this year, and a tenth since the start of 2018), but rarely have they looked so rattled, so disorganised, and they’ve arguably never looked as listless. ‘It was a thoroughly deserved three points and one we knew we were capable of against unbelievable opposition’, said Kenny McLean, who headed in Norwich’s first goal, told the club’s official website. ‘We know how good we are in that changing room…’
You could point out that this was more of a Man City meltdown, and perhaps with some reason, City still had more shots, would point out that Nicolas Otamendi error, and were one goal away from salvaging a point despite looking quite hapless. But focusing on just that would be trying to take the deserved gloss away from Norwich. That Otamendi error stemmed from the Canaries pressing high, something City haven’t faced that much, while you’d expect City to have more shots – and those are basically stats, anywhere.
This result came from Norwich staying true to themselves, not starting with banks of four, and sitting back until they inevitably conceded on the half-hour mark. This was them dispelling the (sometimes absurd) talk of how teams that get promoted have to compromise to stay up; as if the point of football isn’t about enjoying and feeling it; as if survival in the money-laden Premier League is the sole point of the game.
And perhaps no one currently typifies the East Anglian team like Pukki. Signed on a free last season, Pukki’s previous in British football had been that less-than-pleasant spell with Celtic in Scotland, and even when he bagged 29 goals last term, there was talk of how whether he could make the ‘step up’ in the top-tier. Six goals and two assists may well have put such notions to bed (though there are still eight months left for the season to run), and he was in the groove against City. A calm and composed finish under pressure followed his assist for Norwich’s second, a delightful pass to Todd Cantwell after 27 minutes.
Many would point out that this is a bit premature (wilfully ignoring that their own reservations were made even before a ball had been kicked this season), and not without reason. We’re still just two months into the season, and a lot will happen. Pukki’s goals may dry up, and Norwich may well go down. But that’s completely fine; sometimes it’s simply about enjoying things as they are and not worrying about whether they’ll change. There’s no time like the present, and presently Norwich are making a fist of things. And who doesn’t want to see that?
Treble for Tammy
Another player who’s garnered scepticism about stepping up has been Tammy Abraham, who’s leading the line for Chelsea. The worry has been whether he can do for the Blues what he’s been doing in the Championship, and so far, he’s the league’s top scorer with seven goals in four starts. He followed up a double of doubles before the international break with a hat-trick at Wolves this weekend, in a game where the scoring began with an absolute blinder from Fikayo Tomori. For Wolves, the 5-2 defeat leaves them still winless in the league, where they haven’t even led this season.
- After previous weeks of discomfort, it was a welcome return to winning ways, from a Tottenham perspective. Mauricio Pochettino’s hit four past Crystal Palace – all four goals coming in the first half – for their fifth win in 17 league games.
- Some more Roberto Firmino brilliance, despite not scoring, as Liverpool won to stay top. At this point, it happens every weekend now.
- More away day Blues for Everton, who suffered defeat at Bournemouth, as their search for a first away win since March continues. Thanks to a Callum Wilson double, Marco Silva’s side haven’t won at Bournemouth in the league since the Cherries were promoted in 2015.
- An interesting turn of events at Vicarage Road, where Arsenal went from being in cruise control to hanging on for dear life against bottom-of-the-table Watford. The Gunners would hold on for a momentous draw, in Quique Sanchez Flores’ second coming for the Hornets.
Results: Manchester United 1-0 Leicester; Liverpool 3-1 Newcastle; Brighton 1-1 Burnley; Wolves 2-5 Chelsea; Bournemouth 3-1 Everton; Tottenham 4-0 Crystal Palace; Norwich City 3-2 Manchester City; Sheffield United 0-1 Southampton; Watford 2-2 Arsenal
Monday Night Football: Aston Villa v West Ham
Kunle Ajao121 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not