Adaptable Norwich City look right at home in the big league
12:05 21 October 2011
Whenever a side wins promotion the first requirement is to be able to adapt to its new environment as quickly as possible.
While this is true with every step up the footballing ladder, different clubs approach the problem in different ways.
One approach is the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” school, epitomised by Blackpool last season, who made few signings and continued to attack with gay abandon while never quite sorting out their defensive frailties.
Another is to bring in experienced players who’ve done it at this level, the approach espoused by Neil Warnock at QPR. While Blackpool crashed and burned, it’s too early to tell how Warnock’s collection of big names and even bigger egos will fare, but that doesn’t really concern me, because all the signs point to the fact that, yet again, Norwich City are finding their feet very quickly in their new surroundings.
Inevitably a lot of praise must go to Paul Lambert for assembling this squad without breaking the bank, and certainly he is the person responsible for our switch from the diamond to 4-4-1-1, but there is more to it than that.
Managers and coaches can have the best plans in the world, but if their players are unable to execute them out on the pitch they will come to nothing.
A huge amount of credit must go to the players for the way in which they have learnt from the early games. Conceding penalties in each of our five opening matches betrayed some dangerous lapses of concentration, and also a certain degree of naivety in when to challenge, given the propensity of Premier League forwards to hit the deck at the slightest contact. However, in the last few games we have been noticeably more circumspect without being any less secure.
That’s one key lesson learned, and Saturday showed that we had also mastered another.
Most of our games so far have been played at high tempo, testing the endurance of players and leading to some frenetic finishes.
However, on Saturday we showed that we can kill a game by control of possession and slowing the pace of the game. For 10 minutes Swansea were chasing shadows while our players conserved their energy and the crowd had the chance to have some fun.
All of this requires great discipline, and you can see it in the way that we set up whenever the opposition has the ball.
As Sir Alex Ferguson pointed out, breaking down two organised banks of four is very difficult, even for the top sides.
While there are inevitable rumblings from the stands when we appear to sit off teams, the simple fact is that there is no need for midfielders to break off and hunt the ball on the halfway line, because that could leave a gap to be exploited.
Much better to let the opposition come to you and then force them to try to pick a way through a forest of bodies in the last third. More often than not they will simply run out of ideas and present you with the ball, as Swansea frequently did on Saturday.
Last season Swansea came to Carrow Road, passed us off the park and would justifiably consider themselves unlucky to lose. On Saturday they simply never looked like winning.
As I said at the start of this column, the key requirement is to be able to adapt to a new environment quickly. What Saturday’s game clearly demonstrated is that City are adapting much more quickly than their visitors.
The question now is how much more can we improve?