Norwich City prove that cash doesn’t always have to be king

QPR's expensive and not-yet-fit Chris Samba, left, and Wes Hoolahan, in action during last week's clash at Loftus Road. QPR's expensive and not-yet-fit Chris Samba, left, and Wes Hoolahan, in action during last week's clash at Loftus Road.

Robin Sainty
Friday, February 8, 2013
1:59 PM

According to the Beatles, money can’t buy you love, and judging from events at the weekend it can’t necessarily buy you security from relegation either.

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QPR have reportedly splashed out over £20m on a striker who has already injured himself by kicking a football and may be out for weeks, and a centre back who, by his own admission, is only 40pc fit. With four other players also coming in it seems that they have yet again gone for revolution over evolution and tried to buy their way out of trouble. After all, it’s worked so well for them in previous transfer windows…

Of course, Norwich City’s transfer dealings were the polar opposite with little money changing hands, but two new strikers coming in and Steve Morison leaving the club, creating a vacancy for the position of scapegoat.

Inevitably the debate about whether Celtic’s asking price for Gary Hooper should have been met will rumble on until relegation is mathematically impossible, but my view is that, even had City had the funds to do so, it would have been a huge gamble. The success of the last few years has been predicated on sensible business decisions, not on impetuous rolls of the dice. There is no need to panic.

While criticism of Chris Hughton’s perceived tactical negativity continues, it’s worth pointing out that Saturday was City’s seventh league clean sheet this season. The ratio is now close to one in every three games, as opposed to one in 12 last year. While City’s low strike rate is still a concern, there was always going to be a trade off between exuberant attacking play and the need to shore up a leaking defence.

The current trend is to identify the lone striker formation as the culprit but I don’t think that it is. After all, many Premier League teams use a variation of that system, and it’s not inherently negative as the two holding players are not restricted to sitting deep when City have the ball, with both more than capable of threatening goal.

However, for them to be able to do so it is necessary to retain possession for sustained periods, and it was City’s profligacy in this area that stood out again at Loftus Road. If the ball is given away cheaply, not only do attacking movements stall, but there is also a real danger of getting caught on the break. Not only that, but defensively minded players are less comfortable going forward to join attacks if they are worrying that the ball will be lost and they will have to track back. That’s a confidence thing as much as anything and common after a poor run. However, a more intractable problem is a relative lack of pace on the break.

As Gareth Bale showed with his equaliser at Carrow Road, electric pace can be devastating in turning defence into attack and it’s something that many Premier League sides, including City, currently lack. Of course, genuine pace, like goalscoring ability, is both hard to find and expensive, or at least when matched with touch and composure, but there is no doubt that the lack of it has left Grant Holt rather isolated at times as support has been slow to arrive.

However, unlike QPR, revolution isn’t an option for City at present, so Hughton has had to prioritise the more pressing issues. While that may mean that the excitement levels have dropped this season, City have already secured more points against top six sides than in the whole of last season and have lost only one game against a side currently in the bottom six, away at Newcastle. City’s football may be less attractive to watch this term, but it’s still been highly effective.

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