Fan column: Norwich City head coach Daniel Farke given plenty to think about after Aston Villa defeat
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
I have made the successful road trip to Villa Park, as a young city supporter on several occasions now, having travelled many miles to watch Norwich City over recent seasons, so I was anticipating an interesting encounter between these two sides.
I have to get across, more importantly, many of these games here, I have left the stadium, disappointed and startled, asking myself each time, the big question, where do Norwich City go from here?
However, as it is just three league games into the season I'm not going to get carried away but there is definitely different components in that display that need to be reviewed and worked upon by Daniel Farke and his coaching team before the next few games ahead, whether it be before the Carabao Cup Tuesday night against Charlton or the standard Championship league programme next Saturday at Millwall.
I hope it is just a very tiny blip and will not stay in the memory of the travelling side for too long. After listening to the QPR match at Carrow Road from the local radio Wednesday night, I thought the positivity and the drive to go on and win the game in that second half would have lifted spirits in the Norwich camp to move further forward today, but it just did not get going.
Having followed Norwich on the opening day of the season at Craven Cottage I was hoping Norwich could continue to grab something here, to please the away support and obviously the management team, from another ground where City have not found it easy for 25 years, without a win, but this never looked like changing anytime soon from the referee, Jeremy Simpson's first whistle this afternoon.
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Aston Villa were under pressure as the home side, after their first victory of the season and as expected, began the match with real intent, pace and aggression in their play as they started very brightly which meant Norwich had to retreat further into their half to try halt their attacking threats.
Norwich's line up included four changes from that victory against QPR, surprising at the very least after fine performances from the majority of that starting 11, assuming Farke's intent was to press the opposition high up the pitch, defend as a solid unit, retain possession and bring on the more threatening players in and around the box at a later stage.
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The first half was most probably the poorest half I have witnessed this season so far in terms of creativity, sloppiness when in possession and Norwich defending regular Villa attacks.
The home side should have had four or five goals by half-time, in particular Keinan Davis was one of the star men, he certainly gave Norwich something to think about, a young talented striker who looked dangerous from the off and should have put them in front in the first 60 seconds only for a smart stop from City keeper Angus Gunn, who was outstanding.
Davis assisted the first and soon after clipped the top of the bar from City's Russell Martin who looked indecisive at times, lightweight and out of position when Villa sprung down the right side. James Husband was also found doing quite a bit of work his side during the half too as both flanks were being used and at times was exposed due to the bombardment of balls going into the box and the space those wingers were given, the majority of which weren't prevented.
It was frantic, end-to-end football, Villa creating several opportunities and taking advantage of Norwich's poor play in between midfield and defence, where gaps were being widened and stretched allowing Villa's ball players to surge forward freely which allowed them to create openings and Villa were doing just that.
Norwich took a while to settle down and rarely got into the attacking third of the pitch, even when they did the move broke down, or the ball got cleared by a reactive Villa backline. Connor Hourihane, the hat trick hero, was causing Norwich problems. Villa broke away and the ball was cut in behind Marcel Franke far too easily and Hourihane scored the first goal of the game, punishing City's defensive lapses.
After the goal, Norwich seemed rattled, continued to look edgy, uncomfortable and it wasn't long before the second goal of the afternoon was buried into the goal, by Andre Green. Villa's left back was not tracked, given far too much time to place the ball into City's net bypassing City's midfield before hitting the trigger, happening far too often.
Norwich's attacking threat was very much left to be desired after this half, two shots off target, a couple of bursts from Josh Murphy down the flanks, who was one of two players who had a good half for City, the other being Angus Gunn, which continued into the second half, decent performances from both.
The changes that Farke had made seemed not to be having much of an effect on proceedings, attacking as well as defending when required. City on the offensive were slow in possession, not getting into the wide areas quick enough, lacking a bite again in midfield and at times Villa were getting through our physical midfield presence with ease. It was quite clear that the midfield of Marco Stiepermann, Mario Vrancic and Steven Naismith wasn't working and things would have to be changed sooner or later if Norwich wanted a result as each of them struggled with the accuracy of their passing and were not shifting the ball around quick enough to hurt Aston Villa.
In the second half, Norwich came out looking to reduce the deficit but on the first half showing they looked like they had too much of a mountain to climb. Again, they came out and retained possession for long periods but were unable to utilise it, get into good areas as they were slow and pedestrian like in general play and lacking a cutting edge.
Josh Murphy stepped up to the plate with a scintillating run into Villa's box who slotted in from a well placed pass from Reed near half-way. It was a sublime pass from Reed to find Murphy but creativity like this was hard to come by all afternoon. The Villa faithful became increasingly nervous, a prolonged silence could be heard as Naismith spurned a half-chance. Josh Murphy to me looked like Norwich's only hope of bringing the game to life, but when Farke brought the subs on the game was almost out of Norwich's reach.
For a moment, I thought we had a game on our hands here but Norwich got caught out, yet again from Villa's free flowing attacking football up the pitch and from Norwich's own sloppy defending as Hourihane's powerful strike from 25 yards out killed the game off as Norwich fans began to leave in numbers.
Similar to the first half, Norwich were lacking any kind of cohesion and making a number of errors across the pitch leading to City's downfall and Norwich's defensive woes. The defence backing off and Christoph Zimermann turning his back when the ball was struck highlighted our inability to keep the ball out at key moments.
Norwich supporters were crying out for the substitutes to come on a little bit earlier than they did to have an impact on the side, but sadly they had little time to offer much.
Oliveira replaced Jerome who had little to work off from Norwich City's midfield and often lost the ball when it came his way due to the midfield not linking up with the lone striker and the full backs, Martin and Husband rarely moving up the flanks to support.
The Norwich crowd were singing Oliveira's name whilst warming up, a common occurrence of late and even louder when he provided a neat finish from Murphy's lofted pass, over the strong experienced centre back John Terry, to give Norwich a glimmer of hope.
Before this, he tried to beat the keeper with an attempted lob from inside the Villa half and looked confidant. He has an eye for goal and I would like too see more of him in upcoming matches to see what he can offer this side lacking a ruthlessness and edge up top.
Wes Hoolahan replaced Naismith and looked skilful as always with lovely trickery and showed nice little touches outside Villa's box.
However, there was no grand finale to this match from Norwich's point of view as Norwich seemed to want to walk the ball into the net which proved costly with five minutes to go as Villa broke once again and Hourihane scored a superb hat trick with a shot outside the area.
Norwich were unable to shut down the flying, on-form midfielder but by this time the heads had dropped, Norwich looked ragged and despondent at this stage, the game had disappeared from their grasp.
On reflection, I hope Farke and his team will have learnt many things from this game and maybe his inexperience at this level showed as it was quite clear the players he picked did not achieve the result everyone wanted after the QPR game.
Norwich certainly looked like a team fragile in its defensive unit, they have to tighten up in the backline. Ivo Pinto was missed in my opinion for his pace going forward and ability to track back as Norwich were caught out down the flanks at times by Davis and Elmohamady as Villa got in and behind. Husband still needs time to settle as well, he needs more matches at this level.
Franke and Zimmermann looked casual and had a tough afternoon with Villa's attacking presence. We need to show more resistance especially to teams who pass the ball at pace and look to penetrate, as this was a big issue last season. Hopefully, with time this will improve but on today's showing there is work there to do.
It was evident that the midfield had not played together many times this season as they rarely attacked with intent and got bypassed far too often, Vrancic and Stiepermann didn't really stamp their authority on the match, hoping more is to come from them. It didn't really work with Naismith in the middle either, not his best position. In Reed we have a quality player but he was not able to show what he is capable of as he did not have many options in forward areas.
The positives from this match for me, although there was very little from what I witnessed, was Josh Murphy who looked to get in and behind Villa's defence on several occasions, he looked very good, scored a perfect goal and could have had a couple more. I was impressed and I hope he can keep up that form that Norwich need.
Angus Gunn was another highlight, not very much he could do with Villa's goals, maybe Villa's fourth was debatable but some good early stops from a lively Aston Villa side keeping the scoreline respectable.
For me, Hoolahan looked lively when he came on and Oliveira looked a threat so I think Farke has got questions to ask himself before the next league fixture as the changes didn't seem justified.
So, it was not the best of days as a travelling supporter at Villa Park, a common cliche, but I hope that Norwich will move on from this. I'm not going to get concerned yet, it is a long season, many twists and turns to come but I think it was a lesson for the new regime at Carrow Road, that you cannot expect anything in this league and that certain things need to be addressed in Farke's team before we can get too carried away.