Melissa Rudd: Hillsborough display felt like a landmark win in City’s development under Farke
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There seems to have been genuine surprise when Norwich's thumping 4-0 win at Hillsborough sent them top of the league on Saturday evening.
That City had propelled themselves to top spot while seemingly going 'under the radar' is an even bigger credit to how Daniel Farke has got this group of players performing.
Billy Sharp's goalscoring form has earned Sheffield United plaudits, while Frank Lampard's Derby have been impressing the pundits. But as the league's entertainers West Brom have dipped and Middlesbrough are, well, still boring even their own fans. Meanwhile in East Anglia, Norwich have quietly gone about their impressive business.
City's initial spell as Championship leaders may have been short-lived with Leeds winning at Wigan on Sunday, but their failure to record back-to-back wins since August only highlights how excellent Norwich's run of eight wins in 10 games has been.
Though consistency is behind the rise up the table, there's nothing that bangs the proverbial drum louder than handing out a thrashing away from home. Perhaps that is why the emphatic 0-4 win at Hillsborough feels like a landmark victory.
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It's the first time City have truly put a team to the sword under Farke's stewardship, and to do so in a scintillating second half display after yet another missed penalty at a crucial time speaks volumes for the character of this team.
Those four goals after the interval also added weight to an already telling statistic. Norwich have scored 20 of their 24 goals in the second half of games this season. Of course, that number would be a little more balanced had those three missed penalties, all awarded in the first half of matches, had been dispatched.
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It suggests City have been far superior after the half-time interval, though unlike in previous seasons there doesn't seem to have been a noticeable difference in first and second half displays. And actually in terms of goals conceded, Norwich's numbers are much more even (seven in the first half, 10 in the second). One of the biggest criticisms of Farke's team last year was their lack of width. Even with a natural winger in Josh Murphy at their disposal, City tended to play through the middle and Murphy, now at Newcastle, would cut in rather than hug the touchline. This could also have been due to an over-reliance on James Maddison, now at Leicester City, getting on the ball in a bid to make things happen in a central role.
Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons at full-back, though, have offered another outlet. Farke's possession based football hasn't changed, but adding the elements of width and pace has no doubt been instrumental in opening teams up, just like against Sheffield Wednesday.
It seems no coincidence that more goals have been scored in the second half when our opposition is more tired and consequently open to a counter attack, something which City failed to master with any conviction last campaign. That's also proved more effective away from home, where Norwich have averaged 53 percent possession. Even Premier League Champions elect Manchester City only manage 60 percent.
Last season, Norwich never looked capable of playing the kind of football they have been displaying in recent weeks, and despite selling the crown jewels during the summer, the addition of Moritz Leitner as a playmaker has been key in the transformation. As exciting and talented as Maddison was in yellow and green, he was best with the ball at his feet taking on players. Leitner's role relies less on attacking and driving forward and more on playing the right ball at the right time, finding space and dictating the tempo. It's working a treat and bringing out the best in the players around him.
The visit of Millwall to Carrow Road on Saturday offers an excellent opportunity to kick on from the Sheffield Wednesday rout and deliver a home performance to savour. Neil Harris' side have the second worst away record in the league, picking up just two points from a possible 24 and conceding almost two goals per game.
If Farke's charges can replicate a similar performance and produce another convincing scoreline it will go a long way to making opposing teams fear the trip to Carrow Road. Millwall's fans famously revel in the fact that 'no-one likes us', but if their team travels back to London on the back of another hiding, one suspects it is the Norwich City faithful who won't care.