Melissa Rudd: Frustration at every turn in Norwich’s long battle against the drop
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Another game, another defeat. Anything but a win on Saturday seals Norwich City’s fate, but it was the manner of the loss against Southampton almost three weeks ago that set the tone for what was to come.
The performance at Vicarage Road was an improvement on those earlier displays, no doubt, but ultimately it still wasn’t good enough to prevent a fifth league defeat in 18 days. And if losing less convincingly has become a reason to cheer, it’s perhaps time we evaluated just how low the bar has been set in the last few weeks.
If the restart has proved anything, it’s that talk of Norwich City being one of the best teams to be relegated from the top flight is utter nonsense. They’d have to win all of their remaining matches to even equal their lowest ever points tally in this division. Instead, they face the humiliation of setting an unwanted points record and having relegation confirmed with three fixtures to go.
Emi Buendia’s stunning opener at Watford was a reminder of both the talent he possesses and how we have missed him chipping in with finishes like that throughout this season. Prior to this week, only Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish had created more chances than Buendia in the entire division, which is why a host of clubs will be chasing his signature this summer. But one league goal is a frustrating return from a player of his ability.
While Buendia’s strike was a rare sight, what happened six minutes later we have seen with all too much familiarity over the past few months.
Norwich’s full-backs were bullied for 90 minutes, as showcased by Craig Dawson’s thumping header where he outmuscled Jamal Lewis before out-jumping Alex Tettey. No team has conceded more from set-pieces (14 goals) or scored fewer from them (three) than City this season. Their obvious vulnerability has left pundits and fans alike criticising both team tactics and individual decisions time and again. It’s a weakness Daniel Farke has failed to address, no matter which personnel have made up his back four.
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If truth be told, both Lewis and Max Aarons have disappointed in a season that promised so much for two of the brightest stars in a side that played with swagger and style, in which they had so much success bombing forward. Farke’s style suited their attacking instincts to a tee, but in a team that has stumbled and struggled, where they have been required to defend better and for sustained periods, they have been exposed.
Naturally they have been inconsistent, that’s to be expected considering their age and inexperience, but a lack of competition for places hasn’t helped, with only Sam Byram providing it when he’s been fit.
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The pair have bags of potential, but defensively they are still in the developmental stage at this level. That may well be enough for a top-flight club to take a punt on them next season, but Aarons certainly doesn’t seem a natural fit for Jose Mourinho at Tottenham, one of the stranger transfer rumours already doing the rounds.
Physically, Lewis and Aarons have looked weak at times, none more so than Tuesday evening. In fact, Watford’s strength over their Norwich counterparts showed all over the pitch, Ismaila Sarr shrugging off Kenny McLean on the halfway line before setting up Danny Welbeck for their winner another obvious example.
On a more positive note, Mario Vrancic’s willingness to drive forward and try and create brought a bit more fluidity to the midfield. It seemed to leave a lot of fans wondering why it was only his fifth start of the season.
Was it a more encouraging performance in other aspects? Yes, but against a team whose recent form almost mirrored ours we still came away with nothing, Watford joining both Aston Villa and Brighton in becoming another relegation rival to beat City both home and away this season. It’s ironic that if West Ham do the same on Saturday they will hammer the final nail in the coffin.