Ian Clarke: The 'mini league' is crucial for Norwich City's survival hopes

Teemu Pukki drew Norwich City level from the penalty spot but Leicester City hit back in a 2-1 Premier League defeat.

Teemu Pukki drew Norwich City level from the penalty spot but Leicester City hit back in a 2-1 Premier League defeat. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Played four, lost four, scored one, conceded 11.

Won friends for nice football, got slated for our defending, been unhappy over VAR decisions and been accused of not being ambitious enough in the summer window.

Sound like the start to the season you expected?

The fixtures for the new Premier League campaign came out way back in June when the promotion party had not long finished.

When we trawled through the plan for those opening four matches, I'm sure we were all clutching at straws as we wondered where there the first points would come from.


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Hands up if you said something like: "I'd take a point or two from those games?"

As it turns out, getting no points hasn't been the biggest shock in the world, especially bearing in mind all the various mitigating factors.


Miot Rashica on the attack in Norwich City's 3-0 Premier League defeat to Liverpool

Miot Rashica on the attack in Norwich City's 3-0 Premier League defeat to Liverpool - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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The Liverpool game was tighter than the scoreline suggests, plenty of teams will get a right good hiding at the Etihad and there were opportunities to get something against Leicester and Arsenal.

For me it's been the lack of threat in the opposing final third and too many errors which have been my main concerns.

Before the big kick-off, plenty of supporters would have put a yellow or green highlighter around Watford (H) as the first realistic date to hope for points.


The traveling Norwich fans during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London
Pictur

City's fans travelled in their numbers to North London at the weekend. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

So is the visit of the Hornets a must win? Some fans are claiming that's certainly the case but it's far too early to be so definitive.

Is it must not lose? If Daniel Farke's men do continue the miserable run against Watford it won't mean we're certain to slip through the relegation trap door come next May.

Let's keep calm and remember it is a 38-game season.

Would defeat be a massive psychological blow for fans, players and officials? I really think it would.

Our head-to-heads with the Hornets in the last two seasons make for unhappy reading.

When we met in the last Premier League campaign two years ago, City lost 2-0 at home and 2-1 away.

Last season - when the Canaries stormed to the title and lost just seven games - two of them were 1-0 reversals to the team we finished six points ahead of.

So getting one over our nemesis is really important.

More than that, we simply have to start getting points on the board - especially against the clubs who are our realistic rivals in the fight for survival.


Josh Sargent is reunited with Milot Rashica at Norwich City after their Werder Bremen spell

Josh Sargent is reunited with Milot Rashica at Norwich City after their Werder Bremen spell - Credit: Norwich City FC

I looked back two seasons and uncovered a very uncomfortable stat.

In that ill-fated campaign, we played 14 games against those with us in the bottom eight - and they were Watford, Bournemouth, Villa, West Ham, Brighton, Newcastle and Palace.

They are the matches you have to get some success in.

I know I'll be pulled up by some pedant about the use of the term "six-pointer" but I'm sticking with it.

If Norwich play Man City and lose, the three points they bag are largely irrelevant to our cause.

However, a defeat to the likes of Watford is not only three points we don't get but puts them further ahead.

So to the statistics.

In those 14 game in that "mini league" the Canaries won just once - that memorable Teemu Pukki-inspired 3-1 triumph over Newcastle in the opening home game.

There were three draws and no fewer than 10 defeats.

City scored just six goals in the games - including that Pukki hat-trick while conceding 26.

Six points from a possible 42 was woeful.

If we can't improve on that, we're doomed. 

It may be a bit early to say exactly who will be in the mini league this season but I'd say Watford certainly are.

If I've come across as a bit gloomy so far, then let me redress the balance by saying I think we'll win on Saturday - 2-1 with goals from Josh Sargent and Milot Rashica if you want me to be specific.

I really hope there is boldness in our play and we get straight on the front foot.

There's already huge debate about the starting XI for this weekend and Farke certainly has plenty of big decisions to make.

I'd like to see things freshened up and if I was in the dugout, I'd start with Sargent, Rashica and Christos Tzolis (as well as Mathias Normann).

Raise the roof

The atmosphere on Saturday will be massively important.

With a pointless start to the campaign, there may be some nerviness from the stands.

But we have to be 100pc positive and get totally behind the boys and that will be crucial.

The noise at the two home games so far has been excellent and I really hope that the great work from Along Come Norwich to build the wall of yellow and green scarves will really help.

Just think of the extra lift it will give the players if they see that sight of all the club's colours and the roar which will come with it.

Let's make it daunting for the Hornets.

If there's a misplaced pass or a missed chance or, dare I say it, a goal at the wrong end, we have to keep the roar going to back the lads.

Kick it off, throw it in, have a little scrimmage......

Out from the back 

Tim Krul is a brilliant goalkeeper. Full stop.

The Dutchman is already a Norwich City legend and has been a key part in the great days we've been through in league and cup games since he arrived.

He's a great shot stopper, one of the best penalty savers in the world, a brilliant presence in the team and by all accounts a genuinely lovely bloke.

Krul has come in for a bit of criticism so far this season for his distribution.

Arsenal's winner on Saturday came a few seconds after his chipped diagonal ball to Max Aarons.

The way teams press City when Krul has the ball is certainly an issue. 

If he plays it short to one of the centre halves, the forwards tend to be really on their case to force an error.

If Krul chooses to go longer, there's the risk of losing the ball in the air and putting us quickly back under pressure.

This dilemma can't just be down to the keeper. 

Clear direction needs to come from the head coach and his team and everyone has to know the part they have to play in it.

There has to be patience and if the odd mistake is made, we mustn't panic.

"Just go long and get rid" is a phrase too often yelled by some fans.

If there's an ethos of playing out from the back, we all have to buy into it.





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