The advent of the internet has changed not just the way the world but also the way football on a macrocosm works. It’s seen armchair philosophers pop up across the world, it has seen people claim they can do a better job than the managers with a few even suggesting tactics and lineups for them.
Websites are built for the sole purpose of trying to tell teams exactly how to play against another, telling managers that the job, they’re being paid hundreds and thousands of pounds/rupees weekly to do, is not being done well enough. Few other modica of entertainment have this kind of dedication with sport possibly the lone exception to the argument. Even then, nothing comes close to what football fans, theorists and philosophers churn out on a daily basis. It’s why, from the moment they were promoted up to the top tier, both Norwich City and Sheffield United saw nothing but advice sent their way.
How to play, how to survive and even how to cope up with the intense football that a 38 game season has to offer. Now while the top tier does have better sides, a single Championship season has 48 games. There’s a seventeen-day spell between December and January where teams play six games of football. That’s little less than three days per game. And yet, that never stopped the world from telling both the newly promoted sides exactly who they should buy, why they should add them and which formation will help them get the most out of their side. But being football clubs with a proper manager who have a proper coaching staff both the Canaries and the Blades opted to ignore that.
But while Sheffield United have become the sensational story of the season, Norwich City have capitulated. There was a moment there when the Canaries managed to beat Manchester City at Carrow Road early on in the season and it gave the stadium hope. That despite their lack of spending (Transfermarkt has them at €8.82 million spent or the lowest in the league), their lack of a big-money man and by sticking to what got them to the Premier League, Norwich City would thrive. Their football has been gorgeous to watch in the Championship and it saw them end the season with 94 points.
The joint third highest that a Championship champion has ever managed (since 2010) with only Leicester City (102) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (99) outdoing them. But only one side scored more goals than Norwich City and that was Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth (98), which is a testament to what they achieved. But unlike the Cherries, the Canaries have made a grand total of zero changes to their philosophy and style, carrying that into the top tier. “You have to be convinced by your style. We built the squad in that way, so you can’t expect us to just park the bus or put the balls in the river.”
Daniel Farke said that in November 2019 ahead of a game against Everton despite being under fire. Norwich were on a seven game winless run and critics were calling for him to change things. He didn’t and beat Everton 2-0. “We have to stick to our plan, our philosophy and the same style of football. I want us to stick to our plan, to be brave, to play aggressive football, to dominate the possession and play our style.” Farke said this in March of 2019, with his side in pole position to win the Championship over Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United. Norwich wasn’t under fire, they weren’t doing badly and at that moment in time, were on course for a title win.
Admire so much about Norwich City. Passionate loyalty of their fans. Aspirational style of play. Investment in Youth Development paying off. Tternal optimism in face of bottom of the table doom which begets old philosophical question: Why do bad things happen to good people? pic.twitter.com/iETuFAAWap— roger bennett (@rogbennett) February 15, 2020
It’s why the Premier League feels for this club when they lose. Because despite everything that has struck them this season, Norwich City have never given up on their philosophy. They’ve done it their way and unfortunately been booted out to the highway far too often and it’s why it will see them get relegated. Goalimpact simmed the season, about eight days ago, and took 50,000 random scenarios to come up with odds for various situations. Their results showed that there was no chance of Liverpool losing the title and 2) that Norwich City had a 60.5% chance of getting relegated.
It was one of four boxes marked in a shade of green, alongside Liverpool’s title, Manchester City finishing second and Leicester City finishing third. It’s a bleak situation for the Canaries but for once this season, Lady Luck is on their side. After a never ending stream of injuries, unlucky clearances, deflections that could have gone the other way, shots that on another day would have sneaked and hit the net instead of finding their way outside. The little things but yet, nothing went Norwich’s way. That is until now, because for once in a really long time, Norwich City finds themselves in a fantastic relegation battle.
Not the greatest the league has ever seen but certainly amongst the top ten with not one or two or three or even four sides but six teams in the running. Only two points separate Brighton from the drop zone, while both West Ham and Watford are above the zone only on goal-difference. Norwich, on the other hand, does have a rather large mountain to climb but it’s not out of their reach just yet. But they need to change things a bit. Despite what Daniel Farke has said, insisted, and even hammered into the brains of supporters, Norwich need to adapt and maybe focus more on defending.
Not because they’re bad at attacking but because their way of attacking a team leaves them open to far too many counter attacks and defensive laspes that has seen them struggle. Their ability to thrive is not with the ball but it has, more often than not, been on the transition. It's how they beat Manchester City and Tottenham earlier this month. But their all or nothing style of football has hurt them with only Aston Villa conceding more goals than them but their goals conceded per game is amongst the highest. They’ve been defeated in 62% of their games this season and won only 17% and that really needs to change with a slight tweak in their tactic.
It’s called the Eddie Howe and Bournemouth way and it’s doing exactly what the Cherries did when the first rose to the league. It was considered to be attractive and expansive football but it was built on a strong defensive base and with the same players they had from the Championship. For Norwich, few teams have had this chance especially with the season on break over the coronavirus outbreak. But Daniel Farke has already confirmed that the club will be training at a lighter load. That shouldn’t make a difference to absolutely anything and it gives Norwich a chance to tweak things a little.
They've slowly moved into that style over the weeks and that hard fought draw, then win over penalties, saw exactly what Norwich City could do. And now they need to do it more. Nobody is asking them do dump their philosophies and football in the trash. Nobody is asking them to forget what they mean and how they do it on the field. Nobody is asking them to sell their soul to the devil and play nothing but long ball football although that would help their cause. All their fans want is top tier football and all the club wants is more money to help them thrive.
It will not happen in the Championship but, another season in the Premier League would mean so much to not just the fans but to the club itself. The money they earn would be enough to help transform the club and move them forward. Now, isn’t that worth acquiescing a little?