Norwich City’s return to the Premier League began in positive fashion, with the Canaries riding the wave of impressive performances against the top teams and enjoying the feel-good factor of Teemu Pukki’s goalscoring exploits.
However, since September’s surprise triumph over Manchester City, the wheels have well and truly come off their season and the Canaries find themselves precariously placed on the relegation perch at the season’s halfway mark.
With improvements required if the remainder of 2019/20 is to result in the retention of Norwich’s top-flight status, here’s 90min‘s assessment of an opening half that was more ‘must do better’ than ‘must try harder’.
As of Boxing Day, Norwich had registered just one victory in their past 14 fixtures – a surprise win away to Everton – and slumped to the foot of the Premier League table. As a result, their mid-season record makes for unpleasant reading. The Canaries have managed just three wins and as many draws in 19 matches, leading to an underwhelming tally of 12 points.
Their 3-2 and 3-1 victories, over Manchester City and Newcastle respectively, had provided six points from their opening five fixtures and, coupled with encouraging performances against Liverpool and Chelsea, there was a cautious sense of optimism for how the season might pan out.
However, the nightmare results that followed have instead seen relegation realism set in for the Carrow Road faithful.
It was short and not so sweet, as Norwich crashed out in the Carabao Cup second round. A raft of squad players made the teamsheet for August’s visit to Crawley Town, but should have been capable of overcoming their League Two opposition. Beryly Lubala’s 17th-minute goal sealed Crawley’s 1-0 win and eliminated the Canaries.
The FA Cup third round presents another tricky tie for Norwich, as they head to Preston and face former manager Alex Neil.
Given Norwich’s current form and league position, anything classed as a strength needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, Canaries fans can take heart from the fact that they’re still scoring goals.
Prior to their narrow 1-0 defeat against Aston Villa on Boxing Day, Norwich had notched in six consecutive fixtures – including the 2-0 victory over Everton. Even more encouragingly, they took the lead in four of the five other fixtures – scoring first against Wolves, Leicester, Sheffield United and Arsenal.
However, their lack of points from these fixtures highlights a concerning penchant for letting leads slip and an overall allergy to keeping clean sheets. This leads us nicely onto Norwich’s biggest deficiency.
Norwich have conceded the most Premier League goals in the opening half of the 2019/20 season, shipping a worrying 38 times in 19 fixtures – a statistic that appears all the more glum, when you consider that Southampton and Watford have conceded nine and eight, respectively, in single games.
Norwich’s highest defeats of the season are 5-1 and 4-1 losses to Aston Villa and Liverpool, respectively, indicating that the issue instead lies with the frequency of Norwich letting in goals.
Areas to Address in January
The caveat to Norwich’s porous back line is the sheer number of defensive injuries they’ve suffered this season – something they desperately need to address in January.
Either Daniel Farke finds a way to cope with the longer-term absence of centre halves Ben Godfrey and Timm Klose (both expected to return before the season ends) or seeks new recruits in this area.
At the other end of the pitch, Norwich could benefit from reducing the goalscoring burden on Pukki and Todd Cantwell – the only Canaries with more than one goal to their name.
Norwich’s position could be a lot worse, but Farke has been able to call upon standout performers at either end of the pitch. While Pukki has been in eye-catching goalscoring form, Tim Krul has ensured that their defensive frailty hasn’t been punished further.
The Dutchman has made 63 saves in the 2019/20 season so far, the sixth highest in the Premier League. October’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester United was Krul’s season in microcosm, as he turned in an excellent performance despite conceding three times. Saving two first-half penalties from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial gave his side a second-half chance, as they headed in for the break at 2-0 down as opposed to 4-0.
Without Teemu Pukki’s goal contribution, Norwich’s points tally would almost certainly be worse. The Finland striker has nine goals and three assists to his name at the midway point, scoring in four of the six fixtures Norwich have gained points from this season. The highlight came in August’s 3-1 defeat of Newcastle, when Pukki grabbed a hat-trick.
Premier League safety is currently seven points from Norwich’s grasp and is likely to remain out of reach – unless Farke can find a way to add defensive discipline to his attacking Canaries’ side.
Progression in the FA Cup seems unlikely too, given that Preston are in far better form and boast an impressive recent record at Deepdale.
Premier League: 20th
FA Cup: Third round
“We’re still creating chances. It’s not like we’re getting battered every week and coming off with our heads down.
“We’re unbelievably annoyed and frustrated but there’s still a long way to go. I don’t think people should write us off.”
— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) December 26, 2019
Giving Norwich the grade they almost certainly deserve still feels harsh. Farke is honest and likeable, Pukki’s goalscoring joy is infectious, and they very rarely park the bus.
However, they are bottom of the league at the mid-season point and struggling to prevent their decline. Perhaps a more pragmatic approach could serve them well over the remainder of the season.