Good shapes, the Marshmallow Man, Timm Klose (again), what’s changed and the ongoing striker conundrum: Dan Brigham and Jon Rogers look back Norwich’s win over West Brom. Plus some obscene plugging
A better shape
What's changed? From the battling displays at Leicester and at home to Chelsea, to the intelligent, (relatively) composed performances against Manchester City and West Brom, Norwich have turned from a team with no confidence and no blueprint to a side who look like they know what they're doing, and doing it pretty well by sticking obsessively to their shape. Relegation certainties have morphed into survival hopefuls.
While a corner has been turned, there are plenty more ahead. Offensively, they played better against West Ham, Chelsea, Leicester and Man City than they did on Saturday, but Norwich's shape was almost perfect throughout the entire 90 minutes. At the back, while Timm Klose has improved the defence markedly (see below for Klose-love), and Jonny Howson and Gary O'Neil have been incredibly disciplined in front of them, there's also been a tactical change: one full-back tucks in as a third centre-back (much like MOTD showed Leicester have been doing since Christmas). It's old-fashioned, but it gives Norwich extra protection – and explains why the more defence-minded Russell Martin is preferred to Ivo Pinto when it’s a back four, and Martin Olsson looks set to spend the remainder of the season at left-back.
And that's another reason for the change in fortune: players playing in their correct positions. Olsson is a proper left-back, Robbie Brady is an attacking left-midfielder, Jonny Howson is a central midfielder. Play them there and Norwich look balanced, look solid, look a threat. DB
The West Brom game played out as expected. Tighter than Susan Boyle eating a lemon and as exciting as Susan Boyle eating a lime. Yet, we were quite rightly jumping over the moon, or jumping away from the Toon, on Saturday. The first time the away fans didn’t have to endure the home fans celebrating a goal too. Lovely!
The similarities between the West Brom game and the Swansea game were beyond numerous. All three of us were dour, thinking about not losing rather than winning. Like a man buying a single raffle ticket at a summer fete when the prize is a Roll Royce and a massage from Rachel Riley.
Both games had only one chance. Swansea took theirs. We took ours on Saturday. After Swansea, a good chunk of the fanbase gave up: ‘Neil wasn’t up for it, and we’d never win again. After West Brom, we’re ready for the fight and it’s in our hands.
You could say the whole season has been Beautiful Nonsense. Which, weirdly, is the name of my album, out today – on CD, iTunes and GooglePlay. JR
Up-front remains a mystery
Eyebrows were raised when the team was announced. 4-4-2. Many were delighted. Others, including me, were mildly aghast. It quickly became clear the plan was to attack down the wings and get crosses in, which had worked against West Brom before, but was alien to Norwich. There was another problem: Dieumerci Mbokani didn't look all that interested in the first half, didn't press the West Brom defence, didn't offer himself down the channels. For a 4-4-2 to work, you need both strikers harrying, hassling and being irritating shitheads. This wasn't happening.
At half-time, it’s probably fair to say that Neil had a word. An angry, sweary word perhaps. With that angry-tortoise face of his.
In the second half, Mbokani was a different player, bullying, elbowing and pressing the defence and running the channels like Cameron Jerome does. The statue had come to life, trampling over the Hawthorns like the Marshmallow Man over New York in Ghostbusters. It was as good as anything we'd seen up front for Norwich all season, and vindicated Neil’s tactics. It was niggly, it was dour, it was a throwback. But it worked. DB
This is the last time probably, but I’m have to go for the hattrick It's the third week in a row I’ve mentioned him but… Timm Klose. Far too good for us, now. Far too good.
Now he has that match fitness and match awareness flowing through his veins, he was sensational on Saturday against the biggest and ugliest team in the league. It felt like he won all his headers, had a calm sensibility to keep possession and was pointing and shouting all game. Seb Bassong looked happier with him there too.
I enjoy that he seems to know when to hold onto the ball – gracefully stroking the ball into chests and feet – but when he needs to he clears it, hoofs it, row zs it, whatever you want to call it. He has that knack of getting it right every time.
You could say he has a perfect blend of the Beautiful and No-nonsense. which almost sounds like my new album, Beautiful Nonsense, out today – on CD, iTunes and GooglePlay. JR
The second striker
Did Patrick Bamford work well in partnership with Mbokani? With the plan to get crosses in, it made sense for him to start ahead of Wes Hoolahan. There were some nice touches, and clever runs. He created space for Mbokani to maraud in. But he was never truly as involved as he had been against Man City.
Norwich missed Hoolahan's ability to get on the ball and keep it, to be the pea that your fork can't quite pick up. Newcastle were bizarrely immune to tracking Fabio Borini against Sunderland, so Wes surely has to start in that position when we play them. If Rafael Benitez repeats his bonkers decision to pair JonJo Shelvey and Georginio Wijnaldum as Newcastle's two holding midfielders, Wes will be like a nerd who’s been locked overnight in an Apple Store. DB
It’s a squad game
There is a constant clamouring, myself included, for wanting a certain team out each game. We look at the team tweet or the facebook page and think, OH NO, or OH YES.
We all wanted Bamford to play versus West Brom after his great Manchester City display, yet he was virtually anonymous. Olsson was, in my opinion, out of the club, yet he has been a major part of those two clean sheets since he returned. It’s impossible to call.
So, I’ve decided to put trust in our match day squad rather than team. What I mean is that all the fringe players – Pinto, Vadis, Jerome, Mbokani, Bennett, everyone – are needed each game.
A isn’t better than B. Each player has their own strengths and weakness and the more we wish for a solid 11 like Leicester and Tottenham can play – the more expectation we put upon that team.
We don’t have the luxury of having a best 11 players, but whoever is there at kick-off we know that if it's not working we have a worthy replacement. JR
One more time…
We seemed have the luck on our side – I hear a rumour that the players all were giving lucky pennies by Delias – so maybe the player’s “boots are full of one pence.”
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