As preparations go, Norwich City’s was not the best.
“The boss has delivered a sobering injury update this lunchtime,” the club’s Twitter account wrote on Friday.
Norwich had been blighted by injuries ahead of the game against Manchester City with a handful of crucial starting players absent. You could be forgiven for expecting Norwich to line up in a more defensive structure, but Farke opted instead for 4-2-3-1.
“I trust all my players, and we will go with what we’ve got. We’ll try to be there competitive and with a good performance.”
Norwich supporters were understandably low on optimism. A comfortable win was expected for City. Any talk of a bet on Norwich to win was a punter making the most of long odds or finding a use for a spare quid or two in their back pocket.
In the days leading up to the game Rafa Benitez, the last man to beat Man City in the Premier League wrote a column attempting to crystalise how you beat Pep Guardiola.
If Farke hoped to find insights, the opening few paragraphs made for stressful reading.
“There is no single way to play against them or to beat them — if there was, everybody would do it! — and there are too many variables to explain in a column,” Benitez told the Athletic. “But the key for us was to have a clear game plan and for everybody to understand it and to agree with it. The real challenge you face against City is not just how skilful they are. It is also about how adaptable they can be.”
Nestled within the Spaniard’s experience was a relevant phrase — a clear game plan. The Canaries were arguably one of the most entertaining sides to watch last season in the Championship. Their short passing style was easier to produce in the Championship, however, as a talent gap (at least on paper) was not as evident.
In the early weeks of the Premier League season they had not diverted from their identity. And while it produced a victory over Newcastle, it also lead some quarters to call the Canaries naive.
“I think in football we love to talk about plan B, and when you play football like us, and it doesn’t work everyone asks what’s your plan B?” Stuart Webber told BT Sport. “When you play football and just launch it no one ever says what’s your plan b. They need to start passing it around. It’s lazy punditry, it’s easy.
“If you analyse the four goals at Liverpool, not one of those was because we were playing expansively. We didn’t lose the game at Liverpool because we were naive, we lost the game because we made individual errors, they were ruthless, and we didn’t take our chances.”
Webber also pressed the need for Norwich to do it ‘our way’. He was quick to stress that the Canaries style is not ‘the right way’, but it certainly seemed so on Saturday. Norwich didn’t just play their way, they also exploited a noted weakness of Man City’s for their opener — defending set-pieces at the near post.
Lucas Moura had already taken advantage of that earlier in the season, and this time it was Kenny McLean that stole in to head Norwich in front. The most impressive aspect of Norwich’s performance came afterwards. Not only did they limit City’s play down the wings, but when they did get the ball, they remained calm, passed it through City’s press, and into the final third.
Teemu Pukki, arguably the face of this team, continued to make his diagonal runs in behind defenders. It was that run which found him in behind City’s defence to create Norwich’s second goal that was dispatched by Todd Cantwell. For the third, Norwich played City at their own game. Emi Buendia pounced on Nicolas Otamendi in his own box, squared the ball for Pukki, and the Finn comfortably dispatched it.
Buendia is a microcosm for Norwich’s patience and trust in the process. Kieran Scott, one of the club’s recruitment staff, had spoken candidly about Buendia. Scott admitted he was ‘a bit overweight and had a bit of a temper’ before he arrived at Norwich. Now he looks lean and provided Norwich’s midfield with a performance reminiscent of Bernardo Silva on Saturday — blending attacking flair with defensive duty.
The final whistle was met with a roar of excitement but also disbelief. Norwich fans will never forget that moment, and for the players and staff, it is an early moment of validation. Norwich City will continue to do things their way, regardless. They may stay up, they may be relegated, but in a league that all too often demands clubs abandon an identity on the promise of survival Norwich represent a refreshing change.