Norwich City 2 Preston 0
“I remember people saying last season, this tippy tappy football’s getting on my nerves”.
Nope, that’s not a quote from Clive in Yarmouth, but Beryl in Manchester, speaking about Pep Guardiola’s Man City team on the excellent documentary All or Nothing: Manchester City.
Passing football is here to stay in this country. In Norwich, Manchester and a high percentage of the other clubs in our top leagues.
It’s one of the most effective ways of playing football. If you have the ball, it’s impossible for the other team to score. If done right the goals that are finished are beautiful, the result of pulling and probing, making space and exploiting it. Keeping the ball, passing at the right time and finishing in style.
The trouble is our City, unlike their Manchester namesake, are not great at it. Operating on our shoestring budget we can’t buy complete footballers.
It’s why our central defenders can’t pass the ball quickly, accurately and effectively every time.
Why our holding midfielder can break up attacks but struggles to contribute to them.
Why they all make fundamental errors that gift goals like Santa gifts presents.
And why, when faced with two banks of four defenders we struggle to break through.
Preston (h): What Happened?
That’s what happened last night. Preston came to frustrate Norwich. And for 80 minutes, at least, they did their jobs effectively.
While West Brom came to attack, leaving as many holes in their defence as City’s sieve at the other end; Preston came to suffocate and stifle. 10 men behind the ball.
As patterns of play began to form, the City player’s limitations became visible. Passing triangles that should form the basis of tiki-taka football, went little further than a combination of Hanley to Klose to Tettey. A pattern repeated over and over. Over and over… None having the ability to move the play forwards through Preston’s tight ranks.
Occasionally, Pinto and Lewis got involved for a couple of touches, isolated on the touchline, looking for, but finding few, forward options, before the ball was returned to the centre of the pitch.
Occasionally Onel Hernandez’s pace caused problems when he did get the football at his feet. On the other wing Ben Marshall was anonymous. Jordan Rhodes and Teemu Pukki rarely saw the round thing so can’t be judged.
Which leaves one more player to analyse. Surely one of the most technically gifted players to wear yellow and green. The enigma in City’s engine room – Moritz Leitner. A player who appears to find Championship football too easy. One who strolls around the pitch, lazily passing the ball. Passes that rarely miss their target and are usually beautifully paced.
They also contribute little or nothing to the side.
The trouble with Mo is he wants to play the quick passing triangles favoured by Guardiola’s sides. Pass, move, receive, pass, move… Look at some of the link up play with the impressive Emi Buendia when he came on. Likewise the build-up with Nelson Oliveira and James Maddison last season.
Unfortunately, in this side, that initial pass goes to Alex Tettey. The return never comes. Instead, a centre back had the ball, unable to do anything with it.
We love you Tettey
This is not to have a go at our Norwegian number 27. Alex Tettey is strong, physical, able to read a game and break up attacks. He’s essential to City, but he can’t pass, is getting older, can’t really play two games in a week. Oh, and he missed all of preseason.
But don’t boo Tettey. He’s one of the good guys. His post match interview proved that. Rather rejoice that he is a player who knows his strengths and his limitations. And uses them selflessly to help his team. Yes, he played a safe pass. The pattern of play that followed led to City winning another corner. Not such a bad pass then…
This was a match which showed two nervous sides. Sides whose starts have been average at best. Sides whose players may not be of the highest standard. But ones, who, with support, can play above themselves.
Revel in this win. And enjoy the fact players like Alex Tettey can have an absolute shocker, then pull out a ridiculous finish in one moment of brilliance.
After all, that surely is the fun of being a Norwich City supporter.