Norwich City are the only football team in all four English professional divisions not to have any points. That’s fewer than Oldham Athletic, who are bottom of League Two and have protesters carrying coffins outside Boundary Park. It’s fewer than Doncaster Rovers who are fresh off a, shudder, 6-0 hammering by Ipswich Town. It’s even fewer than insolvent, stricken Derby County, 12-point deduction and all.
If that sounds a little embarrassing for a club who three months ago were celebrating the highest points total in their history, it is at least of a par with Norwich’s play so far this season. The Premier League’s leakiest side have coughed up any number of howlers from a variety of circumstances; they’ve given away free headers, they’ve botched clearances and there was one memorable incident against Watford when a goal followed a brief discussion among the Norwich defence as to who, specifically, should be closing down Kiko Femenía as he prepared to cross.
Such has been the extent of the Canaries’ extended travails that Match of the Day could not even bring itself to issue a curt summary of their chances of staying up after a 2-0 defeat by Everton last weekend (the first goal a penalty after a random swing at Allan, the second a stumbling concession of possession that left Everton with five on three). It has gone from mockery to pity already.
Now, as we enter October, Norwich head to Turf Moor to play 19th-placed Burnley. All the predictions are for more of the same. After all Burnley comprehensively turned over Norwich twice two seasons ago, using a combination of strength and assertiveness the meek Canaries could not handle. In any attempt to explain why the Championship champions are struggling so badly in the top flight, this would be the first refrain: that Norwich remain lacking in some of the key attributes that enable Premier League success.
The second and third explanations follow on from the first. Norwich brought in 11 players during the summer, almost all signed with the intention of adding attributes the squad lacked. From the hard pressing of Josh Sargent to the pace on the counter of Milot Rashica and the midfield physicality of Mathias Normann, these were signings that were meant to make Norwich more savvy. Currently, and perhaps not unexpectedly, these recruits are playing like complete strangers.
At the same time as turning over the squad, the manager, Daniel Farke, has been tweaking his systems. Previously someone who played 4-2-3-1 so consistently you imagined it must have had compromising information on him, Farke has not played his favourite formation once this season. Instead it has been a 4-3-3 and, against Everton, an entirely new 3-5-2. It is unclear whether these strategies have been developed to get the best out of his new players or mitigate against the effects of bedding them in, but either way, they haven’t worked.
Changes of system have been matched by rotation of personnel in all but one match. This, again, is unusual. It is also, however, the first time in his five seasons at the club when Farke has had a squad of evenly matched players to choose from. When the German signed a new four-year contract in the summer, shortly after winning his second Championship title, it seemed Farke’s position and his approach to the game were supremely stable. So soon after, the 44-year-old looks uncertain for the first time.
This uncertainty has transmitted itself to the fanbase who, in the real world, have booed the players and left the ground early and, in the virtual one, engaged in the usual catastrophic hyperbole. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Before the Watford match Farke delivered a 13-minute defence of his team and in particular players who have been the target of online abuse. What followed was probably the team’s worst performance of the season.
As bad as it has got (and this is Norwich’s worst start to a season), there remains room for some perspective. One win – albeit by a lot of goals – could lift the Canaries out of the relegation zone. The new signings – Normann, Sargent and Ozan Kabak in particular – appear to have quality about them. A result, particularly in the sort of physical challenge to which Norwich have previously not looked suited, would probably inject the confidence so obviously lacking. It is that sort of challenge they face this weekend. They say that every dog has its day; maybe the rule also applies to domesticated birds.