Norwich City’s priceless win on paupers’ budget that was 2½ years in the making
James Gheerbrant on the club that has reaped rewards by sticking to principles
Team-mates envelop Pukki, second right, after he scored the winning goalMARC ATKINS/GETTY IMAGES
The morning after Norwich City beat Manchester City to send a seismic wave through English football, the mood inside Carrow Road was calm. This was a result almost without precedent — it was Pep Guardiola’s first defeat by a promoted team since Hercules beat Barcelona in 2010, and they were not missing eight first-teamers amid a ruinous injury crisis — but the sense inside the club was one of mild surprise at the framing of their victory as an incredible giant-killing.
For Norwich, this result was simply the culmination, unexpected but not entirely unbelievable, of the same systemic and sustainable approach that delivered them from the SkyBet Championship. It was, as one club insider put it, “an overnight success two-and-a-half years in the making”.
Norwich may not have a squad replete with star names, or an arriviste transfer policy, or a famous manager, but they do have a way, and they stick to it. The feeling inside the club is that they did not need yesterday’s glorious result to vindicate their philosophy — their belief in their methods is as strong today as if they had lost 5-0 on Saturday.
This was a priceless victory built on a pauper’s budget. Norwich know they cannot compete financially with other Premier League clubs, so finding value amid the hyperinflationary landscape of modern football is at the heart of what they do. They make a virtue of necessity, avoiding the expensive mistakes of other clubs and rummaging in the bargain bins of English and European football for unwanted and undervalued talents whom they can upcycle.
Teemu Pukki, the 29-year-old Finland striker who assisted the second and scored the third against City, was acquired on a free transfer from Brondby. Emiliano Buendía, who took the corner for the first goal and hunted down Nicolás Otamendi for the third, was picked up for £1.35 million from Getafe. When Norwich spent only £4 million this summer, compared with Sheffield United’s £43 million and Aston Villa’s £134 million, they were accused of showing a lack of ambition, but within the club, there was a feeling that the players they had acquired were underappreciated. Ibrahim Amadou, in particular, a loan signing who played 32 times for Seville last season, was imperious at centre back.This was also a triumph with a distinctly homegrown flavour. Jamal Lewis, who nullified Bernardo Silva at left back, and Todd Cantwell, who scored the second goal, are products of the club’s academy — Cantwell was born and raised in Dereham, 17 miles from Carrow Road. In the crowded forest of the Premier League, putting down roots is important. As the memories of Saturday’s game pass into folklore, the profits will be reinvested in the future, siphoned back into the revamped academy. Adam Idah, 18, who was on the bench on Saturday, is the latest graduate tipped for first-team stardom. “If we can’t buy them at the top end, we’ve got to try to find them or make our own,” is how one Norwich insider phrases the club’s mantra.
On those foundations, Daniel Farke and his players built the tactical framework of an extraordinary upset. They banked on sacrificing crosses to make the centre of the pitch as narrow as possible. Sure enough, City made 32 crosses from open play, their most in a Premier League game since January 2016 (their average since the start of last season is 13.9). But although they scored from one such delivery, when Sergio Agüero met Bernardo Silva’s delivery, the visitors usually found Norwich’s aerial patrol of Amadou and Ben Godfrey lying in wait.
At the other end, Farke said Norwich had noted City’s vulnerability at corners: four of City’s past nine goals conceded in the Premier League have come via that route. “It was a big topic in our preparation,” Farke said. “We are not known as a team that scores an unbelievable amount of goals with set-pieces because we have many technical players but we got the feeling we had a chance to score today.”
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Norwich’s third goal came from pressing Otamendi into an error, but this was not a short-term strategy specifically cooked up to exploit the shakiness of City’s reluctantly reunited centre-back pairing. Pressing is an integral part of the side’s identity under Farke; as one club source puts it, “We press the ball whether it’s Manchester City or Accrington Stanley.”
Indeed, the real key to Norwich’s victory was staying true to their principles — and not capitulating too much in the face of City’s imposing attacking juggernaut. Rather than recoil into an ultra-defensive system, Norwich played a fairly conventional 4-2-3-1 in this game, leaving enough men in advanced positions to retain a threat on the counter, and while their figure of 31.2 per cent possession may not sound like a huge amount, it was more than Wolverhampton Wanderers, Watford or West Ham United enjoyed in any game against Guardiola’s team last season.
“If you just try to sit deep and park the bus then you have no chance,” Farke said. “You need periods where you are in possession and you also need to be brave to create something out of it. You have to be brave.”
Match briefing Norwich City 3 Manchester City 2
Norwich took their chances well and led through Kenny McLean’s glancing header before doubling their advantage through Todd Cantwell’s tap-in after Teemu Pukki’s unselfish work. Sergio Agüero headed in to give City hope before Pukki scored a third for Norwich. Rodri replied but Norwich held out in a frantic finish.
Dawdling as he collected John Stones’s pass, Nicolás Otamendi was robbed on the edge of the area by Emiliano Buendía, who centred for Pukki to poke his finish high into the net.
Ratings Norwich City (4-2-3-1): T Krul 6 — S Byram 8, I Amadou 8, B Godfrey 7, J Lewis 7 — A Tettey 8, K McLean 7 — E Buendía 8 (sub: J Drmic 83min), M Stiepermann 6 (sub: D Srbeny 89), T Cantwell 7 — T Pukki 7. Substitutes not used R Fährmann, M McGovern, G Hanley, P Heise, A Idah. Booked Byram, McLean, Cantwell.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Ederson 6 — K Walker 6, J Stones 5, N Otamendi 4, O Zinchenko 5 — I Gündogan 5 (sub: K De Bruyne 57, 6), Rodri 6 — B Silva 6 (sub: R Mahrez 73, 6), D Silva 5 (sub: G Jesus 57 5), R Sterling 6 — S Agüero 7. Substitutes not used C Bravo, Fernandinho, J Cancelo, P Foden. Booked B Silva.