Were Norwich the perfect Chelsea tune-up for Manchester United?
Image: Ryan McGuire
I am convinced that on some level, even if it was only subconscious, most of the Love United, Hate Glazers mob were rooting for Norwich City to run riot over the Red Devils at Carrow Road. The Canaries green and yellow kit recalls the old Newton Heath LYR strip. If you didn’t know, LYR stood for Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway but, back in the day, fans referred to Manchester United’s antecedent as Newton Heath Loco. In modern times, that seems somehow apropos. Maybe I’m overly sensitive to these things or maybe there was a spike in the attacks on any positive tweets after United’s fairly comprehensive victory. To which I say, lighten up.
Still, to give the #EverybodyOut crowd their due, United supporters shouldn’t read too much into the win. Unless an extraordinary turnaround occurs between now and June, be it through managerial change, shrewd investment in the winter window and/or Thanos appearing and snapping his Infinity Gauntlet-wearing fingers to instantly disappear half the Football League which, at random, includes at least three teams above the Premier League drop zone and not NCFC themselves, then Norwich City will be like their namesakes who were once caged by mining companies. They’ll be thoroughly gassed and going down to the Championship.
Daniel Farke’s isn’t the worst side in the top flight, thanks to Watford. Nor, following Leicester’s Manchester City-like performance at St Mary’s in a 9-0* win over Southampton, do they field the worst defence. They would, however, if Tim Krul wasn’t their keeper and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had a player on his roster who could convert from the penalty spot.
*[Contrary to reports from over the Atlantic, the two clubs didn’t decide to play baseball in tribute to the World Series only for the Saints to forfeit]
On the other hand, Norwich is a young, enterprising squad who love the ball at their feet, can play from the back and have the quality and imagination to unlock any defence, no matter its quality. Ask Pep Guardiola if you don’t believe me.
Those traits made them an excellent sparring partner before United step onto the pitch at Stamford Bridge.
But thanks to their new boss and a transfer ban for mishandling their young players, Chelsea now share all of Norwich’s positive tendencies. Frank Lampard does something his legion of predecessors rarely did. The Blues' all-time top scorer plays academy starlets.
It's been a long time coming. In 1998, Gianluca Vialli promoted defender John Terry directly from the academy into the first team. Such an act of confidence didn’t occur again until Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri saw, if not as much as Chelsea fans then at least something in Callum Hudson-Odoi. In part because he must but also because he learned to connect with young players in his lone season at Derby County, Lamps plays a host of young talent from homegrown Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham to imported American Christian Pulisic.
Unlike Farke, Lampard can also call on experienced stars and seasoned leaders such as Willian, Jorginho, Cesar Azpilicueta and Olivier Giroud. Their influence has seeped into the youngsters since the season opener when United romped 4-0.
Nevertheless, the Blues share at least one negative trait with Norwich. Their defending is more suspect than a Sun headline. In the Premier League, Chelsea have shipped 16 goals in ten games. It’s only 12 in nine when you subtract the match at Old Trafford but they’ve surrendered multiple goals in six of 15 contests across all competitions while keeping only three clean sheets. The Glazer haters like to laugh at David de Gea for losing his place with Spain to Kepa Arrizabalaga. Don’t tell them the Chelsea No.1 isn’t much better. It will only encourage their malice.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t start De Gea in the cup and Europa League matches anyway. That’s Sergio Romero’s patch. Both managers are likely to rotate for tonight’s EFL Cup tilt although the Norwegian lifted Anthony Martial from the Norwich affair around the hour. The Frenchman isn’t fully match-fit after recovering from injury but, rested and needing work, is likely to feature. Christian Pulisic is also a possibility after his hat trick against Burnley. The Yank wasn’t used often by Lampard prior to the outburst.
For neutrals, makeshift XIs on both sides promise mistakes which, in turn, promise goals. If it ends nil-nil, you can blame me for jinxing it but, having just played a similar squad, I like United’s chances to put another loss in Chelsea’s ledger despite the notoriously difficult environment at the Bridge and the Blues’ desire for revenge. If that leaves me at the mercy of the haters, so be it.