If you were struggling to find positives from last Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal, it’s fair to say that even the biggest optimist would be stumped after this one.
Sadly, that was absolutely awful.
Last weekend we at least showed some promise in the first half and stifled a decent Arsenal side at times. Here we were absolutely dominated by a newly promoted Norwich City, with us looking lost and lacklustre in just about every area of the pitch.
Bruce made two changes – bringing in Ki for Longstaff and Krafth for Manquillo – and, based on the first half display, I’m not really sure what his thinking behind that was. That said, this 3-5-2 formation is doing us absolutely no favours, not only leaving players looking lost and out of position, but creating a team that looks toothless in attack and all at sea at the back.
The first-half was a difficult watch. We were sitting ducks defensively, with our midfield seeming to be easily bypassed by some simple Norwich passing (especially Shelvey and Ki who offered so little off the ball), and the lack of numbers in attack was evident once again.
Almiron was forced to drop deep, leaving Joelinton completely isolated up top. The Brazilian had a poor first half – his touch and hold up play needed to be better – but we must realise that he’s not a striker who wants long balls and to be constantly playing with his back to goal. He may be a big lad, but he needs numbers around him and options to link up with. Norwich then bagged the first-half goal they deserved, with Pukki latching onto a lose ball and smashing past Dubravka, who could only get a hand to it.
We had the odd chance early on, with Krafth blasting over and Joelinton heading wide, but there was no attacking plan and things could only get better in the second 45. Somehow, they got worse.
The first 10 minutes of the second period were slightly more promising (because we were sometimes getting the balls into better areas, not because we looked much more likely to score), but it was 2-0 moments later. Once again Norwich waltzed through our midfield like it wasn’t even there and, once again, Pukki scored.
It was all too easy – and that theme continued when Pukki bagged his hat-trick 10 minutes later. More woeful defending, with the midfield nowhere to be seen and the defence static, allowing the Finnish striker to ghost in behind and score his third.
Shelvey bagged a late consolation goal in stoppage time, cutting in and finishing well after a clever through ball from Sean Longstaff, but it was too little too late.
If someone had told me that Norwich would score a few today I could have believed them based on the threat they posed at Anfield, but to be overrun by a newly promoted side in all areas and fail to threaten them from an attacking perspective really is quite damning.
The back-line looked woefully exposed, the midfield looked slow, ponderous and non-existent from a defensive perspective and the attack was so flat, with Almiron struggling to get anything going with an isolated and visibly frustrated Joelinton.
We’ve got some good players in this squad, but this formation is sucking the life out of them. We must do better individually, but Bruce has to wise up and fast, as this 3-5-2 formation is just not working.
To say Steve Bruce has a LOT of work to do before our trip to Tottenham a week tomorrow is an understatement.