There is a very simple way of describing Norwich’s situation: they are not going to survive in the Premier League unless they improve significantly at the back.
Eight games in, even a quick glance at their defensive statistics makes for alarming reading, and should show Canaries boss Daniel Farke that something has to change.
Three straight defeats have left them second-bottom of the table, but it was the way they lost 5-1 at home to Aston Villa just before the international break that is the real cause for concern.
What happens next? Well, I am not saying they should suddenly just abandon their identity as an attacking team, which is what propelled them to promotion last season.
But even then they were giving opposition teams a lot of chances, and the thought process seemed to be ‘we will outscore you’.
It is OK to be open when you can do that but, when you go up a level, it becomes a much more dangerous approach.
|Norwich in the Premier League 2019-20 (and rank)|
|Goals conceded||Av. goals conceded per game||Av. shots faced per game||Av. shots on target faced|
|21 (20th)||2.63 (20th)||17.88 (20th)||7 (20th)|
Clearly, you have to ask whether Norwich’s backline is getting enough protection now they are in the Premier League, and also whether their defenders are good enough to cope by winning their individual battles when they are left exposed?
So far, it appears the answer to both questions is ‘no’, and I think it is slightly misleading to just put that down to the injury problems Farke has faced.
Injuries are not an excuse for everything
I still live in the area and read the local paper so I’ve seen there has been a big thing made about the injuries Norwich have suffered in the past few weeks, and of course they have missed some of the players who have been sidelined.
There have been goalkeeper issues with their top two, Tim Krul and Ralf Fahrmann, both out. At centre-half, Christoph Zimmermann, Timm Klose and Grant Hanley are long-term absentees, which has meant a defensive midfielder, Ibrahim Amadou, has filled in there rather than play in his preferred position.
More recently, midfielders Kenny McLean and Todd Cantwell picked up problems over the international break.
It is clearly far from ideal, but I actually look at Norwich’s line-ups in recent weeks and I do not see many bit-part players.
Three of the back four who played in the famous 3-2 win over Manchester City on 14 September also played in the 5-1 home defeat by Villa on 5 October, a team whom Norwich beat home and away in the Championship last season and finished 18 points above in the table.
You could even argue that their line-up was actually stronger for the Villa game because their first-choice right-back Max Aarons replaced Sam Byram, but there were only three changes in total from the City game so it is not as if there were wholesale changes.
In any case, you cannot blame bad results on not having the personnel available if you still just go out and play in your usual attacking style, because surely sticking with it in those circumstances is not a sensible thing to do?
If you have a weakened team, then give them more protection.
I am a huge fan of expansive football but sometimes you need to try to keep your back four intact – so, tell your full-backs to sit in and play a little more pragmatically.
It was scary to see how open Norwich were
This is not a case of me putting the boot into Farke. Far from it.
His Canaries side put in one of the greatest performances in the club’s history when they beat Manchester City last month, and there is nothing wrong with them as an attacking force.
My issue is that they seem to be making every game a shoot-out and with their weaknesses in defence, it has left them as sitting ducks.
Their defeat by Villa was a good example of that – I was watching it and could not believe how ludicrously open they were. It was scary.
Norwich had plenty of chances in that game too – 12 in the first half, and 21 in total, which is impressive in isolation – but the only team to have more shots in the Premier League that weekend were Villa, with 22.
There needs to be some more balance between attack and defence from Farke’s point of view, because his side are leaving their attack too much to do.
I think the Canaries have enough creativity in their team to compete in the top flight, but you can’t ask them to score three goals to win a game – which essentially is what is happening at the moment.
Defend better, or Norwich are doomed
It is pretty clear what is going to happen if Norwich do not improve at the back – they will be relegated.
The Canaries have not only conceded the most goals, most shots and most shots on target in the top flight this season, they are among the worst teams historically in all of those categories too.
|Most goals conceded per game in Premier League history|
|Team||Season||Av. goals conceded||Position|
|If Norwich continue at the same rate, they will concede 99.94 goals this season|
|1. Norwich City||2019-20||2.63||19/20 (so far)|
|2. Swindon Town||1993-94||2.38||22/22|
|3. Derby County||2007-08||2.34||20/20|
In fact, Norwich are shipping goals at a faster rate than any team in Premier League history, relegated or not.
Since 1992, only one team has stayed up having conceded on average more than two goals a game (Wigan with 2.08 in 2009-10). At the moment, Norwich’s record is a lot worse than that.
|Most shots faced per game in Premier League|
|Team||Season||Av. shots faced||Position|
|Opta data available since 2003-04|
|4. West Ham||2010-11||18.26||20/20|
|7. Norwich||2019-20||17.88||19/20 (so far)|
The big worry for me if Norwich are going to carry on going toe-to-toe with every Premier League side they meet, is how many of them will be capable of taking advantage of them the way Villa did? I suspect most of them are.
If they take many more beatings like that, it is going to have a negative impact on their players too.
|Most shots on target faced per game in Premier League|
|Team||Season||Av. shots on target faced||Position|
|Opta data available since 2003-04|
|1. Norwich||2019-20||7||19/20 (so far)|
This Norwich team is far from battle-hardened – only six of their squad have played in the Premier League before, and only four of them – Tim Krul (157 games), Alex Tettey (71), Sam Byram (27) and Grant Hanley (25) had played more than a handful of top-flight games before this season started.
As well as not knowing yet how good they are at this level, we don’t know how they will respond to heavy defeats.
That could affect their confidence too and, if they start to lose belief in the way Farke wants them to play, then they really are in trouble.
Have lessons been learned in first few weeks?
The big positive about all of this is that it is still so early, there is no need to panic yet.
If I was a player in the Norwich dressing room now, I would be thinking about how we do need to tighten up, but I would also be confident we have players who can hurt Premier League sides.
Yes, Norwich are in the bottom three but they are well in touch with all the teams above them and of course Farke will be well aware of the stats I have been talking about and all the issues they are facing.
I always expected them to have some tough times as a promoted side this season, so it is not a surprise to see them near the bottom of the table.
Staying up is their target and they are giving it a go by playing entertaining football, having not spent much money in the summer.
Unlike Villa, who spent heavily and bought a new team over the summer, Norwich decided to stick with the players who got them promoted.
I understand why they have done that but Farke might have to think again about what he needs in January if the players he has got are not good enough to play the way he wants to in the Premier League.
Games like Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth will help tell him that.
Like Crystal Palace and Burnley, who Norwich have lost to on the road in the past few weeks, the Cherries are going well and in the top half of the table, but this is another game that the Canaries fans will be thinking they should get something out of, and earn a first away point.
I just hope Norwich have learned their lesson from what has happened in the first few weeks of the season, and the size of the Villa defeat might turn out to be the best thing to have happened to them there.
If they had drawn that game 3-3 then they might be thinking ‘let’s carry on the same way’, but losing 5-1 might mean the manager makes some tweaks.
He needs to do something different, because Norwich need some clean sheets and they don’t look like getting them at the moment.
Chris Sutton was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.