Positively negative…


After watching the pulsating Norwich vs Cardiff match, I concluded that it was perhaps the most exciting Championship game I have witnessed all season, and also realised the positives of anti-football. Cardiff started the brighter, and took advantage of some extremely slack defending to draw first blood. After the ball had hit the back of the net on 7 minutes, Dave Jones instructed his players to consolidate the centre of the park, and to keep at least 9 men behind the ball at all times in an attempt to close out the game. It forced Norwich to hold onto the ball and to probe their opposition, trying to pressure them into a lapse of concentration, the  breakthrough finally came on 90 minutes. Thankfully football prevailed in the end, but it’s important to discuss how Cardiff almost stole an undeserved 3 points from Carrow Road.

If anything, scoring so early on was a negative thing for the visitors. On Saturday, they lined up with four very attacking minded players on the field, and looked like they would attempt to take the game to Norwich, and to force the opposition to play on the brake. In recent weeks the Bluebirds have been woeful away from Wales, and this was the first away point accumulated in the past 5 away days. At the start of the season, they played with a sense of fluidity not so different from Arsenal, but this recent run of form has disrupted this confidence, and they are also currently without top scorer, Jay Bothroyd. In place of Bothroyd on Saturday, was debutant, Jon Parkin, and it was immediately obvious to see that he would be the fulcrum of their attack, with a very able supporting cast of Craig Bellamy, Peter Whittingham and Michael Chopra buzzing all over the final third. It is a front quadrant that promised goals, but after Parkin’s wonderful volley from the edge of the area, were nullified by a combination of fantastic defending and goalkeeping, and profligate finishing. disappointed when given a sight of goal. It can be argued that by scoring so early on, Cardiff were forced to invite the home team to attack them, and attempted to shut up shop. This meant that for the vast majority of the game whenever Cardiff gained possession, it would be launched route one in the hope that Parkin would knock the ball on to a more fleet-footed team mate.

Although I have no authority to compare neither Norwich or Cardiff to Inter Milan or Barcelona, I feel that the associations make sense. This game had shades of that infamous Champion’s League match up from April last year. Admittedly Inter had a two goal league to protect, and were organised with the plan of blocking Barcelona off before they managed to probe their way into the Nerazzurri penalty area. Mourinho’s tactics that day were to frustrate his opponents, and to attack them with pace when they were given the chance. Despite conceding in the final quarter of the match, Inter held on to make the final, winning the competition. There are obvious parallels between the two games: Cardiff got the single goal that they needed to emerge victorious from the contest, forcing Norwich to spread the ball around quickly in midfield in an attempt to carve open a chance. There were nervy moments for the visitors as David Fox struck the crossbar with a furious effort from 25 yards, and Norwich had two penalty shouts waved away, but until the excellent Russell Martin tapped in from a tight angle, it looked like they would hold on for all three points. With so little space in and around the Cardiff box, it was important that the Norwich midfield moved the ball quickly, and spread the play all over the pitch in the hope of creating space for the front two. The main instigator of this play was the marauding Wes Hoolahan, who was at the heart of everything Norwich. He rarely lost the ball, and cruised all over the park, floating into space. His forward thrust forced the gigantic Seyi Olofinjana to backtrack, reducing his impact on the game to some horrendous first touches and a lot of running. It can be argued that as good as Cardiff’s defensive unit were, their midfield was anonymous, and reduced to spectators for much of the match as the ball eluded them.

The most surprising outcome of the day was the contest between Russell Martin and Craig Bellamy. It was only last season that Bellamy was one of Manchester City’s most consistent and mercurial attackers. He struggled to make an impact on the game on his first competitive return to Carrow Road, and looked short of ideas when he had possession. With the approach of Cardiff after opening the scoring, Bellamy was forced to spend most of the game marking Martin, helping out his defensive team-mates. He has never been a defensively minded player, but in the flat 4-4-2 that Dave Jones’ team line up in, forces him to track back and stay in midfield which truly limits his impact on the game. Bellamy’s contribution can be compared to that of Samuel Eto’o against Barcelona. Eto’o made his name as a jet-heeled goal getter, similar to Bellamy, but on that great night, Mourinho played him out wide, utilising his pace in both halves of the pitch, allowing Inter a chance of relief. In both instances the player’s attacking prowess is subdued for the good of the team, but utilised in a quick breakaway.

The positives of anti-football are visible for all to see, and it’s a style that can garner results. It is a tactic that invites the opposition to come and attack, and to attempt to break them down. It is obvious to see that Cardiff’s, like all team’s tactics change from situation to situation, and that against a weaker side they would go all out to attack them. It’s a credit to Norwich City, and documents just how far that they have come in the past two seasons. Negative football can win points, and is a worthy tactic, but I’m just happy that in this instance football came out on top, but neither side were defeated.

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About htedbaker
I'm an englishman in America. Avid football fan/ aspiring sports journalist.

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