Melissa Rudd: City’s confidence is in dire need of a rebuild
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Watford came to Carrow Road on Friday night averaging a goal every 165 minutes this season. It took them just 76 seconds to score against Norwich.
The real killer blow came when Andre Gray added a second 50 minutes later, but Daniel Farke's men had already been fighting an uphill battle to achieve something they haven't managed all campaign - win points from a losing position.
Emi Buendia may have been responsible for losing the ball to Gerard Deulofeu, but the whole passage of City's play was error strewn, from centre-half Ben Godfrey marauding to the left touchline initially, to Tom Trybull's reluctance to attempt to tackle and Alex Tettey following the run of Roberto Pereyra which cleared the way for Deulofeu's shot.
It was horrendous to watch from a defensive perspective, and it's becoming a weekly occurrence. With almost a third of the season gone, City find themselves rock bottom and four points adrift of safety. Is that long enough to establish that these players are not good enough for the Premier League? There is such a huge disparity between how they collectively perform at their very best compared to their very worst that it's impossible to tell.
This league can be brutal at times, and at the moment City are feeling its full force. It's impacted so much on team confidence that it's affected every aspect of their play.
City will continue to be self-funded under the stewardship of Stuart Webber as sporting director, he has reiterated countless times. It's an admirable model, but one that heaps even more pressure on every pound that is spent.
According to the club's recently-published accounts, they spent £6.2 million on securing the registrations of players in the summer. Those were Josip Drmic, Sam Byram and Rocky Bushiri, along with season-long loan deals for Patrick Roberts, Ralf Fährmann and Ibrahim Amadou. Further payments of £4.7m are dependent on club and/or player performance.
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After being forced to balance the books last season, Webber and Farke came into this campaign having achieved a lot on little resources. Five of the eight players brought in for first-team contention in the summer of 2018 didn't just significantly improve the squad, they transformed the team. Championship Player of the Season Teemu Pukki and first choice goalkeeper Tim Krul were free transfers. Purchases Moritz Leitner and in particular Buendia were key in winning promotion, while even loan signing Jordan Rhodes became a fans' favourite.
Compare that to the likes of Drmic and Roberts, who so far have played just 140 minutes between them. The injury crisis has prevented Amadou from featuring in his preferred position, while Byram has started just two games in a defence which has leaked goals all season. Bushiri was clearly a signing for the future - the 19-year-old is on loan at League One Blackpool.
Debate will rage on over the size of the club's transfer budget, but there is none to be had about whether those signings have made City a better team to date. Amadou aside, they have all played second fiddle to those already at the club.
The decision to spend so little has been compounded by the fact that several players who were outstanding last season have been disappointing so far this. Perhaps the meteoric rise of Godfrey, Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons in the title winning campaign left us expecting too much of the young defensive trio in the Premier League. All have struggled with the step up in quality, and they are not the only ones.
Farke managed to get the absolute best out of his squad for most of last season. For them to stay up come May he will have to do so again but find a way to rebuild their decimated confidence first... and quickly.