Let battle commence. Big stakes on Norwich City’s German tour
City’s pre-season planning moves up a notch on Sunday with the opening game of the club’s week-long German tour against SC Paderborn. Paddy Davitt assesses how selection battles are shaping up.
Remi Matthews will hope to get his Championship chance but the Gorleston-bred stopper will want no more of the embarrassing concessions he was embroiled in at Lincoln with Sean Raggett.
Farke has so far alternated between Matthews and Northern Ireland number one Michael McGovern in the early pre-season sparring.
Expect clear water between the two by the time City return to England.
But to do that Matthews has to prove he has the presence and the maturity to finally grasp his chance. Aston Oxborough caught the eye 12 months ago in Germany with some assured displays in the development friendlies.
That must be the objective this time around.
Ivo Pinto and Grant Hanley have both travelled but with the duo enduring injury-hit starts to pre-season and Russell Martin clearly out of the first team picture, there is a window of opportunity in defensive positions.
Farke’s first season at Carrow Road was notable for a high degree of flexibility in what the head coach labels his ‘base formation’. We have seen that trend already this summer with a defensive three of Ben Godfrey, Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmermann start at Lincoln City and a flat back four of Ben Marshall, Zimmermann, Sean Raggett and Max Arrons finish at Sincil Bank.
Felix Passlack makes a swift return to Germany following his season-long loan move from Borussia Dortmund.
Passlack’s pedigree suggests he has been recruited to play a leading role down the right-hand side. But the 20-year-old needs to prove he can adapt quickly to handle the rough and tumble of the Championship.
Friendlies against Bundesliga 2 duo SC Paderborn, Union Berlin and Bundesliga top flight side VfL Wolfsburg in less fraught surroundings can aid that assimilation process.
Godfrey remains an interesting case study. This time last summer Farke deployed him at right back but his vulnerability was apparent. A storming season long loan stint as a holding midfielder at Shrewsbury underlined that feels his most natural position.
But given the hot competition in this area of the squad such adaptability in a defensive three might tip the balance, as Farke and Stuart Webber weigh up another potential loan spell away.
Klose and Zimmermann will take some shifting but with Hanley likely to be on the sidelines in Germany, Raggett needs to grasp any game time. Jamal Lewis is set to make his first appearance of the summer, after some minor fitness concerns.
It already looks like a straight shoot out with Marco Stiepermann down that left flank. But given Lewis’ signalled his intent this time last summer, Max Arrons should not be discounted.
Unquestionably, the deepest, richest part of Farke’s squad last season. The same arguably holds true now, despite the various tweaks over recent weeks. There appears plenty of flexibility and latent potential to alter the mix in what remains a crucial dimension for Farke.
The German has showed a pragmatic side since his arrival but the template still revolves around possession.
Moritz Leitner will be the conductor, following the departure of James Maddison. But to get the best out of the former German Under-21 international he needs protection behind and options in front. Wider players such as Emi Buendia, Onel Hernandez and Ben Marshall know they are in direct competition.
Buendia was targeted at the very start of this year and that game of patience should end with his first Norwich outings in Germany after overcoming a calf problem.
Yanic Wildschut is another wide option, but everything points to City’s top brass seemingly willing to sanction a summer exit, with former club Wigan touted with a loan interest.
In central areas, Louis Thompson’s eye-catching stint at Lincoln suggests Tettey and to a lesser extent Tom Trybull might not have it all their own way. Although Farke is right to caution about pushing Thompson too quickly after such a long injury lay-off.
Kenny McLean was the pick of the new boys at Lincoln and again looked a goal threat against Crawley on Thursday.
The Scot can really cement his place in Farke’s starting plans for the league campaign if he continues in that vein. And do not discount Todd Cantwell at this stage, who made his return after injury against Crawley.
Jordan Rhodes looked fit and hungry at Sincil Bank just hours after his loan move from Sheffield Wednesday was confirmed during the week. Farke insists his goalscoring instincts remain sharp despite a fallow period in his career.
The character and attitude are not in question, given how hard the Scottish international pushed to get the deal over the line.
If Rhodes can re-discover the prolific seam of early spells, then Norwich may have pulled off a masterstroke.
One would hope to see Farke cast his eye again over a potential coupling between Rhodes and Teemu Pukki in Germany.
With Nelson Oliveira left back in the UK, and Farke unable to provide any guarantees over his longer term future, plus the fact Dennis Srbeny is yet to convince, Norwich’s attacking mix may well be established by the time the squad return to England.