'Must do better' - Half-term report card for Daniel Farke's Norwich City
A new head coach. A new sporting director. The winds of change blew through Norwich City before a ball was kicked this season, Paddy Davitt assesses the rate of progress on the turn for home in the Championship.
Fate dealt Daniel Farke a cruel hand when Alex Pritchard was stretchered off in that meaningless pre-season friendly at Cambridge United.
It robbed the newly-installed head coach of as near to a guarantee of sheer quality you can get within a Norwich City squad that underwent shock treatment over the summer.
Farke, sporting director Stuart Webber, and managing director Steve Stone for that matter, have uttered enough soundbites in the intervening months to leave no supporter in any doubt as to the financial parameters now squeezing their football club.
City needed to lower the wage bill and bring in a healthy transfer window surplus.
The figures released at the recent annual meeting suggest they achieved both objectives; albeit Grant Hanley’s purchase from Newcastle United late in the summer window may have put a dent in the business model.
Farke knew what he was being asked to deliver when he was enticed from Borussia Dortmund, but you can be sure Pritchard was earmarked for a leading role in his quest to forge a new identity less reliant on monetary muscle.
Pritchard’s prolonged absence with an ankle ligament injury that required surgery and then a prolonged period of rehab may have fast-tracked the development of James Maddison.
But that surely can be the only upside from City having to cope without his impudence, his technical grace and his sheer class in the Championship.
The former Tottenham starlet’s match-deciding intervention on Boxing Day at Birmingham City was a timely reminder of what Farke and the Canaries have missed.
The first goal owed as much to the sharpness of his brain as it did the trigger move, sweeping Maddison’s quickly-taken free-kick up and over David Stockdale.
The precision of the pass cushioned inside a Blues’ defender for Josh Murphy to simply draw Stockdale and finish was equally impressive.
Pritchard is one of the best in the second tier at what he does.
Beyond the normal whirl of speculation this upcoming January window will inevitably trigger, he is vital to the next phase of Farke’s masterplan.
City’s head coach came with a reputation as a developer of talent.
That is clear given the faith and trust he has placed in not only Maddison but now Jamal Lewis. But Farke knows he will be judged on results.
The patchiness of Norwich’s formline over the first part of the Championship season is an acknowledgement of just how tough it has proved.
We await a consistent brand of possession football that is robust enough to resist in the difficult moments but clinical in the attacking third.
There were glimpses again of both at St Andrews and enough in the brightest spell of the season to feel optimistic, despite the difficult road ahead.
It is on Farke’s watch that Norwich set that club record run of clean sheets in the league, should anyone forget.
Not to mention that rarest of commodities in modern times - a bona fide cup run that culminated in an unjust League Cup exit to Arsenal in front of a noisy and colourful travelling support at the Emirates.
Derby dominance was also maintained. Another treat for the away fans, another day of memories across the border.
But the enduring struggles at Carrow Road, the lack of goals, the ease with which City’s backline has been punctured at places like Aston Villa and Millwall have dented the mood and checked the momentum.
The mantra you heard most often when Webber and Farke swept into office centred around a brave, new, fresh approach.
Given the scale of the squad turnover, the financial restrictions and the overhaul to the academy structure a ‘work in progress’ seems a somewhat hollow title.
But that is what it remains.
A glance at the current Championship table would tell you there has been success and failure to this midway point.
One would hope a controlled away win in the West Midlands, inspired by a fit-again Pritchard, with the likes of Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull now back in the mix, is the start of a genuinely consistent seam of results.
Then we can substitute ‘work in progress’ for simply ‘progress’.
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