Paddy Davitt verdict: Farke and his roll of the dice at City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Daniel Farke appears to have embarked on a fundamental piece of football engineering at Norwich City. The pace of this change will decide the Canaries’ Premier League fate.
With each passing game, each unchanged line up and each clean sheet forged on a remodelled defensive shape the realisation dawns this is no longer the carefree, cut and thrust Farke constructed to win Championship titles.
This is a pragmatic, incremental attempt at firstly ensuring Norwich compete in the top flight and then ultimately add that attacking punch to turn recent defensive obduracy into winning football.
It is not sexy, nor is it edge of the seat consumption for fans who have returned with a renewed sense perhaps of what their football club means to them.
Right now, in the view of Farke and his coaching brains, this phase is an essential step on the journey. The garnish can come later, although if Josh Sargent slots into an empty net or Teemu Pukki continues where he left off in a Finland shirt, then City’s head coach may well have been able to reflect on a watershed moment.
Those in attendance for Brighton’s visit will have seen further evidence this is a work in progress. Rightly, Pukki and Sargent must be judged on goal output but there was enough in the manner of their link up play to suggest they can cause Premier League defenders real discomfort.
Mathias Normann roamed again like a gladiator across the pitch, picking up team mates and the thousands of home fans in attendance with the sheer force of his personality and willingness to lead the fight.
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While a second consecutive Premier League clean sheet, the first time Norwich have mustered two on the spin in the big time since 2016, hints Farke has found the personnel and set up to ensure City do not resemble the porous rabble they did in those uncomfortable early games.
Albeit those tests came against some of the best forwards in the club game, after a Covid-disrupted pre-season not fit for purpose.
But until Norwich stick a victory in that win column Farke’s public messaging remains a crucial bridge to a support who crave tangible evidence all the painstaking planning, the meticulous on going work at the training ground, the ambition displayed in the summer transfer market, can all be entwinned to deliver sustainable Premier League football.
While City remain winless this season Farke’s unwillingness to unleash Milot Rashica or Christos Tzolis, or even Kieran Dowell and Todd Cantwell, will continue to irk certain sections of his fan base.
Further, if Max Aarons and Dimitris Giannoulis find themselves pinned into a defensive five instead of a pair of adventurous wing backs the formation sceptics will never be convinced the pain is worth it.
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How Farke moves the dial, from the timely focus on City’s work against the ball and high quality Premier League opponents, to residual attacking productivity will define these months ahead.
This is an evolutionary process. As Farke himself said another clean sheet against Brighton marked a ‘small step’. We await the great leap forward.
Since that toxic home loss to Watford this feels increasingly like a new phase in the German’s lengthy Canaries’ timeline.
You can extrapolate an avalanche of statistics available but only once at the highest level this season have City edged possession. They only failed to do that three times in the entirety of last season’s Championship coronation.
For a head coach pigeon holed wrongly for a slavish adherence to possession football, and a premium on technique over physical combat, that marks a major departure.
It reflects the unforgiving environment Norwich now inhabit, the higher risk and reward tariff, and the acceptance what may have worked for City in the Football League is in the process of being deconstructed.
Billy Gilmour’s removal from the starting line up is perhaps the most graphical representation. The Chelsea loanee arrived to a huge fanfare after his eyecatching cameos for Scotland at the Euros.
The common perception that followed was this precociously talented Champions League winner would give City the control and the ability to dictate Premier League games against the non-elite.
The problem was his first faltering steps came against the biggest hitters, where City found themselves starved of the ball and in survival mode. Normann’s arrival has solved some of the complex issues but Gilmour’s absence from recent line ups can also be viewed as a by-product of Farke’s current direction of travel.
How to incorporate the youngster into this creative conundrum is an extension of the bigger challenge facing the Canaries’ chief.
But in adopting such a major shift since that Hornets’ home humbling, Farke appears intent on doing whatever it will take to find the answers.