David Hannant: How having fewer internationals could prove a blessing in disguise
PUBLISHED: 17:00 12 September 2018
International breaks have always been something of a bother for me - an unwanted respite from what I consider to be "proper football".
Despite the summer having restored my faith in the national team, I didn’t really engage with England’s first two outings since the World Cup. Personally I’d have preferred the league to kick on.
I also find the timing of them odd at best - the season is barely a month old and already the brake lever is pulled. And then there’s another in a month’s time.
However, rather than make this entire column a moan about missing a fortnight of Norwich City, I’m instead going to have a look into how the break could really play into our hands - or not.
As is often the case with (attempted) punditry, one of the first places to look is the past.
So just what has Daniel Farke’s track record of using these respites been like?
In a word - it hasn’t been ideal.
His first was sensational - the equivalent period last year following a dismal 4-0 mauling at the hands of Millwall - one of the worst outings of the season.
Whatever Farke did during that break was nothing short of miraculous, as what followed was by far and wide the best spell of his tenure - eight unbeaten in the league and that record-breaking run of clean sheets.
However, the other three went as follows:
- October 7, a 2-1 win away at Reading followed by a drab home draw with Hull
- November 11 - a drab away defeat to Bolton followed by an equally drab draw with Barnsley
- March 24: victory at home to Reading followed by being outclassed by Fulham.
So in terms of how the breaks have been used, only one in four really produced a reaction.
• A chance to build unity
A few seasons ago, an international break would create almost as many empty seats in the City dressing room as there are at Portman Road on a Saturday.
In the Premier League heyday almost the whole spine of the team would be off representing their country, be it Ireland, Scotland, Norway or whoever.
This season, while there are a few notable absences, the vast majority of the squad are back at base camp.
Does this mean we don’t have the same calibre of players, well, of course, however it also has its benefits.
A team is only as good as the sum of its parts and to truly capture their full potential, they need to have unity - achieved much easier with everyone about.
We can only hope this has been made the most of.
• A chance for reflection
Similarly, as I’m sure must have happened following that awful Millwall clash last year, international breaks present an opportunity for serious reflection.
The week off from league fixtures presents something few and far between in the hectic Championship season - the chance to take a good hard look at what has gone down so far.
A chance to look at what went right, what went wrong, what can be built on.
With the topsy-turvy campaign we are already experiencing, this - for me - could be priceless in determining just how the rest of the season goes.
Were I Daniel Farke, there is one thing for certain I’d have done: held a film night with my lads taking in every sloppy set piece concession of the season to really hammer home how it should not be done defensively.
Chances to reflect don’t come along often, it’s crucial they are grabbed with both hands.
• We should be so Pukki
While the international break provided a chance to reflect for many of City’s big players, for one man at least it has proved quite the eventful week ‘off’.
Teemu Pukki has been away with Finland, played twice, won 1-0 twice and got the winner twice.
Not too bad a return and could prove a great example of the other side of the international coin.
The Flying Finn will no doubt return feeling 10ft tall and, with any luck, will continue the fine form he’s already showed this campaign - or even take it to an even higher level.
• Ideal opponents?
And so regular service resumes with a home tie against one of the Championship’s more favoured sides - Middlesbrough.
However. Boro could actually prove ideal opponents to get the season back under way with.
First off, they’ve had almost a full XI of senior players away on international duty, compared to City’s four regular-ish starters.
And secondly, Boro were one of just two teams doubled by Farke’s Norwich City - perhaps they are still haunted by that day at Wembley. Making it four in a row would be quite the statement.
Thank you, Angela
I received a lovely email from Angela Woodrow after the last edition of this column.
In this email Angela raised some great points about what on the surface appears a fairly minor matter - throw-ins.
However, while they may seem on the surface a small part of the game, she made a great point about them.
She said that when Daniel Farke arrived she noticed some real urgency - players darting into space, allowing for a quick throw and possession being retained.
However, during the Leeds game, from which I was absent, she noticed players being far more static in these situations, bunching together before being out-muscled by the opposition.
And it is simple things like this that do make a world of difference - if the little things aren’t done properly and the 50-50s are lost, games will inevitably not go the way we all hope.
Angela finished her email by suggesting City put focus on getting back to basics and doing the simple things well and I couldn’t agree more.
Do it for Clarkey
This week marks 30 years in journalism for my column buddy and news editor, the one and only Ian Clarke.
You would truly do well to find somebody more passionate about their work than Clarkey and a big part of his passion is Norwich City Football Club.
In his time in the industry he has seen it all up Carra, promotions, relegations, Derby win after Derby win after Derby win, and through this column has captured the mood of the place with class, grace and awful puns.
One of the highlights of my working day is nattering away with him about all things Norwich City, when I probably should be doing more work!
It’s also great fun sharing this column with him and I take as much enjoyment from reading his thoughts on my fallow weeks as I do putting these together on my turns.
Obviously, we all know City go out to win every single week, as we all demand they do, but if for whatever reason they need a little more motivation for this weekend’s Boro game, here it is: do it for Clarkey!