Risk and reward for Norwich City chief Daniel Farke
Daniel Farke is preparing for a red letter day at Carrow Road against Brighton. Paddy Davitt assesses how the German's Norwich City squad is shaping up.
Daniel Farke will have one overriding wish as he leads out Norwich City at Carrow Road for the first time against Brighton this afternoon.
A winning finale to pre-season, more minutes on the pitch for his new-look squad, another chance to fine-tune the tactical flexibility so valued by the German are all desirable. But this final dress rehearsal is essentially an exercise in self-preservation.
Norwich will head to Craven Cottage next week for the Championship opener without injured duo Alex Pritchard and Timm Klose. Ivo Pinto and Wes Hoolahan must prove their fitness in the days ahead and the likes of Alex Tettey and Russell Martin have had to manage their bodies during a gruelling close season. The sight of Ben Godfrey operating on the right and then the left of a reshaped defensive unit at Charlton in midweek underlined Farke’s planning for Fulham is still susceptible to a cruel twist of fate.
We have seen it before at this advanced stage of the summer. Youssouf Mulumbu was ruled out for weeks after breaking his foot against Brentford days before the start of the 2015/16 Premier League campaign.
You could argue City have already suffered huge misfortune with the loss of the influential Pritchard. But at least Farke had time to audition for replacements. Steven Naismith has emerged in the final friendlies as a creative threat from central midfield, but the Scottish international must serve the remainder of a three match suspension during the first week of the new campaign. James Maddison has shown glimpses of his dash and verve, while Hoolahan may have been absent for most of the summer but remains a proven performer.
Farke should, by now, have a preferred line-up in mind for Fulham, barring any unwanted late injury dramas. The relative lack of defensive options lessens the need for guesswork. Russell Martin and Pinto appear locked in a right back duel. James Husband seemingly has a clear path on the opposite flank, with Jamal Lewis and Harry Toffolo both nursing minor injuries.
With Klose sidelined, Christoph Zimmermann and Marcel Franke have been afforded the opportunity to try and establish a central defensive alliance that could go a long way to deciding the Canaries’ Championship fate.
You detect genuine excitement around the scale of the change Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber have unleashed this summer, but numerous variables remain. Both German centre backs must prove they can handle the rigours and physical demands of the English second tier. One well remembers the culture shock Klose alluded to around this time last year when he was buffeted by the likes of Daryl Murphy and Rickie Lambert. This may be the start of a new era, but Farke’s quest to address City’s alarming concession rate under Alex Neil must be a top priority.
His challenge is to equip Norwich’s players with the defensive resolve and tactical organisation that removes the need to try and out-score opponents each week rather than grind them down, when the occasion demands.
In that regard, Chris Hughton’s Brighton is a useful barometer. The Seagulls were superbly well-drilled by the ex-Norwich boss last season. There was a dash of individual quality in the shape of players such as Anthony Knockaert but the surge to promotion was founded on a discipline and collective resolve.
There have been signs in pre-season Farke is striving for a similar template.
Much of the week-long trip back to his homeland was spent drilling his men out of possession. The German’s half-time angst at Charlton during the week was fuelled by his players’ failure to master the earthier basics. Farke’s high-brow reputation should not disguise his love of teamwork, fighting spirit and battling qualities.
The head coach’s philosophy revolves around dominating the ball but it is City’s ability to resist that holds the key over these coming months.
Even with the departures of Jonny Howson, Graham Dorrans and Jacob Murphy, Norwich’s squad carries plenty of forward thrust and attacking potential.
Harrison Reed is an astute loan signing. Mario Vrancic has the technical ability to influence games in the Championship, while the Canaries retain a potent spearhead, for all the speculation around Cameron Jerome and Nelson Oliveira.
There are grounds for optimism on the early evidence, but Farke will breathe much easier tonight if he can navigate one more friendly unscathed.