Rob Sainty: Norwich City's double-edged sword

Republic of Ireland's Adam Idah has an attempt on goal during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying mat

Adam Idah on international duty for the Republic of Ireland in midweek - Credit: PA

This week must have been immensely frustrating for Daniel Farke.

Having finally got all the pieces of the jigsaw that he now has to successfully assemble, he’s seen a large chunk of his squad disappearing around the globe and has had to wait anxiously to find out how many of them would return unscathed. 

Inevitably, there has been huge interest from City fans in Mathias Normann, and the club’s latest acquisition looked impressive in his two starts for Norway, while Grant Hanley produced another man of the match performance for Scotland against Austria, a game in which Billy Gilmour also stood out. 

However, perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the international break for Farke will be the performance of Andrew Omobamidele in his first start for the Republic of Ireland, which received a rave review from no less a judge of quality centre backs than Paul McGrath. 

Omobamidele is the latest in an increasingly impressive line of talented youngsters who have been developed and backed to the hilt by City’s head coach and it will surely have given him great pleasure to see him produce such an excellent full debut for his country, although he would also have enjoyed seeing Adam Idah leading the line so convincingly. 

On the one hand, it’s great that City have the services of so many internationals, but the disruption to a Premier League season that is only three games old is unhelpful to say the least, and the truncated nature of the qualification for next year’s World Cup due to the pandemic means that three games rather than the usual two are being shoehorned into international breaks, putting additional pressure on players who are still working towards full match fitness. 

Norwich City boss Daniel Farke plans to shuffle his pack for the Cherries' cup test

Daniel Farke with US international Josh Sargent - the Canaries boss will be hoping his international players come back unscathed - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Limited

Of course, one of the side effects of that is that games were still being played on Wednesday evening, giving even less time for players to work with their club team-mates before today’s fixtures. 

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Clearly, there is often dialogue between international and club managers to try to balance the best interests of both, as can perhaps be seen in the fact that Normann was an unused sub on Tuesday night for Norway’s less demanding fixture against Gibraltar. 

However, I suspect that Farke may have been less happy that the club’s prognosis on Christos Tzolis’s calf injury didn’t stop him being named on the Greek bench on Wednesday evening, particularly after Kenny McLean and Dimitris Giannoulis had already picked up knocks earlier in the week. Fortunately, it seems that Tzolis came through unscathed as well as providing the assist for what turned out to be Greece’s winner. 

Of course, all Premier League managers will have had similar problems to deal with, with the situation even more difficult with players returning from South America, where the abandonment of the game between Brazil and Argentina emphasised yet again that we are still an awfully long way from normality. 

Ironically, Arsenal have had fewer players on international duty than City (which once again undermines the national media’s persistent narrative that City aren’t genuinely competing to stay in the Premier League) and that will certainly be an advantage to Mikel Arteta this afternoon, but a poor start by the Gunners could well see their notoriously fickle crowd become restive, so City will need to bring energy to their performance. 

Given that the squad has been separated over the last fortnight it seems unlikely that Farke will make any radical changes to his formation, and any thoughts of three at the back may well be shelved for the time being, but he could decide that, even despite hardly seeing him on the training ground yet, Normann is a risk worth taking given the frailties that City have shown in defensive midfield areas. 

This will be a high-pressure game for both teams, but that may actually help City because Arteta surely can’t survive another defeat. Whatever happens it will be tense! 

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