Set-play sillies must stop but my Norwich City stein glass is still half full
PUBLISHED: 20:00 09 August 2017
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So much has changed since I last penned this column at the end of the season. However, Tuesday’s cup tie with Swindon was the first I have actually seen of the new Norwich City.
The pre-season build-up had already got me cautiously excited about what Daniel Farke’s side would look like – everything I have heard from him has impressed me so far – his philosophy, how he wants to play the game.
Even before his appointment, I long since identified as a major Germanophile, particularly in the footballing sense. The way Germans go about the game both on and off the field is exactly how the beautiful game is at its most beautiful - the style of play, the off-field structure, the emphasis on development.
So when City looked over to the nation the Simpsons once nicknamed ‘The Land of Chocolate’ for the new coaching team, I was delighted.
When Daniel Farke then began talking of high octane, possession football, dominating the play and letting the ball do the work, I was even more optimistic – providing it could be implemented.
Tuesday was, of course, against League Two opposition, so I take what I saw with a pinch of salt, but for the most part, I loved it.
City delivered exactly what Daniel Farke promised – they controlled the game and the passing was delightful.
One player who particularly impressed me was Harrison Reed. About 15 minutes in I started to notice that his passes practically never went astray.
From that point I decided to deliberately keep a mental record of the number of times he gave the ball away for the remainder of the match. Unless I had a slight lapse of concentration and missed one, I counted zero. More on lapses of concentration later...
The player he reminded me most of was Michael Carrick. He looks reliable, composed, industrious and can pick a pass.
And then there was James Maddison, who I have a couple of predictions about that I am happy to be dug out down the line.
Prediction one: if he continues to perform the way he has been, he will walk player of the year.
Prediction two: he will be City’s first £20m+ sale – though I’d rather not think of losing him yet.
The former Coventry man and Wes Hoolahan side-by-side in the midfield is like banoffee pie – it should be too sickly to come off – but it definitely does. Throw Alex Pritchard in the mix and you’ll struggle to find a better midfield trio outside of the Premier League top eight, let alone this level.
The fact Daniel Farke seems to be actively seeking out a system to fit all these creative types bodes really well, particularly for fans of football being played on the grass and not in the clouds – as I am.
However, while the majority of what I saw on Tuesday pleased me, there was still a vulnerability that is worrying – set pieces.
It’s something that has plagued City teams in the side, and based on Tuesday’s game, it isn’t something that is about to change.
For both of Swindon’s goals, one vital ingredient seemed to be missing – concentration.
I’m far from being a coach, but in my eyes, concentration is probably the most important thing when defending a set piece – that and organisation. Know your job, concentrate on doing it and you won’t concede – it should really be that simple. However, I do have faith that this is being addressed.
When unveiling Marco Stiepermann, Daniel Farke spoke of how his height will be an asset to us at set plays. Now, I’m not saying Stiepermann will be the answer, but what this tells me is that Farke is well aware of the issue and is addressing it.
Which brings me onto one final thing that has impressed me about City’s new head coach. He doesn’t appear to give stock answers.
Every comment I’ve read of his appears to have been thought out - when he speaks about signings he explains exactly why they have been brought in.
There is something forensic about the way he talks about the game too, which has really impressed me. I think this bodes really well for the season.
And yes, the goals we conceded from set pieces on Tuesday were sloppy, but it is much better to have identified this early.
If Farke’s side can nip this in the bud sooner rather than later, my cautious optimism will be far less cautious.
After a summer of big change, there are bound to be some teething problems, particularly with the influx of players with no experience of English football.
However, if at this stage the only real teething problem is dealing with set pieces, the outlook is positive – as this should be a problem that is easy enough to eradicate.