David Freezer: Assessing Farke’s options as City’s injury curse rears its ugly head again
Daniel Farke has a good poker face. Despite the defensive injury curse striking yet again for Norwich City, the German still managed to paint a positive picture and smile after delivering news of a cruel triple blow.
Not just skipper Grant Hanley out for the remainder of the season but Sam Byram and Christoph Zimmermann too, leaving the Canaries without any senior defensive cover ahead of tonight’s restart.
As was the case earlier in the season it seems the experience of Alex Tettey will be needed to fill holes in the back-line should any more emerge during the chaotic six weeks of non-stop football which has just kicked off.
If Jamal Lewis or Max Aarons picks up an injury it’s either going to push Ben Godfrey wide while Tettey slots in alongside Timm Klose at centre-back, or it’s going to require a change of shape with attacking players such as Onel Hernandez and Emi Buendia playing as wing-backs.
I hope Farke found a love for jigsaw puzzles during lockdown, because he could soon have some pieces which just won’t easily fit into the holes which remain in his City team. He may have to get creative because there aren’t even many academy options available.
Jordan Thomas, at 19 years old and without senior experience, looks to be first off the rank in terms of full-back cover having played consistently at right-back for the under-23s this season.
Belgium U19 international Rob Nizet, 18, has been the regular left-back for David Wright’s development squad this season so could be another option.
The strange side-story however is that there are more experienced young Canaries players - it’s just they’re not allowed to play.
January signing Sam McCallum has just won the League One title with Coventry and his season has been curtailed on points-per-game, yet because he was registered with the Sky Blues for the second half of 2019-20, he cannot represent his parent club until 2020-21.
Add to that mix centre-back options in Rocky Bushiri and Akin Famewo, who had been playing top-tier football in Belgium and Scotland respectively. Their loan spells prevent them from providing Farke some options. It’s thought the same goes for another central option in Louis Lomas, who was due to play for Tampa Bay Rowdies, even though the second tier in the USA is yet to kick-off this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Which appears to leave USA youth international Jonathan Tomkinson and Republic of Ireland U19 international Andrew Omobamidele, at 18 and 17 respectively, as the next centre-backs off the academy rank. Both have size on their side and were playing regularly at under-23 level this season - but would be facing huge steps up if called upon at senior level.
I’m not realistically saying they will be involved - and we’ll all have our fingers crossed that Klose, Godfrey, Aarons and Lewis remain unscathed during this busy spell. Unfortunately however, that looks a big ask, for the four of them to manage all of the 10 games approaching in the next six weeks.
Klose is just back from a serious knee injury suffered in August and barely played during the second half of last season due to injury. At 32 years old it’s clear he will have to be managed very carefully during his comeback.
Take him out and that probably means losing Tettey from the midfield mix, who has continued to prove that his positioning, nous and physicality can still be such an important asset at times during this campaign.
It could mean that we get to see three at the back more often for City - but in far from ideal circumstances, probably with Lewis on the left and Godfrey to the right of Tettey in a 3-5-2 formation.
All set against the difficult position of being six points from safety with nine games remaining, written off by almost everyone outside of Norfolk.
So all Farke can do is accentuate the positive. There’s nothing to lose, throw everything and the kitchen sink at the situation, in pursuit of defying the odds, of pulling off an epic great escape.
The last time this squad’s backs were up against the wall to this extent they roared back with victory over the champions.
If not, it’s a case of heading back to the Championship with heads held high - but the battle isn’t over yet. Southampton need to be ready because the underdogs will be fired up this evening.
- You can follow all the action with our Canaries correspondents at pinkun.com as usual, with updates before, during and after games in our Matchday Live blog, as well as a match report and full analysis and reaction after the final whistle.
- And watch out for a Zoom call we’ll be hosting at midday on Saturday to discuss all the fallout from the Southampton game with City supporters. Click here to register.