Robin Sainty: Daniel Farke’s work on Norwich City’s defence is paying dividends

PUBLISHED: 07:34 03 February 2018

They shall not pass - Grant Hanley gets to grips with Brentford's Ollie Watkins. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

They shall not pass - Grant Hanley gets to grips with Brentford's Ollie Watkins. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

©Focus Images Limited +447814 482222

While promotion this season now seems a forlorn hope, the adage about defences winning titles would suggest that Daniel Farke’s Norwich City are heading in the right direction.

Timm Klose has been part of a successful three-man defensive strategy. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdTimm Klose has been part of a successful three-man defensive strategy. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Another impressive shutout on the road chalked up a fourth successive away clean sheet in the league.

In all honesty, watching the Canaries away from home last season became a form of purgatory as defensive errors and an inability to come from behind produced numerous torrid afternoons, some of them just as embarrassing as the early visits to Villa Park and the New Den this term.

There’s no doubt that the switch to three at the back has worked wonders, but so has the continuity of selection, because while the workload imposed upon Christoph Zimmermann, Timm Klose and Grant Hanley has been heavy, it has enabled them to develop an almost telepathic understanding of where they each need to be in any given situation, something that can only come from playing together.

On Saturday, every time a Brentford player seemed to have found a yard in the box, one of the City centre backs would materialise from nowhere to snuff out the danger, so much so that Angus Gunn mostly had crosses or shots from distance to deal with, although the quality of his handling shouldn’t be overlooked.

However, what I really like about the three players is that they don’t just defend. Both Klose and Zimmermann were involved in the build-up to City’s goal, and the latter went on another of what are now becoming his trademark buccaneering forward sorties after both he and Hanley had come close to scoring in the first half.

Special mention should also go to Harrison Reed, of whom I was critical in last week’s column. Most of us were worried that the absence of a recognised right back after Ivo Pinto’s bizarre injury would be City’s Achilles’ heel, but after a testing opening period when Brentford clearly targeted him, Reed put in a convincing performance in an unfamiliar position, both defensively and on the overlap.

While Farke still has to find the right formula at Carrow Road, City have now won more games away from home under the German than they managed in each of the last two seasons and whilst watching them grinding out 1-0 victories may not be good for the nerves, nor easy on the eye, it’s what successful Championship football is all about.

Of course, the key now is whether, having brought in forward players who are of his and Stuart Webber’s own choosing, rather than inherited from the previous regime, Farke can balance the side’s undoubted defensive resilience with an ability to break down teams that come to Carrow Road to defend.

We will have to wait and see on that one, with Onel Hernandez and Dennis Srbeny confined to watching roles at Griffin Park, and Moritz Leitner only getting a few minutes’ action, although a sublime 30-yard pass curled around three defenders which nearly put James Maddison in for a clinching second was a tantalising glimpse of what he might bring to the party.

Clearly Srbeny in particular is a gamble, but when League One strikers like Jack Marriott are being valued at £6 million the decision to shop for players from a similar level in overseas markets makes a great deal of sense, given that German media reports suggest that City got their man for around a sixth of that price.

Of course, cheap buys won’t always work out, although Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Steven Naismith are living proof that big fees don’t guarantee success either, but they do allow a margin for error, something that record signings don’t.

Before the season started Webber talked about the need to be creative in the transfer market and with the wage bill reduced and new blood introduced I think he’s been as good as his word in this window.

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