Connor Southwell: City's battle between idealism and pragmatism
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's Premier League outlook has been a conflict between two mindsets for boss Daniel Farke.
The Canaries are still searching for their first point since returning to the top flight and Farke's choices both on formation and style have raised quite a few eyebrows among supporters.
Given the manner in which their Premier League season swirled down the plughole after Project Restart, many could forgive any scarring that period had on those characters who were involved within it.
The headline figure of 15 top-flight matches without a win may have been broken up by a record breaking Championship title win but the baggage of how they were relegated still lingers in everyone's minds.
In reality, City have the same coaching staff, key personnel and even a chunk of the same squad. They may be performing a new scene, but this feels like the horrorshow that was broadcast out to homes across the country just over 12 months ago.
Since that depressing relegation, City's boss has been asked countless times about what lessons both he and the club have learned.
Farke has always denied that he walked away from that fateful season with grand revelations or a willingness to make tweaks to his preferred way of building a side. After all, the German has displayed his ability to convert a side into a defensively sound unit on a few occasions.
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Criticism of their approach to the top-flight was bound to arrive in some form at some stage, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to mount arguments against those bemoaning City at present.
It's been visible in the opening five matches that there is a struggle at present to discover a balance between Farke's ideal way of operating and a pragmatic approach that ensures they remain competitive in large portions of matches.
At present, perhaps the most concerning aspect is the lack of identity.
City steamrolled the Championship with a 4-2-3-1 formation and a clear vision of what they were. Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell occupied positions that saw them drift inwards, Teemu Pukki sat on the shoulder and fed largely on the balls behind defensive backlines.
Fast forward just a few months and City have ditched that. The fundamentals remain the same, they want to progress the ball up the pitch and attack teams but clearly feel they require a more robust spine.
That logic is sound. Much of the debate two years ago centred around a soft underbelly and a problematic number 10 position. In the Premier League, that attacking midfield spot can become invisible if you aren't dominating the ball.
But in equal measure, it has a knock on effect to Pukki who feeds largely on that method of service. City are now looking to implement pacey wide players. Their midfield three still feels disjointed. They are shipping goals at an alarming rate.
Those facts mean the mood music is playing an all too familiar bleak tune as City look to bridge a top-flight chasm. That is made all the harder to swallow by Brentford's seamless adaptation to the same choppy waters the Canaries are struggling to navigate.
The gaping wounds that caused so much pain two years ago are slowly being stabbed into again.
Fans just want this time to be different. They want to be the side that adapts seamlessly to life in the Premier League. They want to have success at this level. They were prepared for things to be different this time.
Nothing is said and done yet. Norwich's fate won't be defined by the opening five matches, everyone knows that. Equally, the fog surrounding Carrow Road is thick and the light isn't yet bright enough to pierce through it.
Internally, Farke seems to be battling between his preferred way of playing and being pragmatic. Currently, City are failing to do either.
If that persists and a middle ground isn't reached, then everyone is acutely aware of how quickly this could unravel. Time is a finite resource and in the Premier League, it can slip away rapidly.
Norwich have invested heavily into both the coaching staff and squad this time around. With that will come a degree of expectation of where the level should be. The narrative from those who matter is radically different this time around and there won't be any reluctance to make a change if that point was reached.
At present, it's about finding a solution to their slump and ensuring they inject some optimism in their campaign. Farke's sides have been notoriously slow starters before and he has shown himself to be capable of adapting his team accordingly.
This is his biggest test yet. He must prove he is capable of galvanising a top-flight side.
Patience from supporters and those above him has always been generous, the boos that sounded out against Watford indicates the crowd might not be as forgiving this time around.
This week will have been spent around a drawing board as they plot their next move. For Farke, that will need to translate into results, if only to ensure the fans remain on side.