Paddy Davitt: Should Farke pick up the phone to Neil?

Norwich City's 3-1 Premier League defeat to Watford this season prompted a change of course from Daniel Farke

Norwich City's 3-1 Premier League defeat to Watford this season prompted a change of course from Daniel Farke - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Daniel Farke recently hailed the reassuring presence of Neil Adams as ‘someone who had walked in his shoes’. He could do worse than pick up the phone to another in Alex Neil. 

All three know what it is like to lead a Norwich City team in the Premier League. Alas, all three also know what it is like to lead them back to the Championship.

Albeit Adams was only in a caretaker role at that particular stage of his long association with the club that saw him recently confirmed as assistant sporting director. 

His internal promotion prompted those warm words from the man currently occupying the hotseat. 

‘Hot’ probably underplays the degree of discomfort Farke feels at present.

The manner of a 7-0 Chelsea defeat, framed within the desire to marry defensive resolve and attacking potency, is putting his methods under forensic scrutiny. 

After a toxic home loss to Watford earlier this season the City boss made a conscious decision to recalibrate both the formation and personnel in order to find that solid foundation.

Goalless draws against Burnley and Brighton suggested they were on the right track, until Chelsea ruthlessly exposed the fragility of what, under Farke, feels a marked departure.  

Yet his reasoning for this radical change in approach was not only sound but rooted perhaps in the bitter experience of a first tilt at the Premier League. 

Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki was unable to maintain his blistering start to life in the Premier League two seasons ago

Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki was unable to maintain his blistering start to life in the Premier League two seasons ago - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Limited

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City started with all the pomp and attacking punch that had swept them to a gloriously unexpected Championship title in 2019.

But by the time that summer sunshine at Carrow Road, and heady wins against Manchester City and Newcastle, had given way to an autumnal chill, the unforgiving nature of the English top flight proved suffocating.

When the goals dried up for Teemu Pukki so too did City’s belief. For Farke to perhaps seek a more pragmatic path this time around, after a string of August league defeats culminated in that Hornets’ reverse, was no surprise. 

But in so doing it appears to have blunted any real creative edge.

In relegating players like Milot Rashica or Christos Tzolis to the margins, in keeping Kieran Dowell in reserve and Todd Cantwell for now on the outside, it feels like Farke’s footballing template is operating under duress.

Something akin to a halfway house that prior to Stamford Bridge was yielding incremental results, but at what longer term cost or benefit? 

NCFC Extra: Dimi Giannoulis and reports of a Norwich City exit

This is why the parallels with Neil and his squad become ever more apparent. The abrasive Scot, and a group of players who memorably fought their way out of the Championship via a Wembley play-off win in 2015, tried to remain on the front foot when they hit the big time.  

“We wanted to approach it with no fear. As we had done in the Championship. But what happens is the Premier League humbles you pretty quickly,” he said, reflecting on his time at Carrow Road earlier this year on Stuart Hodge’s podcast.

“It is the only league I have worked in where you can play well consistently for a period of time and not win games. That happened to us on quite a few occasions.  

“You will have a group of fans who say, ‘We have to win at any cost to stay in the league’. And you will have another group of fans who want to see good, attacking football. If we play well and go down it is acceptable.

Alex Neil experienced the same Premier League dilemma as Daniel Farke

Alex Neil experienced the same Premier League dilemma as Daniel Farke - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

"But only to a point. There is a fine balance.

"I think naturally when you do not win games, you question everything. You will be judged purely on results. In a month’s time no one remembers the performance. You start to question your methods, whether you are going about it in the right way.  

“My instinct was always to attack but when you are getting damaged by teams with real quality it is hard. In the second half of that season 

"I tried to find a way to keep us in the league, and when you try and alter and manipulate you jeopardise things.

"They played very well under Daniel two seasons ago, for the most part, and still came down. So what is the right way?  

“Building confidence with players is not easy to do, but taking it away is. It can happen really quickly. Football is a game about momentum; it is not what you do, but how you do it.

"If you can convince the players so they have no doubts and believe in the process that is the aim, but it is hard to do when you are losing games.” 

Post-Chelsea, whether Farke reverts to type for this Sunday's visit of Leeds in a quest for more attacking output, or sticks rigidly to this remodelled defensive base, is just one of the fascinating sub-plots in play. 

Norwich City have to respond to a Chelsea hammering against Leeds United at Carrow Road

Norwich City have to respond to a Chelsea hammering against Leeds United at Carrow Road - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Neil suffered a similar watershed moment in his Premier League season, when City conceded six at Newcastle in their 11th top flight test. 

“I cannot say it was a conscious decision after that game,” he added. “But ultimately my job is to protect players and put them in a system they can win games.

"That can be countering teams, it can be pressing high, playing long, playing through the pitch. There is a variety of ways. We had always been aggressive and in the face and wanted to make it a game of ‘who hurts who’ the most.

"But when you concede six you think, ‘Do you have to dial this back?’ 

“It wouldn’t have surprised me after that result if I thought I need to protect this side, I need to set us up in a way that we can stay in games.  

“If you have a style that gets you out of the Championship but then you come up against teams who are better than you at it, something has to change.” 

That last point underlines the dilemma both Neil and now Farke appear to be wrestling with. If what got you out of the Football League is done better in the Premier League do you persevere or plot a different course? 

Neil failed in his endeavour. Farke still has another chance at the highest level to find the answer.