Paddy’s Pointers: Football. Just not as we know it
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City resume their Premier League quest in the strangest of circumstances against Southampton at Carrow Road on Friday. Paddy Davitt looks at what lies ahead.
1. Football. The People’s Game
So they say. Unless the financial imperative feels all-consuming it requires an artificial impersonation in the quest to finish a season unlike any other.
A product without fans, piped noise into empty stadiums, watched by socially distant substitutes and coaching staff.
Who themselves, along with the players actually on the pitch, will only be permitted to be in such close proximity if they have a ‘clinical passport’ - confirming they have had a negative coronavirus test in the five days prior to a game.
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Welcome to the new normal for now.
Norwich City’s prudence, when the thrust for sustainability was driven by a desire to have funds in the bank and saleable assets on their terms, should ensure they are insulated from the harshest of cold winds.
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But even those who dine at the top table could ill afford to take the vast hit from the reported broadcast rebates due had this campaign not resumed.
Plenty are opposed to a resumption, given the continued prevalence of a deadly virus in our society.
But millions of fans will watch the action unfold from the safety of home. Football brings people together. But not this version.
This is a crutch to a point in time when it is safe for supporters to return where they belong.
2. Turn up the power, Teemu
Norwich have a viable shot at avoiding relegation. But they need wins and they need them very quickly. Southampton, followed by Everton at Carrow Road, offers potential to close the gap and get those who had already consigned Daniel Farke’s squad to the Championship casting nervous glances over the shoulder.
To do that they will likely need Teemu Pukki at his sharpshooting best.
There is absolutely no question the Finnish international looked a weary version of the predator who fired City to the big time and began this elongated campaign in the same fashion.
A heavy workload, allied to injuries – notably that toe issue at Leicester City in December – combined to stunt his effectiveness. Just look at the bald statistics. In the first 18 games for club and country this season he plundered 13 goals.
In the next 17 his productivity dropped to five.
You can explain some of that away by the general decline in the Canaries’ overall performance, as they slipped further and further down the tree. But 100-plus days without a game must have rejuvenative effect on Pukki.
If not the road ahead looks impassable.
3. Central conundrum
No, you did not imagine it.
Alex Tettey and Ibrahim Amadou did operate as centre backs in a Premier League game for Norwich this season.
That was in a goalless affair at Bournemouth, when the only recognised centre back available at kick-off, Ben Godfrey, was himself forced to depart.
It is in no way a reflection or a slight on either player but City’s chronic shortage of central defenders was painfully underlined that day on south-coast when Tettey, who has been as good as one can remember over recent seasons, had to drop back to join Amadou at the heart of a depleted City backline.
At various points since last August Farke has been without all of his frontline options.
Not any more (with the necessary caveat we still await the identity of the player who will be unavailable for Southampton due to a positive coronavirus test last week and a full fitness bulletin from Farke).
That raises the tantalising prospect of deploying the defensive three the head coach would dearly loved to have tried more often prior to the shutdown.
Given the knock-on effects to the shape and balance of the entire side it has the potential to provide arguably the most fascinating glimpse into Farke’s thinking for these games ahead.
4. Let’s see it, Ondrej
When you listened to Farke’s initial assessment of what Ondrej Duda could bring to a malfunctioning area of his team back in January it was hard not to get too excited.
The City boss insisted it would have cost in the region of £20m to try and buy a player who was coming off the back of a very impressive Bundesliga tour at Hertha Berlin.
A failure to impress incoming boss Jurgen Klinsmann appeared to be to Norwich’s advantage but after a genuinely bright debut at home to Bournemouth the attacking midfielder failed to hit the heights.
Farke did caution at the same time it was a gamble worth taking, in terms of the financial risk ,but given the lack of time to acclimatise there could be no guarantees.
Duda has now had plenty of the latter.
Yet confirmation from himself in an interview carried in the Polish media he had no wish to return to Berlin early despite Klinsmann’s exit sent a positive signal.
His pedigree tells you there is a player capable of unlocking some of City’s latent creativity at the sharp end.
If Duda can detect the same wavelength as the likes of Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell to service Pukki, and Josip Drmic, it might not be too late for him or his loan club.