Changes are good for Norwich City but please, no more injuries
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Despite the last meeting between Norwich City and Brighton having taken place just three months ago, an awful lot of water has flowed under the bridge, particularly as far as the hosts are concerned.
While the visitors are preparing for their first ever season in the Premier League and have set about strengthening their existing squad accordingly, City, under the new regime of sporting director Stuart Webber, have embarked on a much more radical programme of rebuilding which has already seen five of their starting line-up on that evening in April moving to pastures new, some of their own volition and others as the result of being released.
Unfortunately, a sixth, Alex Pritchard, the undoubted star of that game, is also now facing a lengthy lay-off as a result of an injury sustained in the friendly against Cambridge United, and that has presented Daniel Farke with his first real headache as it seems certain that the former Spurs player would have been central to his plans.
Fortunately, attacking midfield is an area where City have plenty of options, with Wes Hoolahan, Mario Vrancic, Steven Naismith and James Maddison all capable of playing that role.
So, what can fans expect of the new-look City?
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Whilst it’s dangerous to read too much into friendly matches, the early signs are that we can expect a much more compact shape and the sort of energetic high pressing that characterised the early part of Alex Neil’s tenure, given that pre-season training has been intense with double sessions pushing the players to the limit.
However, the way in which the side develops its own moves is likely to be significantly different as the two games in Germany in particular showed a desire to build patiently from the back, something which may cause a degree of apoplexy amongst those of a nervous disposition.
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Farke has made it very clear in interviews that he believes passionately in his side keeping the ball, so don’t expect too many speculative punts upfield; instead there will be a willingness to go back in order to go forward and plenty of interplay between the centre backs and keeper until the right opportunity to play through midfield arises.
That style, of course, requires comfort on the ball, and that is an area where both Marcel Franke and Christoph Zimmermann have impressed so far. Both are highly mobile as well as being physically imposing, and have thus far shown rather greater ability to identify and react to potential danger than those they have replaced.
I have seen a few disparaging comments on social media about Zimmermann coming from a lower level of football, but I hope that people will judge him on his actual performances as they may be pleasantly surprised.
Signing the captain of the second team at one of the best clubs in Europe isn’t quite the same as taking a punt on a youngster from League Two, although there are undoubtedly gems there too.
One new arrival that I suspect most fans will take to immediately is Harrison Reed, who looks to be a more complete holding midfield player than City’s options last season, being both strong in the tackle and good on the ball, despite his relatively diminutive stature.
Judging from comments made by Stuart Webber at a recent fan forum the squad is not yet complete, so it seems that we will see more movement before the end of August, but realistically it seems that next week’s squad is likely to be drawn from the players on display this afternoon.
Today will be City’s toughest test of pre-season and while fans who’ve not yet seen the new squad in action will want to see a good performance, I suspect that the overriding concern among most of us will be that no more significant injuries occur so close to the big kick-off.