Fan Zone: Of all the numbers, only a few count for Norwich City
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Football is increasingly becoming a contrived and convoluted numbers game, brought into sharp focus by the media’s clamour to provide fans with possession statistics, shots on goal counts or the amount of kilometres individual players have travelled during their 90 minutes on the pitch.
A club’s net spend over the transfer window, the personal fortune of their respective owners or the manager’s career percentile win rate all form part of ever growing column inches and rolling 24 hours sports news coverage.
The analysis of Norwich City’s fortunes this season has been no different. Daniel Farke’s desire to switch up formations has been under the spotlight, another chance to throw in a few familiar numbers – 3-5-2, 4-1-4-1 or, more recently on Saturday, a fluid 4-2-3-1, easily switched to 4-4-1-1 when the Canaries were without the ball, have all received their detractors. The dazzling amount of digits is often bamboozling and unhelpful.
Once boiled down to its base level, however, there are only two statistics that count; points on the board and goals scored/conceded during the match. To influence these matters it calls for clear heads and imposing your quality on the opposition in the decisive moments.
Putting aside numerical-based judgments for a moment, the football so far under Farke has been infinitely more enjoyable and entertaining to watch than the binary style tactics Chris Hughton employed to scrape out a 1-0 or 1-1 which became commonplace under his tenure. Alex Neil’s brand of a rigid and inflexible 4-2-3-1 also caused widespread division, eventually causing his subtraction from the club.
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What has differed under Farke is his willingness to be proactive in his game management. Formations have readily changed following his instruction from the touchline, with varying degrees of success. Yet what rightly has been criticised was his side’s ability to defend, no least at set-pieces.
The picture of City’s head coach has up until now been painted with broad strokes, casting him as a man seemingly obsessed with ball retention and technical prowess rather than the more agricultural sides of the game. He perhaps proved a few doubters wrong at the weekend, with gritty and workmanlike performances proving the catalyst for three hard-earned points. The kind of performances that were worryingly absent in the capitulations at Villa Park and The Den.
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Saturday’s starting line-up raised eyebrows among many, with a raft of senior players notable by their omission from the matchday squad, yet the inclusion of Tom Trybull and Marco Stiepermann for their full league debuts suggested there was an underlying requirement to freshen things up. No fewer than five changes were made, and a renewed hunger potentially invigorated a side in need of a confidence boost. Credit should be given to Farke for carefully managing those he had previously trusted, his post match comments about speaking to Russell Martin in advance were encouraging, while ensuring his new charges were well drilled.
Of course it helped that Farke had more cards available to shuffle his deck with, following the return of Timm Klose and arrival of Grant Hanley. However, the head coach’s fearlessness in transforming the look of the side is worthy of note, especially as it was primarily based around much-needed surgery for the defensive line and those who sit in front of it to offer protection.
The German’s learning curve this season is undoubtedly going to be steep. He will have learnt more during the recent maulings on the road than any Carabao Cup outing or routine home victory can tell him. The fact he saw fit to adapt and develop a more robust approach, arguably more fit for purpose in the Championship, bodes well.
Farke has technicians throughout his side – quality on the ball will not be a hurdle difficult to overcome this term. Retaining the solidity required to thrive at this level and ensuring Norwich can win scrappy games with ugly performances will more likely be at the square root of it all. If the midfield additions can continue to stand up to the sterner tests to come it will potentially multiply the Canaries’ fortunes.