International break came at the right time for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
While international breaks are annoying and disrupt the rhythm of the football season, this one probably came at a very good time for City.
After a frantic spell of seven games in 22 days, four of them away, the chance to rest tired bodies would have been appreciated, even by those apparently hewn from granite like Christoph Zimmermann.
However, it also gives us the opportunity to draw breath and try to put the last month into some sort of perspective as City have been transformed from defensive ingenues into a solid, dependable unit by the coaching staff.
While the switch to a more balanced midfield set up with an extra holding player has undoubtedly been a key factor in that process, helped further by the fact that that player, Tom Trybull, is a perpetual motion machine, there is much more to it than that.
Although I am still not a fan of it, City have stuck with the zonal marking system which had looked horribly porous in the early weeks of the season, but it’s quite clear that the players are now much closer to mastering it and consequently the team look much more confident under the high ball.
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The return of Timm Klose has also been a major factor. I think many of us thought that City might seek to cash in on the Swiss international in the summer, and perhaps that might have happened had he not picked up a long-term injury in pre-season, particularly given his international manager’s ultimatum that he needed to be playing at the top level to maintain his place in the Swiss squad.
There was, therefore, a degree of apprehension about his return to a level to which, by his own admission, he struggled to adapt last season, but he has been a revelation, both in terms of his own form and also his willingness and desire to take on a leadership role in this young squad.
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However, what above all else has contributed to the remarkable turnaround is something much more intangible; the development of a spirit within the squad that means that the whole is now significantly greater than the sum of the parts.
Inevitably, the replacement of known, but largely underperforming, talent by players of whom most of us knew little or nothing about in the summer was a cause for concern and inevitably there was a fair degree of negativity when the season started poorly, although ironically that may well have contributed to the mental strength that we’re now seeing.
I suspect that the early-season booing at Carrow Road and the torrent of abuse received by Josh Murphy when he attempted to thank the travelling fans after the Millwall debacle may have helped to forge a stronger bond in the dressing room which is now paying dividends on the pitch.
However, despite a memorable September, there is still more for this squad to prove. Whilst the defensive improvements are unquestionable, concerns remain about the side’s creativity, and there is still a nagging suspicion that while they are comfortable catching teams on the break, they are considerably less adept when asked to play on the front foot.
Chances have been at a premium in recent weeks and Daniel Farke and his coaches will have been working hard to try to find ways to balance the new defensive resilience with a more consistent attacking threat, and if they have been able to use the latest international break to make as much progress as they did in the last one then City will rightly start to be regarded as genuine promotion candidates.
The upcoming run of games provide the opportunity for the Canaries to show that they can break down decent sides at Carrow Road and if they can fuse an impregnability on their home turf to their obduracy on the road then we could be in for exciting times.