The big issues for Farke to consider as Canaries arrive in Germany
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As Norwich City arrive in Germany for a pre-season training camp, David Freezer takes a look at the state of play for the much changed Canaries squad during an unusual and compressed preparation period.
City’s players had just three weeks to squeeze in some holiday time and enjoy some relaxation, well, those who were playing at the end of last season have at least.
For some, including January signings Sam McCallum and Melvin Sitti, there’s been no action since March. Bali Mumba and Danel Sinani also fall into that category, thanks to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Much of the squad which flew out to Germany on Sunday have had to attack this pre-season very differently to every other year of their career though. This is more like players who reach the World Cup final and then join up with their clubs just a few weeks later.
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The days of summer indulgence are long gone in the game, when players would sweat off their holiday beers during painful pre-season sessions. Instead the City players were expected to keep their fitness as sharp as possible, while trying to enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation - to recharge the mental batteries as much as anything, particularly after the stresses of a disappointing relegation campaign.
Daniel Farke praised the condition of his players after Friday’s comfortable 6-0 friendly win over MK Dons, just four days after his squad reported back for fitness testing and the start of their pre-season regimes.
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That intensity will continue as they are straight into action again on Monday, when taking on SC Verl (4pm UK time), who were promoted from the fourth tier of German football last season.
Wednesday brings another game, against Dynamo Dresden, who have just been relegated to join Verl in the third tier. While the third and final game of City’s time in the North-Rhine Westphalia region is against Darmstadt on Saturday, one of Mario Vrancic’s former clubs, who narrowly missed out on the promotion mix in Bundesliga II last season.
It’s always dangerous to read too much into pre-season. Last year Josip Drmic was City’s top scorer with four goals after seven friendly games and only two players had completed more minutes than Mo Leitner, while Alex Tettey didn’t feature at all. That didn’t prove a particularly helpful barometer of what was to come in the Premier League.
What makes the preparation for 2020-21 even more unusual however, is that the transfer window will be open for a month of the season. Deals outside of England need to be completed before 11pm on Monday, October 5 but a domestic window remains open until 5pm on Friday, October 16.
City have experienced similar situations in the past, such as in 2014, when Leroy Fer was relegated with City but then went to the World Cup with Holland over the summer and was widely expected to depart.
However, he did end up coming on in the second game of the season, with City cruising at 3-0 up against Watford and getting a warm reception after an impressive cameo, creating uncertainty. Four days later he was back in the top flight, joining QPR for a reported fee of around £8million.
Could we see similar situations evolve around the ‘crown jewels’ of Max Aarons, Emi Buendia, Todd Cantwell, Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis during the next seven and a half weeks?
All have been regularly linked with Premier League interest and Lewis recently saw Liverpool fall short of City’s valuation of him with a structured bid worth £10m.
While it’s not expected that all five will leave, City fans will be hoping for signs of full commitment - and who might be sticking around for the Championship challenge.
Impact of new boys
Of course much interest in pre-season centres on new players and Friday’s comprehensive win over MK Dons has already quenched some of that thirst.
Academy prospect Josh Martin pressed his claims with a brace, set up by new boys Przemyslaw Placheta and Sinani, who started as a striker. Jacob Sorensen, Kieran Dowell, Bali Mumba and Sam McCallum were all in that first starting XI as well.
The established Canaries weren’t going to be overshadowed though. Vrancic and Buendia combined to tee up goals for Marco Stiepermann and Onel Hernandez, Stiepermann returned the favour for Buendia and youngster Adam Idah also got off the mark after an Aarons interception.
Farke currently has a very big squad - with Mo Leitner, Tom Trybull and Josip Drmic seemingly not involved either but yet to seal moves away from the club - so there’s certainly plenty of competition for places.
That big squad may well be needed during the opening stages of the season though, putting a different complexion already on selection issues for the Championship opener at Huddersfield on Saturday, September 12.
That’s thanks to international action which could leave City without as many as 15 players when they head to Luton for the first round of the League Cup on Saturday, September 5.
Teemu Pukki, Lewis, Sinani, Aarons and Placheta are all among those set to be away, which will offer others opportunities to impress in their absence, potentially creating some selection headaches for the league opener.
Victory at Luton would also bring a midweek game in the second round a few days after the Huddersfield game, with rounds three and four to potentially be played in midweeks before the end of September as well.
It’s going to be an unprecedented start to the season, so getting a handle on what the Norwich City class of 2020-21 is really going to look like may not become clear for a while yet.
- Our group football editor Paddy Davitt will be following the Canaries during their week in Germany, so keep checking back to this website for all the latest news, match coverage and interviews from the City camp.