McLean can play a pivotal role in City’s fightback
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As Kenny McLean signs a new contract with Norwich City, Connor Southwell assesses how the midfielder earned Daniel Farke’s trust and how influential he could prove in the Championship this season
Kenny McLean’s new contract at Norwich City is further evidence of just how highly Daniel Farke rates the Scottish midfielder.
McLean has put to pen to paper on a new three-year deal at Carrow Road - and was a major cog within the Canaries’ midfield engine room in the Premier League last season.
City found themselves majorly unbalanced in midfield and Farke didn’t possess the necessary tools to exchange a technically proficient midfield built to dominate the ball into one capable of defending efficiently.
Farke turned to the experienced Alex Tettey and McLean to shore up the central area of the pitch.
That would become his most favoured axis, as City sought to approach top-flight games in a different way.
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McLean’s inclusion meant ostracising Moritz Leitner and Tom Trybull, with Championship title-winning hero Mario Vrancic often left on the bench.
For Farke, this was an admission of an inability to retain possession to the same extent to which they managed in the Championship - that step up in quality demanded an alternative approach.
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McLean’s mobility and graft off the ball complemented Tettey’s positional awareness and defensive screening to provide the Canaries defence with more protection.
At times, their midfield resembled a turnstile - particularly when McLean and Tettey weren’t paired together - hence the recruitment drive in that particular area of the pitch that has been witnessed this summer.
Yet, McLean will be an instrumental figure in City’s fightback.
McLean’s attributes lend him to suit any midfield mix - he has the ability to defend with physicality but can also be progressive in his passing.
For Farke, he was one of the few options at his disposal who proved his top-flight quality last season. City’s boss described the Scottish midfielder as “irreplaceable” during a press conference last season.
“Kenny for me last season was unbelievably important and he has developed further,” said Farke. “He is a versatile, all-round player with the game to play a number of positions.
“Let’s be honest, we have some players with great possession skills, or finding a key pass, or maybe delivering a set-piece. But he is probably our most complete midfielder. He is competitive, his workload and his endurance are good and he is definitely our best defensive header.
“He is aggressive in the duels and our most dynamic midfielder.
“He is also composed on the ball, and a left-footer. He offers many skills, and that physicality at this level is irreplaceable for us. If you can dominate the ball in a game then maybe the defensive skills are not as important.
“But at this level we need players who are capable to invest a lot without the ball.”
The Scot possesses the guile to offer security in City’s defensive phases and has the mobility to support attacks. Farke backed up his praise of the Scot with action. McLean played more minutes than any other City midfielder.
His aforementioned versatility was witnessed in perhaps his finest individual performance in City’s only away win against Everton, where his physical capabilities allowed Teemu Pukki to play on the shoulder of the defence in the manner he did in his productive Championship season.
But, like the Canaries’ Premier League season, there were drawbacks to McLean’s contribution.
Despite the improved solidity that McLean and Tettey offered their defensive efforts - they were accused of lacking that required creative edge.
Farke was also keen to stress the importance of McLean’s personality and influence behind the scenes.
“He is a great lad in the dressing room. If things are not working he will say so,” said the Norwich boss. “He is not scared on the pitch, encouraging younger players but also criticising them when needed.
“Even if he is not in the starting line-up he is good for the mood. Each club needs a player with this personality.
“When he isn’t on the pitch at this level we lack physicality and pace. Without certain players we look weak. You could say the same as to why Alex Tettey has played nearly each and every minute.”
City supporters will want to see the long-range left-footed efforts that McLean was tagged with during his time at Aberdeen but the Lord Mayor of Norwich will continue his reign for a few more seasons yet.
With places up for grabs in that midfield, the onus is now on the Scot to prove his worth.