Melissa Rudd: Farke must build a team around his star midfielders
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If ever Daniel Farke’s charges needed to put in a shift for him it was during the second period against Sheffield Wednesday.
After a laboured opening period of that was merely a continuation of recent struggles, the half-time team talk must have been something special to inspire what was the best 45 minute display of the season at Carrow Road.
Walking down the tunnel amidst boos at the break, the significance of that impending second half wouldn’t have been lost on a head coach who was facing nine games without a win and had been peddling the same hopeful phrases for weeks on end without his players delivering in front of the home faithful.
It would have been easy for those players to shrink in their shirts in front of angsty home fans starved of both entertainment and wins since early September. This was a Norwich team who hadn’t come from behind to win a Championship game since September 2016, and only Timm Klose and Ivo Pinto from the current crop were involved in that one.
Farke had been promising football that would have fans ‘dancing in the aisles’, but after three months, zero victories and just five home points to shout about most of us would have gladly accepted a scrappy 90 minutes and a winning goal that had deflected off somebody’s backside.
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In the first-half, City showed no urgency to win the ball back and press the visitors, as proven by Jordan Rhodes’ opener. Josh Murphy may be in a rut of form but that doesn’t legislate for an apparent lack of effort, and it’s difficult to categorise failing to put any pressure on Barry Bannan in the build-up to Wednesday’s goal after losing possession further up the pitch as anything else. It was no surprise when Murphy was hooked at half-time and Marley Watkins certainly had a positive impact.
Credit where it is due though, the contrasting second-half display warranted a win and for once clinical finishing made sure of it. The sight of Alex Pritchard running at opposition defenders was a breath of fresh air and his attacking intent allows James Maddison the freedom to make runs off of him rather than having to be the one with the ball at his feet. His goal was a perfect example.
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The way Norwich play under Farke doesn’t lend itself to width. In fact, the player who most would agree is City’s most natural winger, Murphy, averages just 0.2 crosses per game.
Yet other than Nelson Oliveira’s gilt-edged opportunity with only the goalkeeper to beat, some of Norwich’s best chances were created by crosses. Only two smart stops from Kieran Westwood prevented Oliveira from finding the net twice after pinpoint crosses from Pinto and then in the second half Pritchard. Klose’s powerful header then came directly from the latter’s corner kick.
When goals have been so hard to come by it seems an obvious tactic to try and utilise more, especially given Oliveira’s height and strength in the air and the fact that Farke plays him on his own up front.
The back to basics ‘get it out wide and in the box’ approach may not sit well with the 4-2-3-1 formation, but if Norwich are to achieve anything this season they have to make the most of what they are effective at. If the likes of Pritchard and Pinto can deliver more balls like that into the box that goals per game ratio will surely start to increase.
It’s not surprising that with Pritchard and Maddison playing much closer to Oliveira in the final third the Portuguese looked far more of a threat than the isolated, sulky figure he’s sometimes appeared in recent weeks. The manner in which he thumped home the penalty spoke volumes too after missing that earlier chance.
Prior to Saturday man-of-the-match Maddison and Pritchard had been on the pitch at the same time for just 14 minutes in yellow and green. It’s clear for all to see though just how much exciting potential there is when the pair combine and it is up to Farke to make sure the rest of the team is balanced enough to let them fulfil it.
Elland Road may be the next port of call but the most important thing now is to ensure this doesn’t turn out to be another false dawn in the way of Carrow Road form.