Michael Bailey: The Norwich City clues offered by their Irish hard graft
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Pre-season is up and running, the players are being drilled and they’ve even played in public – MICHAEL BAILEY reflects on Norwich City’s opening salvos…
Cards on the table, there’s really not much to like about pre-season.
You’ve got a fixture schedule busier than most parts of the season, matches that can be a sideshow – and trying to read so much into the action on the pitch, when the context makes it impossible to be sure you’re coming to an accurate conclusion.
But that’s for a normal summer – and as we know, the times we live in now are far from normal for Norwich City.
The level of intrigue in how the Canaries go about their eight friendlies is propelled by cobbling together what Daniel Farke’s City side will look like – or perhaps more hopefully, how close the head coach can make his new club a success equal to that he had with Borussia Dortmund II.
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Even after a glorified training session that had Cobh Ramblers boss Stephen Henderson lamenting his squad’s lack of quality on the night, there were clues, quandaries and whispers that will swirl in the wind until the heavy combat arrives at Craven Cottage in four weeks’ time.
It started with City’s week at Fota Ireland, where the definition of training camp was being hammered home.
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There were not just double sessions, but long double sessions. Farke and co expected players to break down with injury due to the work load – but didn’t fear it, given the benefits those who survived would feel.
Some of the younger professionals had never seen or experienced what they were put through in Ireland.
And yet, the players won’t complain. Well, they probably will initially – but they know such work could really set them up to shine.
When those at Colney last season were asked – which was a lot – if City were fit enough, the answer was always yes. You imagine the question might get a different answer now.
It’s clear people are being taken out of their comfort zone – and that will extend beyond pilates drills and weights, and on to the football pitch.
Short passes out from the back, with a goalkeeper fully involved in that. Carrow Road had better be braced for an expansive game where cries of ‘stop messing about and get rid’ are going to be a little out of kilter.
It’s also worth resting on the words of Wes Hoolahan following City’s 5-0 Cobh win, as the Irish forward positively gushed at the coaching and tactical instructions the City players were being given.
All that in less than a fortnight – and for Hoolahan, just a few days following his rather brief three-week break.
The sights and sounds of Farke showing clear frustration at some players not quite doing what he wanted on the St Colman’s Park pitch, was an indication there are so many foundations still to lay.
Hence the extra friendly at Sutton on the eve of City’s only friendly at Carrow Road.
And hence the intrigue in watching how City’s shape and play will develop from their Cobh outing to Lowestoft Town, and all their stops along the lead up to Brighton’s visit.
The intricacies are going to be many from Farke, yet you sense he’ll find a simplicity too.
His two teams on Wednesday night played the same shape – a 4-3-3 switching to 4-1-4-1 with relative ease. By the time Fulham arrives, he will want that framework seared in the players’ memories – if only so they can switch from that to a few others during a half of combative Championship action.
Don’t be fooled though. Plenty felt familiar.
There was the second-half shouting from a captain’s armband-adorned Steven Naismith and the tempestuous edge of Alex Pritchard – all meshed with a tasty first glimpse of Mario Vrancic’s set-piece delivery and James Maddison’s apparent desire to play a bit deeper than the number 10 role most expected.
And then there was the size of the group. With Jonny Howson and Graham Dorrans out of commission, Harrison Reed still to arrive, Angus Gunn and Jacob Murphy on their break and Russell Martin nursing a back tweak, there were 20 players that got minutes while Michael McGovern watched on.
Those left at Colney – Tony Andreu plus the injured duo of Matt Jarvis and Louis Thompson – are destined to be out of the picture from here.
As for those in it, the burn will continue, the instructions will flow and hopefully the philosophy, fluidity and team spirit will flourish.
Next stop, Crown Meadow.