David Freezer: City’s boss is immersed in a high-stakes poker game
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Reflecting on the opening month of the season, it feels like Daniel Farke has been playing a game of high-stakes poker.
Since mid-June all connected to Norwich City were talking about the daunting opening four fixtures, knowing full well that there was a good chance that those games would yield no points.
I’ve been on record myself – including in this column – in saying that I would have been quite happy to see City start the season with a more defensive formation as they tried to grind out a helpful point or two.
Would that have brought a couple of draws or better? We’ll never know but that approach always seemed unlikely under Farke, going against the grain of his established coaching style.
There is a reason that almost no Canaries supporters are speculating about the future of the head coach at the moment, in spite of the undeniable need to kick-start the season today against Watford.
The German has just surpassed 200 games in charge at Carrow Road and recently signed a new four-year deal, an admirable achievement in the modern game when few managers dare to dream of having four seasons to establish themselves as the main man.
In a far shorter timeframe supporters can become bored of hearing certain soundbites and perspectives. That was apparent in under two years in the cases of Alex Neil and Chris Hughton, and certainly during the latter stages of Nigel Worthington’s long reign.
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Yet I get little sense of that about Farke yet as his warmth, humour and willingness to discuss the vast majority of subjects openly continues to strike a chord with the majority of Norwich supporters.
In fact, I was really pleased to hear his answer during the pre-Arsenal press conference when asked about Mikel Arteta’s praise for City’s attempts to play attractive football as “a joy to watch”.
“It would be better if he had said a joy to watch and also unbelievably horrendous to play against. That would be the ultimate praise,” was the partly joking response.
I’m sure Arteta’s thoughts are very different ahead of their game at Burnley today – and there’s the balance that has to be struck.
Farke knows full well that a stronger defensive backbone is required to survive in the Premier League but his style is for control to be gained through possession and for enough goals to be scored to alleviate the pressure on the defence.
He is yet to strike that balance in the Premier League and that could well explain why the Canaries didn’t just ‘park the bus’ and try to grind their way to some bonus points during the opening four games.
City’s players have been thrown in at the deep end, in far from ideal circumstances after their pre-season problems.
Against Liverpool they showed encouraging early signs before running out of puff and against Manchester City they were simply overwhelmed.
There were signs of keeping their heads above water against both Leicester and Arsenal but now with - to continue the analogy - two strong swimmers added to the team in Ozan Kabak and Mathias Normann, it’s time to see if City can find their rhythm in calmer waters.
Transitioning from a defensive set-up back to the expected possession play and attacking intent could have been tricky. Instead, Farke stuck to his preferred methods with a long season ahead.
It didn’t work out against the big boys, who had the quality to outmanoeuvre the newly-promoted Canaries’ enthusiasm as a new-look squad started to gel.
With a full week and minimal disruption to prepare for today, we’ll find out if sticking to those principles during the tough times will pay off against direct rivals.
After struggling for points against fellow bottom half teams during 2019-20, victory over the Hornets today would mean so much more than just the three points.
A fifth consecutive defeat would be particularly painful but we know Farke wouldn’t panic. He stuck to his methods and remained calm during the frustrations of the first season and it paid off during the success of 2018-19.
The top-flight campaign which followed was a nightmare that was kick-started by an injury crisis exposing recruitment failures yet, again, he kept working towards the same objectives, albeit with a tweak in balance to suit the unusual world of empty stadiums.
I suspect now we will see the Canaries chief show his hand, having kept his head down and played the long game during the opening rounds of this season’s Premier League poker, rather than try to bluff his way to some early winnings against the bold and the brash.