David Freezer: City will be desperate to avoid further disruption
- Credit: Ian Burt
After a disrupted week, Norwich City’s staff and players will be doing all they can to make up for the loss of two pre-season friendlies this weekend.
Games against Coventry and Sheffield United being cancelled have inevitably sparked concerns about whether the Canaries will be ready for their Premier League opener against Liverpool in just over a fortnight.
The initial concern will, of course, be the welfare of the players or staff that have been among the “small number” of positive Covid-19 cases which led to City deciding to cancel the games as a “precautionary measure” in recent days.
Angus Gunn and Jacob Sorensen were already in self-isolation and missed the 2-0 friendly win over Huddersfield at Colney on Friday. Those to have subsequently tested positive are yet to be named.
Canaries fans saw many of the players enjoying some team bonding over the weekend, being pictured on official club channels enjoying a team-bonding session of driving sports cars on the Norfolk test track of shirt sponsor Lotus.
Some were also pictured on social media enjoying some karaoke at a restaurant in Thorpe St Andrew later on Saturday. It’s understood all involved had tested negative for Covid-19 prior to those activities, which are allowed following the relaxation of government coronavirus restrictions earlier this month.
The focus now for City is not only ensuring that the outbreak is contained as swiftly as possible but that it also creates minimal disruption to Daniel Farke’s plans for an already daunting start to the top-flight campaign, with games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester looming.
Stopping the spread of the virus will be dealt with by the regimes which we have all unfortunately become far too familiar with in the last 18 months, including increased hygiene regimens, minimising unnecessary contact and the all-important regular testing.
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It’s believed the Canaries are hopeful they have the situation under control and that many players will be able to continue getting stuck into the intense fitness work set by Farke and his staff.
As so often said during pre-season though, there is no substitute for game time and match fitness, as players sharpen their senses for the return of the real stuff.
Ensuring the Covid-19 situation is under control is crucial to ensuring Gillingham and Newcastle are happy to proceed with next week’s final two games of pre-season, when further cancellations really could prove costly in the preparation stakes.
The Gills, as with Coventry and Sheffield United, start their EFL season on Saturday, August 7, whereas Norwich and Newcastle have another week of preparation ahead of them.
Gillingham, Sheffield United and other clubs including Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Swansea have all had pre-season disrupted by coronavirus and cancellations, so City are far from alone in navigating their way through the UK’s attempts to return to some degree of social normality.
For some players the lack of game time and focus on fitness work could even be viewed as a positive, without the unpredictability of a semi-competitive game – as shown by the injuries to Timm Klose and Alex Pritchard by poor tackles during pre-season in 2017.
Ben Gibson, Grant Hanley and Kenny McLean have all been working their way back from injury and were hoping to be involved soon, with Sam Byram also hoping to ease back from his long-term absence.
Dimitris Giannoulis also didn’t feature in any of the wins over King’s Lynn, Lincoln or Huddersfield, with Billy Gilmour missing the latter with a minor thigh strain.
For those players to have realistic chances of being starting options against Liverpool on Saturday, August 14, the fitness work will be important but clearly they need to get a decent amount of game-time under their belts during the final two friendlies as well.
Teemu Pukki, Onel Hernandez and Tim Krul have only had 45 minutes of friendly action so far, Chelsea loanee Gilmour has had two 45-minute appearances.
Newly-promoted teams facing top teams like Liverpool and top players such as Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and, potentially, Virgil van Dijk know they face a daunting task already.
An intra-squad match during the weekend would seem a possible solution in the short term as City navigate this challenge - just as we all have during the pandemic.
Supporters are hoping to see a significant crowd return to Carrow Road on Tuesday to see their team in action but this week has provided a frustrating reminder that the football world may still face difficult days before true normality can return.