Jon Punt: Norwich City head coach Daniel Farke must use end of season run-in wisely
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There’s been a growing rift emerging between Norwich City fans over the last few months.
Many supporters remain firmly on board with the ‘project’, believing the club line that a squad which was no longer fit for purpose, both financially and on the pitch, takes times to overhaul.
Then there are the detractors. Their main criticism has been levelled at Daniel Farke, and by association Stuart Webber, for City’s lack of goals and creativity.
The Canaries have often failed to fire and, possibly as result, any small hope that a play-off berth was still achievable has evaporated.
Some of that disapproval is fair. Norwich are among the divisions lowest scorers. The forwards have been blunted by becoming more and more isolated, thus they drop deep to receive the ball in areas from which they won’t ever really hurt the opposition.
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Farke’s charges have gone from second highest scorers in the league to barely averaging a goal a game, all while retaining a number of the personnel who weighed in so heavily last term.
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A successful team, especially one created on a budget, is more often than not built from the back.
The defensive reshape and subsequent change of personnel has done much to plug the leaky holes which derailed City’s chances in 2016-17.
The head coach deserves credit for this, it’s hard to think of a sustained spell where Norwich have looked so consistent at the back since the heady days of Malky Mackay and Craig Fleming repelling allcomers on the way to the old First Division title.
The more difficult challenge is now to transform the offensive part of City’s play, yet it seems apparent this transition will be more of a slow burner.
A balance needs to be struck, retaining the solidity which has meant relegation was never a real worry while injecting some much needed spark at the top end of the pitch.
Farke has been working with the attacking tools at his disposal, yet they are clearly not his preferred set of options.
Marley Watkins was always Webber’s man, his arrival preceded Farke’s and was seemingly based on the minimal risk attached given the lack of a transfer fee payable. Oliveira appears devoid of the attitudinal fortitude the German requires. As the focal point of the side, this has potentially been a major factor in City’s woes and it’s hard to think Nelson will be playing in yellow and green beyond this summer. That said, the root of the issue may not be the strikers at all.
The recent growing injury list may just have necessitated the changes which bring about the baby steps towards a more potent formula which will work longer term.
Without one or both of the defensive shields in messrs Tettey and Trybull, central midfield berths were up for grabs. The talented, more technical and less physical figures of Moritz Leitner, Mario Vrancic and Harrison Reed have come to the fore.
While this has left City more exposed, it’s also delivered an increase in the goals scored column, with Norwich registering seven in the space of a week – as many as they had managed in the two months that preceded it.
Of course, this has meant Norwich have been an easier side to penetrate, and highlighted the reasoning behind the more pragmatic tactics employed up until recently.
However, it has indicated Farke’s willingness to experiment and learn. During spells on Saturday, the side were more direct and purposeful, with Vrancic often playing intelligent balls for the energetic and powerful Hernandez to run onto.
Josh Murphy found joy in a more accustomed wide role and City looked a more threatening unit because of it.
The remaining eight games represent a sandpit for Farke to play in.
Whether he chooses to reintegrate a moody Nelson, blood a Marcus Edwards now happy to toe the line, give a shot-shy Srbeny a run of games, or just be more gung ho in his approach, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
If he can stumble upon the balance required for next term while he’s at it, there’s much to be positive about.