Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City better get used to not having it all their own way
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Adversity appears the central theme of Norwich City’s pre-season build-up.
Daniel Farke spoke again after this Brighton finale about the need for togetherness, to fight their way out of tough situations and to overcome setbacks - like another cheap concession in the manner of Brighton’s opening goal through Pascal Gross that serves to temper rising optimism.
A new head coach, many new players, and the old guard desperate to impress, was a challenging enough environment for Farke before the departure of some big personalities and then a cruel injury twist that has denied him Alex Pritchard and Timm Klose for the opening weeks. Add in a disrupted pre-season for another pair of influential actors in Ivo Pinto and Wes Hoolahan, plus more abbreviated absences for the likes of Josh Murphy, Harry Toffolo and Russell Martin, and you can understand why City arrived at a situation where they had two keepers on the bench for the Seagulls’ visit. Subtract the suspended Steven Naismith from the planning for Fulham and the reduced head count would frighten many keen to make a positive impression.
But not Farke. It is too early to really understand the nuances of his playing style, the intricacies of his philosophy, and how his ideas will stand up to the unique demands of the Championship. Yet what is equally clear is the impressive German exudes positivity. Dwindling resources is an opportunity for the rest of his squad to stake a claim.
James Maddison may have found himself much lower down the pecking order if Pritchard and Hoolahan had been fit for duty. Now he is a viable alternative for that opening weekend trip to Craven Cottage. Yanic Wildschut, by common consent, has been cast as the latest poster boy for the recruitment failings of previous regimes. That is not the Dutchman’s fault. City aggressively pursued his signature in the previous transfer window. Wildschut naturally saw Norwich as a step up from a Wigan hurtling towards League One. But his limited impact in the opening months of his Carrow Road career appeared to consign him to the expendables this summer; collateral damage in an essential squad makeover. There may be more chapters to pen in that story for Wildschut, and the rest of the Norwich talent pool, between this point and the end of the summer trading. For now, he has emerged as a versatile option down the right flank. Jacob Murphy’s exit may have been portrayed as his twin brother’s big chance. Wildschut however looks to have edged to the front of the queue.
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Farke would not willingly have countenanced so many injury absences but the underlying tone from City’s head coach is this testing period, marked by ferocious training sessions around an unbeaten friendly programme, designed to establish a heightened level of fitness, is all part of the master plan.
Even when Norwich’s big hitters return to the ranks a new, more youthful, more inexperienced set of players will routinely be buffeted and posed challenges they have to overcome in the heat of battle. The type of tests they failed so miserably last time around.
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How to cope when their technical prowess is not enough to earn results in faraway places against hostile opponents. How to handle high pressing from rivals who will swiftly de-code Farke’s commitment to building the play from the deepest areas of City’s own half. Perhaps even how to deal with a Carrow Road crowd who may need convincing this patient, considered approach does not carry a health risk. And most urgently, how to find a way to win at Fulham.
That will take every ounce of self-belief, character and courage. Farke and his coaching brains will be fully aware of the Craven Cottage ‘curse’ by the end of this coming week. So too his new signings. City can expect to be probed against a side who looked set to emerge triumphant from the play-off maze in May following a late-season surge. The Whites were cohesive, well-drilled and supremely organised when they won at Carrow Road last Easter. Farke’s Norwich have shown us enough in the summer sparring to head to Fulham with hope. Now the real work begins.