Tactics, tenacity and momentum – six things learned from City’s time in Germany
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Following the conclusion of Norwich City’s tour of Germany with a 2-1 win over Schalke, David Freezer assesses pre-season progress so far for Daniel Farke’s team.
1 - Formation flexibility emerging
Norwich City enjoyed great success with their 4-2-3-1 formation during last season's Championship title success. Daniel Farke is well aware his tactics will be tested in the Premier League this season though.
So it was interesting to see the Canaries forced to take a slightly different approach on their way to victory over Schalke on Friday night, sitting slightly deeper and trying to hit their German opponents on the counter.
It's a style which worked superbly for Leicester and Wolves in recent years, using their quality but waiting patiently for their chances to pounce. City will not be able to dominate teams as they did last year so regularly, adapting will be crucial.
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Schalke pressed City high and looked to dictate play but soon found themselves in trouble when they lost possession.
Farke also toyed with 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 shapes during the second half. It's unlikely to be the last of his experimentation ahead of the top-flight challenge.
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2 - Loanee has to find his balance
One of the bright sparks of pre-season so far has been Manchester City loanee Patrick Roberts, yet he still has much to learn.
As much as the Canaries looked dangerous on the counter-attack, that is also how they conceded during the 2-1 win over Schalke.
A Mo Leitner corner was cleared and the Blues broke quickly, with Roberts diving in naively to try and stop Amine Harit, rather than staying on his feet.
Having failed to stop the ball or his opponent it left Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis exposed, with three players running at them at pace. It was exactly the kind of situation that top teams take advantage of ruthlessly, one that Roberts had to stop, by foul means or fair.
The 22-year-old also set up Teemu Pukki's opener with a lovely through-ball though and clearly has plenty of tricks and flicks. He may not have had to defend much for Celtic but Emi Buendia has set the bar for defensive tenacity which he must meet.
3 - Germans had plenty of quality
Schalke may have endured a tough year but beating Bundesliga opposition is welcome in pre-season for any Premier League team. How much can we read into Friday's win though?
Senegal defender Salif Sane was at the Africa Cup of Nations and Daniel Caligiuri and Mark Utth are recovering from injuries, as was £13m new boy Ozad Kabak.
Ex-Spurs midfielder Nabil Bentaleb and Ukraine ace Yehven Konoplyanka were also absent and are expected to be sold, while keeper Alexander Nubel and Suat Serdar were both in action at the U21 Euros recently.
In the starting XI were players including Matija Nastasic, Guido Bergstaller, Benjamin Stambouli and Bastian Oczipka though, who are all regulars, as was £10m new winger Benito Raman.
Both teams had an average age of just under 25 from the start, and although Schalke did bring on some young lads, their team still featured plenty of quality - with City having their own injuries.
4 - Champions maintain their habit
Reading too much into results in pre-season is always risky, it never hurts to be unbeaten though.
Daniel Farke clearly takes preseason seriously, winning 13 of the 19 friendly games during his reign so far and losing just twice, to Charlton and Union Berlin last season - scoring 47 goals in the process.
Maintaining momentum during the current build-up could be more crucial than ever though, keeping that winning habit on the back of a title success. Seeing star striker Pukki straight back into the goals is a reassuring sight for City fans as well.
Unlike Schalke, who smashed a non-league side 20-1 to warm up for their Canaries clash, there are no easy games against local sides this time around. The 4-1 defeat of Bonner was the lowest ranked side, who play in the German fourth tier.
Yet Bielefeld really should have been beaten as well and the Schalke win should have been much more comfortable, which all bodes well.
5 - Skipper has point to prove
Just one player has been an ever-present for City so far during pre-season: captain Grant Hanley.
The Scot is a man with a point to prove, with even more fire in his belly than usual. One of the enjoyable elements of friendly games at smaller stadiums is that you can hear every word on the pitch - and it's not hard to hear Hanley.
Constant encouragement and direction are bellowed at team-mates, from a man who missed much of pre-season last year before finally succumbing to treatment on a thigh injury in September.
That ruined the campaign for the 27-year-old, only to get worse when a mistimed tackle earned him a red card against Portsmouth in the FA Cup in January.
Hanley made sure he was a supportive team-mate and skipper as Farke's team went on to win the title without him but has returned looking lean and motivated. Passing sharpness and speed will be his focus as he tries to regain his rhythm for the top flight.
6 - Bees will pose tough challenge
After 19 days of consistent fitness work since most of City's players returned to training at the start of the month, there is still plenty of graft to be banked for the Premier League.
The Canaries flew home on Saturday after a warm-down session at their hotel in Germany, allowing Farke's players a chance to get home and see their families.
There will not be too much time to relax though, as another game is lined up for Wednesday, against a tough opponent in Championship side Brentford, behind closed doors at Colney (4.30pm).
The Bees slumped after the exit of Dean Smith for Aston Villa in October of last season but eventually progressed under Thomas Frank and won four of their last six games to finish 13th.
They have been without star players Neal Maupay and Said Benrahma so far, amid transfer speculation, but beat AFC Wimbledon 3-0 and drew 0-0 with Dynamo Kiev and 2-2 with League One side Wycombe on Saturday.