Paddy Davitt: Sticking to the plan is not all that tough for Farke’s City troops
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It was a comment on this week’s online Pink Un debate about Daniel Farke needing a plan B that underlined how successful plan A has been at Norwich City.
The Canaries' smooth attacking motions carried the club to a Championship title win that few perhaps outside of Bramall Lane would disagree went to the best team in the division.
The majesty of City's midfield play, the cohesiveness of how Emi Buendia and Marco Stiepermann revolved around Teemu Pukki was a testament not only to Farke's coaching prowess but the recruitment headed by Stuart Webber.
That life has proved tougher in the Premier League merely demonstrates why Farke and Webber were keen to frame expectations at the modest end of the scale in the summer. Given City's relative lack of financial muscle, allied to a debilitating list of injuries, Farke's ability to tweak personnel and even shape is severely restricted.
He knows better than anyone four Premier League away defeats, one goal scored and far too many shipped is not a recipe for success or top flight longevity. Epic Carrow Road nights against the champions, or that stirring display against Newcastle, will not be the results that decide their fate. But to strive for a plan B suggests there are inherent flaws in plan A that cannot be overcome. Unless sourcing an alternative is a question of nuance rather than radical re-design.
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As so often perspective usually comes from far outside the bubble. In this case many miles north on Teesside in the shape of Middlesbrough's young, ambitious head coach Jonathan Woodgate.
The former Leeds, Real Madrid and England defender has embarked on his first foray into management at his hometown club. A tough gig given the expectations Boro belong in the top flight seemingly jar with Woodgate's desire for time to build something sustainable. Something in the mould of Norwich City, it would seem.
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"You watch the way a team like Norwich have developed, and that's really encouraging," he said recently, quoted in the Northern Echo. "It shows what's possible. You look at the way they've developed, and the way they've stuck to their principles, and it's something to aspire to.
"You have to go right back and look at the recruitment they did. Okay, they got a lot of players, and some of them were on frees, but they're good players and fit perfectly into what they want to do. That's important. You need to know what you're getting, and they recruited really well. The manager has done a great job, both in terms of getting the players and them moulding them into how he wants to play.
"It's taken Norwich two years to get to where they are now, but you have to stay with what you believe in. I know what I believe in, and I intend to stick it. I'll carry on doing that."
So will Farke. Even before Saturday's 2-0 away loss at Crystal Palace his answer to how you avoid a repeat of the manner Burnley had savagely set about his team the week before was to challenge his players to do what they do. Only better, quicker, sharper. In essence, not to entertain abandoning the core tenets of a style and an approach which sealed promotion and brought that famous home win over Manchester City.
In the midst of a painful seam of away results in the early part of this new campaign it is understandable there will be doubts and questions about Farke's methods. But that is part of the journey. Clubs like Middlesbrough under coaches like Woodgate strive for want Norwich fans have already got.
"If you look at their game against Man City, I thought they were terrific," he added. "The way they pressed, the way they played, and the way they stuck to their principles right to the end. Even in the last few minutes of the game, they were still pressing high up the field.
"I think to myself, 'They're doing it the right way'. They went to Liverpool and tried to play, but if they'd gone and sat deep, they would still have got beat. If they attack against Liverpool, they might still get beat, but why not do something that you believe in?
"They beat Man City by doing something they believe in. They could have been defensive and got beat, but they were brave enough to say, 'No, this is how we're going to play'. I like that. Look at Manchester United in their pomp, too many teams used to go there trying to sit deep and defend. If that's your game plan, what are you going to do if you concede in the first minute?"
Exactly. Under this Norwich head coach and with these players it has to be plan A every time.