Timm Klose’s return is the catalyst for change at Norwich City
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After being made to stew on that Millwall nightmare for a fortnight, the need for a resolute defensive performance felt almost as important as the result on Saturday.
The shambles at The Den meant changes simply had to be made. We may have been just five games into Daniel Farke’s tenure, but the scale of that defeat meant City’s head coach needed a reaction in a pivotal week with back-to-back home games.
Anyone thinking Grant Hanley was signed in an attempt to immediately fix those defensive problems would have been surprised to see his name among the substitutes. Instead, it was the introduction of a fit-again Timm Klose who provided the attributes we’ve been painfully missing in the last two away defeats.
Alongside Christoph Zimmerman, a revved up Ivo Pinto donning the captain’s armband, and Marco Stiepermann adopting the left-back role in favour of James Husband, Norwich’s defence was unrecognisable from the one that started in south London – and an untried unit at that. Their collective performance, while by no means perfect, was a far cry from two weeks prior.
It no doubt helped that Birmingham were distinctly average and lacked any real threat in the box, despite new signing Jota’s best efforts to force openings. Klose’s marshalling of the area meant the tricky Spaniard found little joy, despite his side enjoying the majority of possession. The towering defender won everything in the air and was instrumental in the back line, keeping their shape.
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Klose may have struggled last season and some had already written him off as unable to cope with the Championship’s demands. Yet his performance on the pitch and comments off it Saturday told a different story. The Swiss international could be a huge player for Norwich this campaign – he says he wants to be a leader and that’s exactly what Farke’s charges are crying out for.
Testament to his potential to emerge as just that was Klose’s influence on his centre-half partner. His encouragement and constant dialogue with Zimmerman made for a much more organised defensive display, with none of the gaping holes that have been so frequently taken advantage of in recent weeks.
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It was then Klose’s presence in the Birmingham penalty area that led to Norwich’s goal, when he crossed for a typically bullish Nelson Oliveira to slide it into an empty net. Keeping hold of him in the transfer window was absolutely essential.
A new-look midfield and shape felt more solid with Alex Tettey and Championship debutant Tom Trybull affording much more protection when Birmingham were in possession, harassing and getting a foot in to stop any creative flow. It may sound basic but there was nobody doing that job at Millwall. It meant Mario Vrancic enjoyed more time on the ball, when he is far more effective than chasing after it, and he was able to show his class with some deft through balls that on another day would have been rewarded as assists.
Josh Murphy caused plenty of problems, even if his decision making when it comes to the final ball remains his biggest flaw. Improve on that one aspect of his game and he’ll punish a lot of teams this season.
A much improved performance, but Birmingham’s lack of bite translated into one shot into the arms of Angus Gunn and there will be far better sides to visit Carrow Road. A Championship classic it was not, but after the shockers at Villa and Millwall there can’t be too many complaints about a solid performance that chalked up another home win.
With a wounded Burton to follow on Tuesday, expectation is for more of the same, and Farke couldn’t have asked for a kinder fixture in which to turn Saturday’s result into a revival.