Rob Sainty: Midfield blend is key to City turning promise into points
PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 September 2018
The first few league games before the first international break always feel like a kind of phoney war, with clubs still integrating new players with old and the loan transfer window still open to allow those with the requisite resources to further adjust their squads.
Now, however, we are getting into the real thing and it doesn’t get any easier for Daniel Farke and Norwich City as they find themselves this afternoon facing their third game of the season against a side in the top three with just five points from their opening six games – and more questions than answers about how much genuine progress has been made since last season.
While there was inevitably widespread elation that City maintained their unbeaten run against Ipswich that doesn’t disguise the fact that it was something of a backs to the wall performance at times, although it should also be noted that the Canaries showed an impressive level of resolve to come back from behind, something they rarely managed last season.
Farke would also have been delighted with the performances of Max Aarons and Ben Godfrey in such a high-pressure game, and he deserves credit for a bold team selection, particularly the choice of the attacking potential of Emi Buendia rather than a second defensive midfield player.
However, I still feel that he is searching for the right midfield blend, one that will be able to protect a defence that has looked rather shaky on occasions this season while providing the sort of service that will get the best out of Teemu Pukki and Jordan Rhodes.
The key to that may well be Kenny McLean, who was showing real promise before his unfortunate injury, and seems to have the box to box capability that City have lacked since the departure of Jonny Howson, although it would also be interesting to see Louis Thompson given a chance to perform centrally.
The other candidate for such a role is, of course, Godfrey, but it does seem that Farke sees his future in central defence where his power in the air and comfort on the ball would seem to dovetail perfectly with the way in which the manager wants his side to play.
Regardless of personnel, though, Farke will be desperate for a convincing performance and result today after an opening set of games in which his team have shown some promise but have also looked highly vulnerable on occasions.
Unfortunately the Carrow Road crowd has seen far too little to get excited about over the last year, and that trend has to change if the team are to climb the table and Farke is to see his contract extended.
In a week that has seen both Birmingham and Bolton threatened by potential 12-point penalties for their past profligacy there is no likelihood that City will deviate from the self-funding model and a focus on player development which is already starting to show results in terms of the quality of young players that are coming through the under-18s and under-23s. However that doesn’t mean that the head coach himself will be immune from pressure.
Having said that, I think that Farke will (and should) be given more time given the tough run of fixtures that started City’s season but failure to produce results in the upcoming games against the likes of Reading and QPR could force Stuart Webber to reappraise the situation.
There is no doubt in my mind that City have a squad that is more than capable of being very competitive in this league but I would be the first to admit that that opinion is based more on instinct than empirical evidence so far, and with seven games coming up in the next three weeks the pressure will be well and truly on for Farke and his players to show that they can produce the goods.