Paddy Davitt verdict: Rope-a-dope tactics work a treat for Norwich City
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Cohesion replaced carnage as the prevailing driving force of Norwich City’s impressively-assured Championship win over Birmingham City.
Daniel Farke clearly did more than simply use the international break to wallow in the bitter aftermath of those heavy, disjointed league defeats at Aston Villa and Millwall.
The City boss may have been without a clutch of key performers, as they looked to progress World Cup ambitions, including newly-recruited Newcastle United defender Grant Hanley, but there was plenty of evidence that defensive drills were a key feature for the Colney crew who remained behind in Norfolk.
Farke restored fit-again Timm Klose to his side and furnished a leaky backline with the added armour of Alex Tettey and league debutant Tom Trybull, operating in a new-look protective midfield. The effect was immediate and reassuring for those on and off the pitch who have had to endure an alarming early concession rate.
Birmingham may have dominated possession but it was the Canaries who controlled proceedings.
City looked well-drilled and disciplined out of possession and with the mobile focal point of Nelson Oliveira and the pacy thrusts of Josh Murphy and later Yanic Wildschut a danger on the break.
Norwich worked as a collective from front to back. There was clarity and a sense of purpose, underpinned by the attitude shift Farke himself had publicly demanded in the build-up.
The Canaries looked anything but a soft touch. The oceans of space afforded the likes of Villa and Millwall when City sloppily turned over the ball were completely absent. Birmingham had plenty of set-piece opportunities to probe for that residual weakness but here again you could see the fruits of hard work on the training pitches. There was still clear evidence of zonal marking but a far heightened sense of personal responsibility and a desire to attack balls as they came into Angus Gunn’s penalty area. One need only compare and contrast the drastically reduced workload on the Manchester City starlet either side of the international break to assess the success of this aggressive policy revision.
The pay-off against Harry’s boys was three points and a precious clean sheet but it should also carry longer lasting effects.
This should be the template and the path to further gains and upward mobility.
Farke was quick to sound a note of caution in the aftermath, as he savoured a win that must have felt so distant in the wake of unfolding horrors at the Den. Norwich need to retain the tactical flexibility, the willingness to shuffle personnel and formations, to deal with different rivals and different challenges.
Burton, one can reasonably predict, will not head to Carrow Road this week looking to dominate the ball or operate in such an expansive fashion. City will need to refine the Birmingham blockade to prevail but that should not be beyond either Farke or a squad who must draw strength and confidence from the manner of their composed victory.
Even in the fraught final moments, as Redknapp went for broke and the blue shirts flooded forward, there was a calmness and an assurance to the hosts in defence, woven around the commanding figure of Klose.
Christoph Zimmermann appeared to tap into the power source alongside him as he visibly grew into the contest. Marco Stiepermann may fail to convince as a defensively-minded left-back but he possesses both the physical presence and experience to quickly understand what is required in the cut and thrust of the English Championship.
Farke’s bravery to broker such a healthy degree of change in personnel and approach bodes well from here on in.
As his troops back-pedalled and swiftly succumbed at Villa Park and then the Den there was a gnawing sense the German was reluctant to alter philosophical course. Much has been made of the desire to dominate territory and possession in order to engineer the control he clearly feels is essential to enduring success, whether it is in Germany or his latest career posting.
Yet City’s head coach delivered his own emphatic statement against Birmingham in the way he solved this latest conundrum. With deeper, richer resources now at his disposal that first, uncomfortable phase of the development cycle may be at an end. We await what lies in store next.