Paddy Davitt verdict: Forget James Maddison saga. Daniel Farke has a bigger issue to deal with at Norwich City
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Daniel Farke may want to insist Norwich City switch to the away dressing room at Carrow Road.
The Canaries resilient, stubborn 1-0 league win at Brentford was their seventh in the Championship away from home this season.
Only champions-elect Wolves have won more.
That underlines the residually effective formula Farke has devised for City’s travels, while bringing into sharp focus the elusive search for similar consistency in Norfolk.
Put such flippant suggestions to one side. Farke must crack the code between now and what remains of a season of underlying promise.
Norwich’s seven away wins have been harvested from just 14 goals.
For Griffin Park, read Ipswich, Middlesbrough, Reading. The Canaries appear reassuringly obdurate, yet impressively efficient with limited amounts of possession and territory. City’s shape without the ball is designed to frustrate; Grant Hanley an imposing the focal point, Christoph Zimmermann and Timm Klose just as impenetrable, and behind them a rapidly maturing Angus Gunn.
Measure the scale of City’s latest success by the fact Gunn’s first real save of consequence came in the 86th minute, when he smothered Ollie Watkins’ shot at his near post.
It may do nothing for Farke’s nerves - or the travelling support - to defend such a slender lead but City look comfortable pinned inside their own half for long spells.
How do they adopt the same method in front of their own? When the onus is on Farke’s side to force the play, to be progressive and proactive?
To this advanced stage of the season, the German and his coaching brains have yet to find the answer.
Perhaps it is too simplistic to merely embellish an imposing defensive platform with a genuine attacking edge.
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There has been much talk of cultural change, since City’s top brass sanctioned a change of course and appointed Stuart Webber as sporting director.
The huge challenge to balance the financial reality, to bring in a transfer surplus and lower the wage bill, with re-modelling a playing staff that can remain competitive is well underway.
But that inherently requires a lowering of expectations in the short term.
An acceptance from many of those who have, frankly, on occasions been bored by the slim rations on offer at Carrow Road that the swashbuckling, free-scoring dominance we saw last season has long gone.
Farke’s pre-match use of the term ‘underdog’ to frame Norwich’s task against a Brentford who had not lost in the league on home soil since the opening month of the campaign was not to everyone’s liking.
Yet that is the mindset that has brought so many away wins under his guidance. Any vestiges of superiority, based on recent history and an extended flirtation with the Premier League, need to be shed.
At present, Norwich have no right to think they are bigger or better than any other Championship rival.
Forging a mentality they are fighting against the odds, they are facing opponents with deeper resources and higher expectations, is serving them well. The trick is much more difficult to pull off at Carrow Road.
This is bigger than keeping James Maddison in what remains of the current transfer window.
City have been reliant on their precocious talent to an unhealthy degree at times.
When, not if, Maddison is no longer in the yellow and green, then alternatives must be sourced from within and without to continue on the path Webber and Farke have devised.
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Even with Maddison’s pervasive influence, Norwich have lacked a venomous edge in their best spells of the season.
Brentford illustrated again Farke has the resources and the tactical acumen to pick up points in the Championship. Onel Hernandez, Dennis Srbeny and Moritz Leitner provide new options.
In that regard, it should be easier to achieve higher productivity when they are in familiar surroundings.
Carrow Road needs to become an intimidating place for opposition teams again; not a venue that too often feels like it inhibits a group of young men who are not yet equipped to dominate.
Or find enough holes in massed rearguards.
Maddison’s future, to a large extent, hinges on the desire and craving of potential suitors.
Farke and Webber need to focus on the elements they can control.
Refining what works away from Norfolk, back at Carrow Road, is their biggest footballing challenge.
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