Could flexibility of five changes help Farke to keep his City squad happy?
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Substitutions can be an easy stick to beat a football manager with after a disappointing result but, as an allowance for five changes returns, Norwich City head coach Daniel Farke has already been making good use of his bench this season.
Substitutions can transform a game but clearly not every match is centred around the impact of fresh legs. That doesn’t seem to stop some Canaries fans from moaning about Farke’s changes though, often being accused of leaving them too late - even during the title-winning season of 2018-19.
Let’s take a look at the season so far though. On the opening weekend it was Adam Idah coming on to score the winner at Hudderfield in the 80th minute and the following weekend it was Idah making a big impact after arriving in the 63rd minute with the Canaries trailing 2-1 to Preston at Carrow Road, with fellow substitute Przemek Placheta eventually scoring the late equaliser having replaced the injured Kieran Dowell during the first half.
There were three games in succession with substitutes scoring, with Mario Vrancic finding late winners against Birmingham and Wycombe, and Kenny McLean digging out a deflected equaliser at Brentford.
While prior to the international break a brave decision to bring on youngsters Bali Mumba and Josh Martin in the 68th minute, when drawing 0-0 with a potential promotion rival in Swansea, worked out impressively as Mumba’s attacking urgency on the left helped turn the tide and led to Emi Buendia teeing up Marco Stiepermann’s winner.
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Despite injuries keeping Ben Gibson, Sam Byram, Xavi Quintilla, Lukas Rupp, Todd Cantwell, Onel Hernandez and Dowell out of that game, Farke still had the vast experience of Michael McGovern and Alex Tettey on the bench, and didn’t even bring on Vrancic, Idah or Jordan Hugill.
So with the EFL confirming that clubs will again be able to bring on five substitutes, that strength in depth could continue to be emphasised during the hectic six-week spell of 12 games which kicks off at Middlesbrough on Saturday - particularly if injury issues ease.
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Championship clubs can name nine substitutes again, as City were allowed to after the Premier League season resumed behind close doors in June.
The driving force of the decision is to help fight against fitness and injury problems, as fixtures are condensed due to the campaign starting a month later than planned and shortened pre-season regimes.
Inevitably some will accuse the strongest teams in each league of wanting that added flexibility, as it could provide an advantage over rivals that don’t have such strength in depth in their squad.
Take the final game of last season for example, when an already relegated and miserable Norwich went to Manchester City in July.
The dethroned champions were able to bring on experienced international stars at half-time in Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez, which saw them ease from 2-0 ahead to a 5-0 win, with the Canaries giving academy defenders Akin Famewo and Jordan Thomas their debut during the closing stages.
That could well be a theme that returns now, with Farke able to include some youngsters as part of their development - although Idah, Mumba and Martin already tick that box, with Max Aarons still only 20, as is Tottenham loanee Oliver Skipp.
Again the changes are restricted to being made during a maximum of three opportunities including half-time, to try to prevent the added wiggle room being used as a time wasting aid or to break up play, although of course the added seconds taken up by the changes is unavoidable.
For Farke however, the even bigger advantage could be allowing him to keep his big squad happy, to ensure that he can keep everyone involved, to allow for rotation during the busy spell of two games a week through until the FA Cup in January.
It seems unlikely that will extend to out-of-favour duo Moritz Leitner and Josip Drmic coming back into the fold, with both believed to be training away from the club as they search for January moves.
Yet after so many moans and groans about the seemingly never-ending injury issues City have to deal with, if the change allows Farke to keep the majority of his squad fit, it could play a big part in building on an encouraging first quarter of the season.