Freezer's Five: Full-back options, midfield strength and Oliveira's future among the Canaries concerns
PUBLISHED: 12:01 29 July 2018 | UPDATED: 12:07 29 July 2018
Following the conclusion of Norwich City’s pre-season with a 1-0 loss to Charlton, Canaries correspondent David Freezer looks at some of the key talking points.
Applying the finishing touches
Tom Trybull was deployed as the lone holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 system against Charlton with limited success on Saturday.
While much of pre-season has made it difficult to pin down an exact shape, as Farke’s midfield has remained very fluid, it has largely been with one sitting deeper than the rest.
The absence of Alex Tettey due to chicken pox has allowed Louis Thompson the opportunity to impress as he makes his comeback from a long-term Achilles injury.
It is the system with which City’s head coach was supposedly most keen when with Borussia Dortmund II and featured during the early stages of his reign last year, before being swiftly dropped in search of defensive solidity.
Charlton swarmed around Trybull and City’s defence in the first half, pressing high to prevent the Canaries playing out from the back easily through Tim Krul – and it worked.
The game’s deciding goal – although courtesy of fortunate deflections off Timm Klose and Grant Hanley – came after Jake Forster-Caskey nipped past Trybull and ran at goal before firing a low effort from the edge of the box which eluded Krul after its double diversion.
For the system to be worth it, the plentiful attacking options further forward have to make it worth it but they didn’t, at least in the first half. Emi Buendia provided the creative spark late on and Todd Cantwell was denied an equaliser twice by good saves from Dillon Phillips.
While Garry Monk’s Birmingham are unlikely to be one of the more direct, physical sides in the Championship this season, using Trybull and Thompson in tandem is surely a better approach to ensure a solid start to the campaign.
Husband’s chance wasted
Ahead of kick-off I said in our latest team news video over on the Pink Un Facebook page that I was intrigued to see how Felix Passlack and James Husband got on at full-back. It did not go well.
Ben Marshall looks to have the right-back berth ahead of the opening day, due to Ivo Pinto’s lack of pre-season game-time, and Borussia Dortmund loanee Felix Passlack does not yet look ready to fill that defensive berth.
Charlton winger Mark Marshall, an experienced 31-year-old winger formerly of Bradford and Port Vale, soon worked out he had the beating of the youngster in terms of both pace and strength. Marshall’s good work on the left saw him twice go close and George Lapslie and Forster-Caskey both miss big chances.
Passlack has a fine CV but the 20-year-old does not yet look ready for the rough and tumble of English football, although he looked brighter going forward, with his buccaneering run resulting in Onel Hernandez scoring, only for an offside flag to be raised.
The youngster was brought off at half-time, as was Husband, who seemed to freeze with the chance to secure the left-back starting spot at Birmingham within his grasp.
From standing on the ball to bring an end to an attack, to slack passing and a bizarre clearance, not much went right for the 24-year-old.
Max Aarons looked better in the second half, with one particularly well timed tackle in his own box, but the 18-year-old has come through the academy as a right-back and a debut at St Andrew’s may be a big ask.
So Husband may yet get another chance to show he can compete with Jamal Lewis, who is set to return to full training this week, but he is running out of chances quickly.
What to do about Nelson
Daniel Farke insisted Nelson Oliveira is still ‘part of the group’ after the final whistle on Saturday, despite not featuring at all during pre-season.
The Portugal international has not even featured as a substitute, with no injury or fitness issues reported.
Farke may have to follow the party line to ensure the striker’s value isn’t knocked but it is clear the 26-year-old is not part of City’s plans for this season.
A player who has been left in the shadows during preparations is not going to all of a sudden start playing a major role. The only issue is, it’s all very quiet on the Nelson front. There have been no whispers of interest from elsewhere for a player on big wages.
Perhaps his wild shooting didn’t go unnoticed last season? Oliveira averaged a total of 4.4 shots per 90 minutes last season, more than any other player in the Championship to have also played more than 30 matches.
He averaged just 1.3 shots on target per 90 minutes to finish the campaign with eight goals from 37 league games.
There is no doubt there is ability in those boots if a manager can get hold of him and fix that dodgy aim but now City have to try and find that person willing to take a gamble ahead of the permanent transfer deadline on August 9 or the loan deadline on August 31.
With his value depreciating like an unused car, it’s time for Oliveira’s representatives, the company owned by super agent Jorge Mendes, to work their magic and get a deal which suits all parties.
The revolution continues
The amount of change at City in the past year was emphasised by Farke’s starting line-up at The Valley featuring just one of the team which started the 2-0 friendly win at Charlton during the latter stages of pre-season last year.
James Husband was the only player who started last year’s game, in which Yanic Wildschut and Steven Naismith scored the goals.
In fact substitutes Ben Godfrey and Christoph Zimmermann were the only players also involved at The Valley in 2017, with Alex Tettey and Mario Vrancic missing this game due to illness and injury respectively.
The likes of James Maddison, Josh Murphy and Marley Watkins have gone, loanees Angus Gunn and Harrison Reed have returned home, while Russ Martin and Nelson Oliveira look set to leave.
The revolution continues but the hard work is only just beginning.
Let’s get this show on the road
Begin the countdown, the real Championship action is less than a week away.
The fitness work and tactical sharpening are almost over, the first game week of the 2018-19 campaign is approaching for the new-look Canaries.
Although the theories and guessing games can soon conclude, much already looks to be in place.
Krul is number one, Hanley and Klose are almost certain starters whether in a three-man back-line or a traditional four.
Tom Trybull is sure to be in the midfield mix, Onel Hernandez looks ready to kick on, new boys Ben Marshall, Kenny McLean and Teemu Pukki have completed plenty of good work in pre-season.
The continued absence of Jamal Lewis, Alex Tettey and Mario Vrancic are concerning but the questions about personnel are starting to be answered.
What we need to know now is whether this group, now moulded more closely to Farke’s image, have what it takes to impose themselves in Championship games and survive the division’s more physical challenges in the process.
For the record, Pukki was top scorer with three goals and the most minutes completed was shared by Klose and Christoph Zimmermann with 476 each.