Jon Punt: City's youth leading the way but don't overlook big defender's role in upturn
PUBLISHED: 11:00 25 September 2018
Norwich City's recent upturn in form has seen Daniel Farke's young guns praised from all angles.
The head coach’s bravery has been rewarded with nine precious points which has, at least for now, brought a different and more optimistic complexion to the season.
Jamal Lewis was justly awarded Sky’s man of the match at Loftus Road for an energetic and all-action display – his willingness to offer an outlet in wide areas was at the heart of most of City’s pivotal moments in the match.
In the other full-back berth, Max Aarons continues to shine since being handed his debut in the white hot heat of a derby. The teenager’s marauding and fearless running gives Norwich another, more direct, way of transitioning from defence to attack.
This has been complemented by the recent inclusion of Dereham’s Todd Cantwell, who has spoken openly of the fact that seeing other academy products being given their chances has inspired belief he would get his turn.
That patience is now paying off, with composed and confident displays meaning more experienced heads now have to wrestle the shirt from his grasp. Cantwell appears unafraid to take risks in key areas, safe in the knowledge his career is being carefully managed by those at Carrow Road.
MORE: Six things we learned from Loftus Road victory
It’s a fine example of why mega money investors aren’t the only way to prosper. These lads are transforming from boys to men, all in a pressurised Championship environment. It’s early days, but should they continue at this rate of progression the end of the road for their careers will be in the Premier League.
Then there’s the re-emergence of Marco Stiepermann. Rejuvenated and re-energised in his favoured number 10 position, the former Bochum man’s physicality and ability to nick the ball in dangerous pockets of space, allied with a purpose about his forward running, proving to be valuable assets in this re-engineered Canary side.
Yet there’s one man who hasn’t really received the plaudits of which he has perhaps been worthy.
When Grant Hanley’s quadricep injury was revealed, it came as a hammer blow to supporters, who were already fearful the season was in danger of becoming another mediocre and turgid affair. The skipper’s lengthy absence over a run of congested fixtures felt as if it might see a return to the fragility which hindered any kind of progression last term.
Step forward Christoph Zimmermann. Since his return to the side just one goal has been conceded, two clean sheets have been well earned and three welcome wins recorded.
The German’s towering presence and calm head, along with his symbiotic understanding alongside defensive partner Timm Klose, has formed a formidable backline that opponents have found difficult to penetrate.
MORE: Farke keeping his feet on the ground
Zimmermann is firmly Farke’s man, one who he can place his trust in fully, following the continuation of their relationship from Borussia Dortmund II. He captained the second string of the Bundesliga giants, and organises those around him, especially so for set-pieces, where City have previously looked worryingly brittle. A lack of leadership is so often highlighted as one of City’s most pertinent deficiencies, yet the team look more organised with Zimmermann in it.
His rapid development from the lower reaches of German league football to Championship stalwart has been a highlight of Farke’s tenure. In addition, Zimmermann understands that this football club is deeply rooted in the Norfolk community and he actively plays his part in ensuring these traditions are respected.
The lazy soundbite from City’s detractors, bandied around when things aren’t going well for the Canaries, is that Norwich have filled their side with fourth tier German imports who aren’t fit for purpose.
Zimmermann is the only actual example who has joined the club from that level. If there’s more German fourth tier imports like him then bring them in, and quickly.