Michael Bailey: The hit, miss and maybe of Norwich City's midfield and when goalless means goals
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey talks midfielder matters with Alex Tettey, Tom Trybull and Moritz Leitner.
It’s been another season of Norwich City change and evolution – but definitely not transition. That word isn’t allowed any more.
The case in point was Tuesday night at Hull. Of the starting XI, three arrived in the summer (Krul, Buendia, Pukki) and for various reasons a further three hadn’t earned a City start until after last Christmas (Lewis, Hernandez, Aarons).
But in terms of individual evolution, something special has happened with a certain Canaries midfielder this Championship season: Alexander Tettey.
It’s not the level he joined at, given the Norwegian favourite and former international was a Premier League signing under Chris Hughton’s watch more than six years ago.
But right here, right now, it’s a level that Tettey is thriving in with a dynamism and organisational leadership that is a joy to watch play out.
It could be the result of such technical quality around him and the chemistry of this particular side. It is definitely with the help of his current City coaches. And likewise, City head coach Daniel Farke told me the man himself deserves huge praise for his own efforts so far this season – the first of his new two-year contract signed ahead of last summer.
“It’s all down to Alex because he is an outstanding character and it’s also a sign you can even improve when you are not 18 any more,” said Farke of his 32-year-old. “He could be a role model for every player, and in general for all human beings – to not say I’ve reached a special level and now I can relax a little bit.
“It’s also important you want to improve each and every moment, and we try to always speak about this topic. We wanted to improve him and his way of playing, and we still want to improve him.
“I think he is in outstanding physical condition, he works a lot additionally on that. Then I think it’s important for him that he feels we trust he can still improve and that he is crucial for our game.
“But there is also a lot of competition and he knows he has to perform at his top level.
“All these points show he is not far away from being in the form of his life – I can’t judge the first 10-12 years of his career but I’m pretty sure he’s not far away from that and long may it continue.”
Farke joked that continuous improvement could also extend to Tettey’s dancing, given his injury-time goal celebration against Millwall – but to include that here would be harsh, so I won’t mention it. Definitely not.
All being well, Tettey will clock his 200th Norwich City appearance come the trip to Blackburn before Christmas – a wonderful achievement for a popular man; almost as impressive as his performances this season, on which City can build something special.
• The simplistic argument following Tuesday at Hull was laid on a plate: Norwich City missed Moritz Leitner.
Now, this isn’t necessarily me disagreeing with the point. No one keeps City’s possession ticking, their attacks pulling and probing as if he’s got the game controller to Fifa 2019, quite like Leitner.
What I would rail against however is using that as a stick with which to beat Tom Trybull.
The fellow German midfielder looked a tad rusty on a fairly competitive and conditions-wise, disgusting evening – no surprise given he has started just five games this season, and two in two months before midweek.
Sure, he wasn’t the metronome. Indeed, he did give the ball away on occasions – perhaps underlining the point Leitner could slip into the same song.
But in turn, Leitner’s own form was similarly scratchy in the season’s early, rusty exchanges.
Likewise Trybull both missing and being denied with Norwich’s best chances against the Tigers, showed a greater goal threat to what Leitner has brought.
Off the back of a run in the side, Trybull scores that second-half header. It’s a hypothetical discussion naturally, but I’m happy with my view.
Tettey and Trybull looked such a secure midfield axis early in the 2017-18 season but with the former’s evolution and Leitner’s sublime form, it may well be the current pairing in its grove is an evidential improvement.
But don’t let that write off what Trybull can – and knowing the rigours of a Championship season, will – bring to City’s ambitions this season.
• Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough in October 2014, Crystal Palace at the end of January 2011, Preston in November 2003.
All goalless, instantly forgettable draws away from home for Norwich City in seasons of incredible success.
Here’s to Tuesday night at Hull fitting the same bill in the Canaries’ history books.
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