David Freezer: Midfield jigsaw puzzle must be solved for City to prosper
Do you like jigsaws? No, me neither, and I certainly don’t envy the midfield pieces Daniel Farke has to find the correct holes for during the international break.
With summer signing Kenny McLean and forgotten man Mario Vrancic returning to full fitness as attentions turn to next week’s difficult clash with high-flying Middlesbrough, the Canaries boss has a wealth of options.
On one hand that is a fantastic position for a head coach, with plenty of players available and offering a variety of styles as Farke constructs a system to knock Boro out of their stride and get his team’s campaign moving in the right direction.
On the other it leaves the German with a real man management challenge, as he tries to create a united spirit and make Colney a happy place to be now that the transfer window is closed for four months.
There are seven games coming up before the next international break – one being the Carabao Cup third round trip to Wycombe – which means there will be no midweek break for the Norwich squad until after the home clash with Stoke on October 6.
Yet for all that, City seem to have something of a surplus when it comes to midfield, even with a coach who has mostly played 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 formations.
While the midfield mix is often fluid under Farke this essentially means there are a maximum of three central players – but I make it that City have no less than 10 options for those central berths.
I’ll discount wide players Onel Hernandez and Ben Marshall – the wide areas are a different debate – and while Teemu Pukki could just about be included I’d largely consider his role as attacking support for the striker so far.
City’s longest serving player is proving once again how important his experience, defensive nous and physical strength are so important – even if he did have a mare during the win over Preston.
Has shown some bright sparks as he makes his way back from a serious Achilles injury but picked up a hamstring setback in last week’s draw at Ipswich which could see him miss some of the upcoming games.
Seemingly viewed as a central defensive option but the 20-year-old was a defensive midfield wrecking ball for Shrewsbury in League One last season. If two games in quick succession is too much for Tettey his midfield chance should follow.
Some good games, some quiet, so far. At his best the German can be the pace-setting focal point of a possession-focused team but questions over pace and defensive sense as a lone holder.
Real eye for a killer pass and finally showed his attacking threat with a fine first goal at Ipswich, could it be the moment which kicks his City career into the next gear?
Looks to be finding the pace of the English game but still much room for improvement.
Summer signing’s left foot is a real asset but we’re yet to see his best position.
Can do a job on the wing but would be interesting to see him in the deeper role alongside a defensive partner to use his energy and passing range.
Missing all of pre-season due to a cartilage problem in the pelvis area has really set the 29-year-old back. Unfortunate to lose his place during the second half of last season after shaking off a poor start. Under contract until 2020 but almost has to start again now.
Has the trust of Farke but his best position is still unclear. Versatility makes him a useful option from the bench but needs to reproduce his Cardiff cup display to become a regular.
Deployed on the right at Ipswich, in his first league start, after a starring role at Cardiff. Kept moving to the centre at Portman Road and looks to be a natural, creative number 10, will he gets chances centrally though?
Kept in Norfolk rather than allowed out on loan again. Has to play games between now and January or his development will stall. If developing academy talent is so important to the club’s future, the 20-year-old must not just be a homegrown bench option.
It’s a department that is so crucial to Farke’s approach to the game but 10 pieces clearly do not fit into three. Neither do square pegs fit into round holes.
Solving this puzzle is going to be so key to dictating the mood around Carrow Road by the time we reach that October international break.
Holt’s great start
What a return to management it’s been for former Canaries player and coach Gary Holt.
It’s still early days of course but a 2-0 win at St Mirren and a 2-1 home win over Hibs has Holt’s Livingston side sat fourth in the Scottish Premiership during the international break.
The 45-year-old began his coaching days with the Norwich academy before a successful first stint as manager with Falkirk in the second tier, missing out on promotion to the top tier after a narrow defeat to Hamilton in the second leg of the play-off final.
He came south again to assist Neil Adams and was kept around during the Alex Neil days before a parting of the ways following Premier League relegation.
The man remembered as ‘Three Lungs’ by City fans, talking about his frustrating two-year wait for another chance, told the Daily Mail: “For the last six months, I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall.”
Here’s hoping that fine start continues for a top bloke.
Tough time for Remi
It’s proving to be a rather testing period for City keeper Remi Matthews.
Seemingly deemed surplus to requirements by Daniel Farke after chances in pre-season, the Canaries academy product has gone to Bolton on loan, in a deal which will become permanent in January.
Perhaps he would have been better staying put and trying to prove his ability though.
So far the 24-year-old has had just one chance to show what he can do at Wanderers, starting a 2-1 defeat at Leeds in the first round of the Carabao Cup. Otherwise it’s been bench-warming duties, covering for former City loanee Ben Alnwick.
Unfortunately for Remi the competition for the number one shirt is bringing the best out of Alnwick, who was nominated for the August Championship player of the month award.
Patience is so important for keepers but after loans at Burton, Doncaster, Hamilton and Plymouth previously, it looks like a few months of that really being tested is on the way for the shot-stopper.