It's building up to a crucial summer for Norwich City chief Webber
PUBLISHED: 06:00 24 March 2018
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With yet another international break upon us it seems like an appropriate time to assess the current state of the Canary nation, and there is no doubt that the overall mood has been lifted by Saturday's performance.
However, only the most optimistic fan would fail to admit that Daniel Farke still has some problems to solve.
While Reading were awful defensively in the first half there is no doubt that City were significantly more incisive than in recent weeks. Realistically the game should never have become as tight as it did, but that has as much to do with City’s inability to make the most of promising positions as anything that the visitors contributed.
At present, Farke is faced with the dilemma that with a back three City look defensively sound, but struggle to create, while when he uses a four they have more of an attacking threat but look vulnerable at the back.
On Saturday the selection of a back four allowed him to field two wingers and the pace and width provided was a major factor in City’s dominance of the first half, but that wouldn’t work with three central defenders as wing backs and wingers would be vying for the same space and the team would be outnumbered centrally.
Clearly, finding the right midfield balance is something that Farke is still struggling with. With Mario Vrancic, who was excellent against Reading, Wes Hoolahan, James Maddison and Moritz Leitner there is no lack of creative options, while Alex Tettey, Harrison Reed and Tom Trybull can all play the holding role, although their styles differ.
Farke’s problem is that, assuming he goes with a back three and a striker with one of the wide players playing a floating role off him he can only accommodate three from the above group.
Its strikes me that Maddison and Leitner are quite similar in style and tend to shorten City’s passing game, whereas Vrancic’s ability to pick long passes tends to stretch opponents more, so ideally I would like to see him playing with one of the former, as he did on Saturday, which only allows for one holding player, although the Bosnian’s defensive game has improved immeasurably over the season.
Of those, Tettey is the best in a purely defensive capacity while Reed is the most mobile, albeit lacking in physical stature. Of the three, Trybull strikes me as the most complete, but has an indifferent career fitness record. However, he would be my first choice in that formation.
The big problem area though, is clearly up front where Nelson Oliveira has struggled to adapt to Farke’s system, so it was good to see Dennis Srbeny put in a strong target man performance on Saturday, marred only by his glaring second-half miss. However, he’s one for the future, rather than the short-term answer.
Inevitably Stuart Webber’s summer shopping list will be topped by goal scorers and we must hope that he can uncover a gem.
There has been plenty of debate about Webber’s signings this season, and I think that overall, he’s got more right than wrong. Grant Hanley, Christoph Zimmermann, Tom Trybull and Vrancic (after a slow start) have done well, and Onel Hernandez and Srbeny show promise, with Angus Gunn and Harrison Reed playing major parts as loanees too.
It’s hard to judge Marco Stiepermann, who has spent much of his City career playing out of position at left back before picking up a long-term injury, but there is no denying that Marley Watkins and Marcel Franke have been big disappointments, while James Husband struggled before being eclipsed by the emergence of Jamal Lewis.
I think that most of us realise that picking players is never an exact science, but nevertheless, Webber’s ability to do so will inevitably come under the spotlight once again when City enter what is likely to be a crucial summer transfer window.