There is something magical about the complete irrelevance of pre-season in terms of being a football fan. While it gives you a look at the new produce Norwich have acquired from across the continent, it also poses more questions than answers.
As I watched on at Crown Meadow, I was indulged by the complete irrelevance of it all. Yet, it meant so much.
But let’s be realistic, the level of opposition was questionable. Personally, I went to Lowestoft to feed my craving and incurable addiction for watching men in shorts kick a piece of leather around a field; what I left with was enormous optimism and a smile on my face.
For many, me included, it was the first time we’d witnessed Daniel Farke’s Norwich City in the flesh. Critics of City’s last, hopefully soon forgotten, campaign spoke in abundances of the lack of fitness in the legs of the players. Shuttle runs have been multiplied, stretches amplified and jumping jacks have increased in difficulty.
While these generic exercises are more evident of me in the gym than on the pitches of Colney, what remains increasing apparent is the slack of the last regime. Farke has his players doing over time. Longer, harder sessions with an increased intensity.
The tiring of City, physically and mentally, is soon to be a thing of the past.
Tactically, the 4-1-4-1 is evidently the love child produced by Farke and his backroom team. It oozes knowledge and class. Every finite detail was considered, the players seemed aware of their instructions. The fluidity of the system made the transition from 4-1-4-1 into 4-3-3 effortless, with the heavily relied number 10 being split.
The number 10 role is a position Wes Hoolahan has filled with creative panache and excellence over the years, but now has been divided. Filled in the first 45 by Maddison and Naismith, the space between the four midfielders and defenders of Lowestoft was penetrated with ease. The technical class of these players allowed them to orchestrate the play and the chances Norwich created were down to this factor.
The full backs were slightly more conventional in this formation, with Lewis and Wildschut, despite providing width when in possession, didn’t overlap continuously and allowed the wingers space to play their game. It was a much wider formation centred around the trust of players. Guardiola always coached his players to trust each other on the ball, don’t crowd each other out; this was visible in Norwich’s patterns of play.
The angles were cuter, the emphasis of possession greater. Patience will be the order of the day as Norwich move the ball almost ritualistically before an opening appears and City become an altogether different beast. The space sees a rapid exchange of passes towards the opponents goal. As a result of this, the centre backs will be need to be ball-playing. Klose and a new CB will most probably be the partnership, but the attribute of possession will need to be visible.
Maddison was dropped deeper. He looked a class above anybody on the pitch, his footballing intelligence is majestic and sees him take prime understudy to the soon to be vacant Norwich attacking midfield crown. Maddison’s awareness of when to move off the ball combined with his effortless ability to create space for others are way beyond his years.
If Norwich can utilise Maddison in a deeper position, it only enhances the portfolio of one of the rising stars in this country. It’s important not to get carried away against such lower standard of opposition, but Maddison has undeniable quality and if Norwich won’t let his express that, he needs to find a club that will, albeit a loan.
Nelson Oliveira. Despite reports, the context has been extracted away from the true message behind Farke’s quotes. Unless a substantial offer arrives at the doorstep of Norwich City, Oliveira will spearhead City’s charge back to the lucrative Premier League.
And it’s hard not to be excited by Mario Vrancic. The Bosnian seemed to glide through the motions at Crown Meadow with an essence of class. Whilst his physicality is still questionable and his adaptation to English football still unanswered, Vrancic thus far has filled a Jonny Howson sized hole in the engine room of the Canaries. The pessimist in me wonders how long for…
Jamal Lewis has seemingly leapfrogged Harry Toffolo in the pecking order of Farke’s thoughts. Despite his adolescence, Lewis was defensively sound and a particular challenge on the Lowestoft winger stands at the forefront of my mind. Lewis seems to be defensively solid with less of an emphasis on pace or attacking presence.
Can he defend? Yes. Does he support his winger by keeping close without reducing his space to complete a 1 v 1? Absolutely. Watch out for this kid, we might be seeing more of him this campaign.
Overall, this friendly was as predicted, completely irrelevant. I didn’t leave with the confidence we would walk the division, neither did I think we wouldn’t. It’s important the fans take these friendlies at face value. I left Crown Meadow with optimism, which is ever so easy in these games, but there is still so much work to complete.
I’d like to spend the last few paragraphs by dedicating this article to the inspiring young man, Bradley Lowery, who sadly lost his fight with cancer this week. I’m sure I speak for everyone who contributed to MFW when I offer my deepest condolences to his family who have lost a sunlight in their lives.
Bradley was an inspiration, his smile was infectious and his character heart-warming. He brought football together with his genuine love.
The legacy little Bradley has left behind is staggering. A six year old boy has left this world in a much better and unified state than when he found it. Emotionally, it was hard to take, not just because of his youth but his story made you pray for a happy ending for the lad.
Bradley was an inspiration. In times where we have witnessed the worst of humanity all too often, Bradley restored my faith in humanity and brought joy to others.
Rest well, little man. You’re amazing.