Not sure I’m altogether cool with these almost flawless pre-seasons.
Part of me wishes there had been a reality check along the way in the form of a major cock-up. You know… a performance so inept and spineless that Daniel Farke would have been unable to mention ‘the guys’ without his features contorting in a Beast of Bolsover-style.
But, the odd dip below the expected intensity levels aside, it’s been largely free of angst and certainly free of 6-1 drubbings by League One opposition.
That I’m left feeling positive and optimistic doesn’t sit comfortably.
So in the spirit of scratching around for negatives (never thought I’d write that) there is however a niggle that right now this squad is skating on fairly thin ice; not in terms of quality but in terms of pure numbers.
Yesterday’s bench was, not for the first time, notable for the number of empty Recaro seats and included just four outfield players, one of whom is suspended for the Fulham game. Add in another couple of injuries and and it’ll be time for Daniel to talk to Matt Gill and Hucks about who from the Under-23s is ready to make the step up to the first team squad.
Yet it’s a squad that is getting close to the bare bones through necessity and few are complaining. The head coach has made light of his current injury woes and clearly arrived on the premise that a bloated squad, both in terms of numbers and exorbitant Championship pay packets, needed to undergo a serious cull.
That said cull is still a work-in-progress is also a given.
All of which, in a way, makes the strides taken by this re-formed group over the last five weeks all the more impressive. To have emerged unbeaten over pre-season is fairly meaningless in itself – and we would all swap a 6-1 tonking in south London for a win next Saturday – but to have done it against a backdrop of revolution and emerge unscathed is not to be sniffed at.
Now’s probably a good time to remind ourselves of Gunny’s equally impressive pre-season and how that turned out, but if the purpose of the exercise is to get the players match fit and confident ahead of opening day then it is definitely job done. Even more so when you consider this is a new team – one that five weeks ago wasn’t even a thing.
Of yesterday’s starting XI only Russell Martin and Cameron Jerome have worn the yellow and green with distinction and only James Maddison and Yanic Wildschut have worn it before (unless you include Angus wearing it as a schoolboy).
Of the remainder at least three will never have set foot on the hallowed turf before, and so all in all to have successfully gone toe-to-toe with ‘Premier League’ Brighton was to be applauded. To have dominated possession against them was another tick on the Farke chart.
And there’s an interesting thing. For the last decade, and inspired by the tiki-taka-ing Spaniards, football had become all about pass, pass, pass; short passes that via clever rotation progressed you through the thirds and enabled you to dominate possession.
But, as is the wont of most fads when the British public get stuck into them, it slowly turned 180 degrees to the point where possession stats were eventually rendered ‘meaningless’ by the experts. It started to become un-trendy and the new black became the Jose/Leicester way; to defend obdurately and then break with precision and pace.
For his part, Alex Neil desperately wanted to succeed at the former but found it a difficult nut to crack with the group of players he had at his disposal. He then dabbled with the latter, with only very limited success, and ended up with not really knowing what the hell his preferred style was – other than it involved winning at home and losing away.
But in true Norwich City tradition, which I love, we’re going against the grain again. Daniel has made crystal clear what the new Nooorwitch Way will be and has clearly drummed it in from day one. It’s unequivocal. Unambiguous. 100 per cent nailed on. We’ll build from the back, we’ll be patient, and we’ll progress our way up the pitch via a combination of short passes and smart movement.
If you don’t like it…
And don’t expect, in the middle of winter with the going getting tough, Team Farke to deviate from this path. The formations may change, will change in fact, but the golden thread running through it all with be this desire to pass and to keep the ball, with Angus being berated if he starts ‘going long’ too often.
That folks is how it’s going to be. We asked for change and we’ve got it. And things hereon in are going to be different and, hopefully, exciting.
But there’s no escaping we are entering uncharted waters and Daniel himself confessed in an interview this week that in Germany – the country on whose footballing ethos our current model is loosely based – he would ‘not imagine’ any club taking a chance on a head coach from its fourth tier.
On that basis these waters are even more uncharted than they first appear.
Yet since the two wins in Germany the levels of anticipation and excitement have gradually risen; the confidence of the players too will have been on the rise at a similar rate. And the fettle is indeed decent.
Fulham will of course be a massive challenge – even before mentioning 1986 – and that Neil Adams and Chris Hughton both took their City bows in defeat at Craven Cottage is but another twist,. Yet things are now so new and different in these parts I question the relevance of anything that’s gone before.
But then again, this is Fulham we’re talking about…