As well as being the old lady that does the unfunny version of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe on Christmas Day, Her Majesty the Queen is also famous for asking a simple question as she tours the country on her battle bus.
‘And what do you do?’ is not the sexiest of catchphrases. It’s not ‘No Likey, No Lighty’ that’s for sure.
But it is the question I have found myself asking of many members of the current Norwich City squad. An oft-raised criticism of Daniel Farke has been the cliche’d “square pegs in round holes”. I would argue that we have too many random polygons.
Some of our most consistent performers this season have been those that fit a specific role. Klose, Zimmermann and Hanley, pure old-fashioned centre-backs. Tettey, breaker of attacks and protector of the back four. Gunn, the imperious shot-stopper.
Alternatively, we have a number of other players that even the most ardent of Canary Call sceptics would struggle to call bad players but who don’t appear to have a settled position.
Take Marley Watkins. Brought in during the summer to “add attacking options”. And to be fair he has. He’s third choice striker to be used on the occasions when the first two aren’t fit, and he’s part of the conveyor belt of attacking midfield options that seem to cycle around regularly with only James Maddison, and possibly Alex Pritchard, actually settling into a regular spot. But what is his natural position?
Watkins is not suited to being a lone striker, he doesn’t really link the play in the style of a number ten, and doesn’t have the pace to beat a man out wide. He undoubtedly works hard, doesn’t shirk defensively and ticks the box marked “adequate” in terms of the key skills such as passing and shooting. But I can’t at this stage see him developing into anything more than a utility forward. A man who fills in when the good players are injured or rested. I can’t foresee a point where he even battles someone else for their position because he has no natural fit.
Steven Naismith is much the same. Taking the “injuries” out of the equation, what’s his best position? Bought principally as a number ten, Naismith has had numerous opportunities last season and was comprehensively outfought for the role by Wes Hoolahan and Pritchard, and with Maddison’s escalation up the pecking order, he’s now fourth choice there at best. His decreasing speed of thought and foot is as responsible for this as the form of those he is competing against.
Up front Naismith has zero pace and is too small to play as a lone striker. His finishing ability remains his most impressive attribute so perhaps he could play up front as part of a two, along with a target man, but our squad and our team simply aren’t set up that way, and we’re not likely to change to suit a 31-year-old with a declining skill set and a history of niggling injuries. He’s played out wide, but as with Wes, he naturally drifts inside and clogs up the middle of the park allowing defences to narrow and become nigh-on impossible to break down. Again, there is no natural positional fit for Naismith, and never really has been.
Mario Vrancic needs too much time and space to play his passes to thrive in the small spaces between the opposition defence and midfield. He has looked better when played deeper, taking the ball off the defence and launching the attacks, but equally, he doesn’t have a defensive mindset and too many times he fails to track runners who sail past him into dangerous positions when the opposition are attacking. So, where do you play Vrancic without setting the whole team up just for him? And is he good enough to make that worthwhile? As much as he has improved recently, the answer has to be a resounding no.
Harrison Reed has had a really good season for my money. In every game he’s played he’s been one of those 7/10 guys that always gives 100%, fights for every ball and doesn’t give it away. I can’t fault the commitment or the energy levels he’s displayed for us. Yet following the Brentford defeat (when he was MOTM), he was dropped along with Vrancic to make way for the return of Tettey and Trybull and we suddenly rediscovered a little of our Mojo and won a game for once.
I felt desperately sorry for Reed, but at the same time I totally understood the decision, and wasn’t surprised by the change in effectiveness it brought. For all the nipping around, the looking after the ball, and the considerable work-rate, the diminutive loanee offers little protection in front of the centre-backs. We simply look safer at the back with Tettey and Trybull holding the fort. A great player, but how best to harness his talents? And how much would we have to adapt to do so?
Josh Murphy has been our most regularly selected wide man this year. But when you look at what he’s done well, it’s not the skills associated with a traditional winger. Whilst he has beaten full backs for pace he hasn’t created chances because his crossing has been lamentably poor, and the help he provides to his full back has been equally unimpressive. His highlights have been his goals against Arsenal and Birmingham when he has made well-timed central runs and beaten the keeper, although he has also missed chances from similar positions at Carrow Road too.
Is a Thierry Henry-esque conversion from winger to pacy striker happening? Possibly, but whilst our system suits a winger, does it fit the player Murphy is becoming? And again, has he shown enough consistency and temperament to warrant us tweaking things for him? Is he the next Henry or the next Redmond?
Marco Stiepermann has struggled mightily at left-back in terms of his positional play, and with Jamal Lewis emerging and James Husband fit again it may be a while before he’s pressed into service there once more. So, what is his natural position? Left wing? Right wing? Defensive midfield? He’s got some of the skills to thrive in these positions, but is he a proper fit in any of them?
For me, these are the questions that Daniel Farke has to get to grips with. The general consensus is that we like the current crop of players and there are very few that the fans have any issue in trusting to do a job. But we aren’t going to thrive as a team until all the players are getting somewhere close to their potential, and I don’t think that’s possible when so many don’t have a natural game that tallies with the way we are trying to play.
If Farke doesn’t resolve these issues then we may have to regard 2018 as another Annus Horribilis in the making.