Saturday 5.00 pm: “Jesus, that defending… and still no defensive midfielder in sight… it’s eerily reminiscent of the last ten games of 19/20… I’m getting nervous”.
Monday 12:00 pm: “Brandon Williams has been confirmed. He might be more needed than we thought after Saturday. Good signing that”.
Monday 10:00 pm: “Leicester took a pasting and Perez got sent off so won’t be available for Saturday! We’ll probably still get beaten but their defence was horrendous tonight, so we might actually manage a goal!”
Tuesday 9.00 pm: “6-0, Tzolis is a God, Sargent is awesome, we’re destined for Europe”
It’s been a typical few days in the chaotic world of Norwich City really. From the depths of disappointment at the Etihad, to the ecstasy of watching Ben Pearson being caught in the middle of a yellow and green cyclone at a rejuvenated Carrow Road.
Tuesday was everything we needed and more to set up an increasingly more palatable challenge on Saturday.
Leicester City are a fantastic football club and team. Any club that can break the monied monopoly of the top six on a regular basis deserves respect. And in Brendan Rodgers, they have a bright manager who knows how to build successful football teams. But they may be vulnerable right now.
So far this season they’ve won at home on the opening weekend 1-0 to Wolves and then lost 4-1 at West Ham on Monday night after Ayoze Perez picked up a red card at the end of the first half. They’ve also lost the impressive Wesley Fofana to long-term injury in pre-season.
Rodgers has started with the same team for the first two games utilising his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
The world-class Kasper Schmeichel sits behind a back four of exciting Portuguese wing-back Ricardo Pereira on the right, the physical, no-nonsense combination of Amartey and Soyuncu at centre-back, and promising youngster Luke Thomas on the left.
Jannik Vestergaard, a big-money replacement for Fofana from Southampton may be fit enough to challenge for his first start. Timothy Castagne and Ryan Bertrand provide other options, fitness permitting.
In defensive midfield, Ndidi and Tielemans have quietly been two of the best performers in the Premier League over the past couple of seasons and form a formidable barrier in front of the defence, as well as being more than capable of helping move the ball through the thirds and add to the attack on occasion. Hamza Choudhury and Dennis Praet are options from the bench.
In attacking midfield, Harvey Barnes has been the chosen starter on the left side, with the now-banned Perez on the right and our Madderz in his favoured number ten role.
It’s of great concern to the Leicester faithful at the moment that they don’t have an out-and-out right winger in their squad and the options they’ve been linked with signing don’t appear to be panning out, so it will be interesting to see how they replace Perez on Saturday.
Options will likely come from former Luton loanee Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall who normally operates in central midfield, old favourite Marc Albrighton, or strikers Patson Daka and Kelechi Iheanacho who could be moved out wide.
Up front, Jamie Vardy remains one of the best strikers in the league and will test Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley’s ability against his pace and movement.
For Norwich, Farke’s decision to play 4-3-2-1 against Bournemouth gives strength to the growing feeling that he will persist with this formation. The squad certainly seems to have been brought together with this in mind, particularly when you look at the wide positions which are now populated by attacking midfielders like Kieran Dowell and Todd Cantwell or pacy players that cut in and support the striker like Christos Tzolis and Milot Rashica, while more traditional chalk-on-their-boots wingers like Onel Hernandez and Przemysław Placheta look increasingly on the periphery.
The players that featured on Tuesday night have put genuine pressure on those that started the first two games to take their places within that 4-3-2-1.
While I would expect Tim Krul, Max Aarons, Hanley and Gibson to be back, Brandon Williams impressive attacking display will force him into Farke’s thoughts after Dimitris Giannoulis and Bali Mumba both got ripped apart by the movement of Gabriel Jesus in Manchester.
In midfield, the absence of a ball-winner remains palpable. Jacob Sorensen remains the most natural fit but may lack the physicality to protect the back four, and thanks to Bournemouth offering less threat than a slightly miffed toddler, Tuesday left us none-the-wiser on that score.
Pierre Lees-Melou is our most physical midfielder, and for that reason alone should retain his place. Billy Gilmour’s quality will be given another chance to shine through despite two slightly lukewarm outings.
The third spot is the one where I think we may see a change as Lukas Rupp struggled to live with the admittedly frenetic pace of the first two games. Kenny McLean was absolutely imperious on Tuesday.
While the headlines went to Tzolis and Josh Sargent, The Mayor was the orchestrator of the entire game, taking the ball from deep, pinging passes into those wide-open spaces that Bournemouth’s youngsters naively left open for us, and linking play in every third.
McLean looks bang in form and we’d be silly not to start him. The fact that Farke withdrew him so early in a game he was running surely indicates a wish to keep him out of harm’s way with Saturday in mind.
In the attacking positions, Dowell was another who looked incredibly sharp, both physically and mentally, and while he didn’t get the plaudits others did, he provided a tidy reminder of just how good he can be.
Tzolis obviously impressed and it will be a question of whether Farke wants him to maintain his momentum with another start, or hold him back to progress at a slightly less-steep learning curve.
Rashica has done enough in two incredibly difficult opening games to suggest that he has the tenacity and ability to hold his own in this league and I’d be surprised if he made way, while Cantwell has been lacklustre thus far but it would take a seriously brave decision to drop him two days before the end of the transfer window.
Personally, I’d like to see Rashica and Dowell start but I suspect Farke will give Cantwell one more chance before seriously considering shuffling his pack.
Up front, Pukki has looked isolated and ineffectual, but to be fair, Virgil Van Dijk and Ruben Dias will do that to most lone strikers.
While Sargent cannot have done any more to stake a claim, and Adam Idah was running through defenders for fun in his late cameo on Tuesday to ensure he’s not forgotten, Pukki’s movement is probably the most likely ingredient to unsettle the backline that looked so fragile and error-strewn against West Ham. I’d expect Farke to keep faith with his main man.
Here’s to a 3.00 pm Saturday kick-off, and our season getting properly started against a team that we can genuinely compete with.
Pre-season is over, let’s start getting some points.
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