Richard Clinnick makes his AlongComeNorwich debut by heading to Lowestoft to look for clues as to how Daniel Farke is setting out his tactical philosophy at Carrow Road.
July 8, sunny Lowestoft Town away was the scene for Farke’s first game on UK soil.
Much like at Cobh Ramblers, Farke again chose a 4-1-4-1 formation, with some interesting selections you suspect are largely down to availability of players.
Clearly this is not his first-choice team as obvious first team squad members were missing. Klose, Tettey, Martin, Gunn, Jacob Murphy, Hoolahan and Pinto all sat out (the latter injured) the game as others were offered an opportunity to impress.
This meant Farke took the opportunity to experiment. Well, I hope that is the German’s thinking, or why else would Yanic Wildschut start both games at right-back?!
Michael McGovern in goal, the big Dutch attacker at right-back, youngster Jamal Lewis at left-back, Ben Godfrey and the giant German Christoph Zimmermann at the back.
While the full-backs had licence to push forward, they were more disciplined than under Neil. When they romped forward, it was with purpose. They stretched the play too, allowing the midfield more space. It was coherent and planned, it worked. Wildschut pushed forward only when required, supporting Watkins rather than constantly flying past him in the way Pinto used to go ahead of Jacob Murphy under Alex Neil only to then be caught out of position. Lewis worked much the same way with Josh Murphy, offering an outlet but not the most further forward option on the left. Importantly they were not exposing the centre halves too much, and while Godfrey was able to exploit his pace to solve a potential problem if a full-back was not where they were supposed to be, this was an all too rare occurrence.
That was one of the obvious problems Farke had to address. Marauding full-backs are useful provided they also track back, but if they leave their centre-halves exposed (as Pinto would do for Martin), then you are asking for trouble, and all too often we did that.
In the centre, Zimmermann, at least on this display, looks a no-nonsense stopper. Norwich need that. He possesses some pace and is certainly vocal. I’ve read suggestions he won’t be first choice, but he certainly seems to be a good option.
Sat in front of the defence was new loanee Harrison Reed. The young midfielder signed from Southampton last week looks a fine prospect. Neat and tidy on the ball, his game is give and go. He shields the back line and in this formation, it’s likely to be him or Tettey, although you could feasibly see them both in the same XI as he appears to be a different kind of defensive midfielder to our Norwegian tackling machine.
What Reed also offers is the protection the centre-halves need should the full-backs be caught out. He looks capable of dropping back, and can play his way out of trouble. As a holding midfielder that will be vital in a league where space is always at a premium.
In front of Reed were four players including, for me, the star of the show, James Maddison.
OK, the opposition was Isthmian Premier standard, but Maddison looked assured and has the confidence to want the ball, to play it at the right time and to have a shot. His positioning was on the left of the four, and dropped a little further back than the others. He certainly was not alongside Reed, but neither was he pushed as far forward as, say, Naismith or Josh Murphy. This enabled him to thread passes through for those ahead, and to take the ball and shoot from further out when needed.
Just ahead of Maddison was Naismith who, when stood at the barrier, I could hear his Scottish accent barking orders and offering encouragement as he looked to drive the team forward. His calm passing helped attacks keep their momentum as the younger attackers buzzed around the 18-yard box.
On the wings were Josh Murphy (left) and Marley Watkins (right). Watkins looks a sound investment. Good movement, willing runner and an eye for a goal, he fitted the role well. His link-up play was good while he also shielded our makeshift right-back more than once. He seemed to tuck in more often than not. Murphy, on the other hand, was not as impressive, and seemed to almost be trying too hard.
Up front in the first half was Cameron Jerome. He may split opinion, but you can never fault his willingness to chase lost causes and work for the team. It was a typical Jerome performance in that he worked hard, missed chances yet still scored.
Worryingly, it was in the first half where the old deficiencies crept in. A set-piece, as per usual, was our undoing. A long free-kick was smashed home for us to go 1-0 down, after we were beaten to the ball. Sound familiar?
Into the second half and a raft of substitutions were made as Farke evaluated his squad. Remi Matthews, Harry Toffolo, Mario Vrancic, Alex Pritchard and Nelson Oliveira all came on, replacing McGovern, Lewis, Maddison, Naismith and Jerome. Carlton Morris also came on, and while I was trying to work out how we’d play two strikers upfront, Morris took his position on the left wing, but did cut inside and was further forward than Murphy had been.
We continued pretty much with 4-1-4-1 in the second half, but with a bit more fluidity. Vrancic was slightly deeper than Maddison had been, but was still able to stamp his authority on the game. The full-backs continued to play in a similar fashion, and with Wildschut playing the full 90 minutes, it suggests Farke is keen to look at that role for him in the absence of Pinto. With Efete and Ramsay on trial at Lincoln, and a dearth of centre-backs, who else is there at right-back?
The tempo of the second half was perhaps not what it was in the first, but players did still make impressions. Pritchard was in the middle of most of it, dictating play and peppering shots on goal.
Overall, it’s hard to make a sound judgement regarding the performance and tactics due to the nature of the opposition, but the early signs are encouraging.
We may have played against a team from much lower down the pyramid, but Norwich showed a more aggressive passing that actually had purpose. There was better movement as players were hungry for the ball, youngsters were given a chance and seized it (certainly I’d like to see Lewis given a run out against stronger opposition) while defenders largely tried to defend (although a free-kick in the second half again caused us problems).
The proof will be in the harder challenges that await in future friendlies, and certainly in the Championship, but for now the signs are hopeful. Roll on Brighton when we can see if it is as positive as it looked against Lowestoft.
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