Norwich won’t back down

 

 

‘I’d happily win 4-3 all season,” Mike Walker reasoned when he was quizzed on the volatility of his Norwich City side in 1993. “You get three points for 4-3, and only one for nil-nil.”

That axiom almost paid off big time as the Canaries came remarkably close to winning the maiden Premier League trophy. They were top of the pack in December and there were jitters in the establishment at the thought that the previously struggling club could pull off a Leicester City miracle — 20 years before we knew what that meant.

Ultimately, Norwich couldn’t keep up their foolhardy football and claimed third place — still an incredible achievement for a team that had begun the season as a favourite for relegation. Even more remarkable was the fact they had achieved that position with a negative goal difference, conceding an absurd 65 goals.

Shades of that oft-forgotten history have stalked Carrow Road in this season’s opening matches. In two rollicking games, Daniel Farke has proven he will die by his promise to play the same football that secured the Championship so convincingly.

What some might call imprudence was exposed by Liverpool in their 4-1 lesson. Norwich’s bravado and appetite for adventure led them down sketchy alleyways, where they were easily ambushed by Roberto Firmino. On another day some better finishing might have earned them a lucky escape but on this one it was too easy for the European champions to poke holes in their defence.

Despite Liverpool’s comfortable win, manager Jürgen Klopp was quick to recognise the unpredictability his compatriot has brought to the league. “They stayed cheeky, they stayed lively, they did what they wanted to do. They played, they changed offensively. I have the biggest respect for what Daniel’s doing there with the boys,” he said. “ We played against an opponent who will cause a lot of teams problems with the way they play — that’s really good. They are cheeky like hell and do what they do no matter what.”

Norwich have spent the past decade as negligible yo-yo boys. When Farke arrived in 2017, the club’s prospects looked even dimmer, as funding dried up and much of their talent had been stripped.

But the German understood his job description: scour the bargain bins of the continent and look to integrate youth players whenever possible. By his second season, the strategy began to produce results beyond any dreams. The Canaries finished as champions, with 93 goals scored.

During that time, and now in the Premier League, Farke has stuck to and refined his 4-2-3-1 formation. As you may have gathered, he prefers his team to seize the initiative instead of playing a reactionary game. Although his players are capable of implementing a slow, possession-based build-up, the side have been drilled to look for the incisive pass whenever possible.

Fullbacks Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis, both academy graduates, create width that allows the front four to dovetail through the centre, which creates most of their opportunities. Much of the play goes through Marco Stiepermann, who is capable of directing the attack at No 10 or producing his own runs beyond the opposing centre-backs.

Teemu Pukki will invariably gobble up the bulk of the plaudits. The Finnish striker, who was signed on a free transfer from Danish club Brøndby, blazed through his first season in England, leading the Championship scoring charts with 29 goals. He’s always on the move, and is a nightmare to defend against — as Newcastle United found out last weekend. Pukki’s ruthless hat-trick was a perfect embodiment of the football Farke demands: a sharp build-up with a vicious sting.

Chelsea would do well to heed the warning this weekend. The Blues travel to Carrow Road desperate for a win and will likely go all out in pursuit of it. The perfect time for some counter-attacking football? Unlikely.

“We know we are underdogs in every game and favourites to be in position 20 in May,” Farke has admitted. “But we will stick to our principles because the squad is made for playing this football. If we park the bus, we have no chance in this league.”

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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