Fin’s finishing sees Farke’s fledglings find form

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 24 September 2018, 10:00

Three consecutive wins have seen Norwich City move from one point clear of the early bottom three, to two shy of the top six; morale in Norfolk has thus been massively boosted and we examine just what’s gone so right, in such a short space of time.

The ‘Before’ Phase

Before we delve into Norwich’s last three games, it is important to look at where things had previously been going slightly awry.

After a 3-0 defeat to Leeds, the common consensus appeared to be that patience with Daniel Farke, Stuart Webber and the general regime was wearing thin.

The duo had been partially forgiven for an underwhelming first season, with some content to write 2017-18 off as a transitional year in mid-table, yet that meant pressure understandably built

Farke was questioned for his team selections, for his late substitutions, for a style of football that looked slow and lethargic; even the team’s desire to finish above midtable was in doubt.

The 1-1 draw with Ipswich was the lowest-contested East Anglian Derby for some time and many felt that was conveyed on the pitch, with both teams lacking quality.

What is most pertinent though, is the manner of the chances Norwich did create at Portman Road: they relied heavily on a combination of set pieces and long shots from distance.

Interestingly, when they did get into advanced areas, we saw either a failure to get men forward or the players that were forward would take too many touches.

Both of those problems have been eradicated with aplomb.

The turning point?

Under scrutiny, Farke made an incredibly brave decision not to pick a recognized centre-forward against Middlesbrough.

Teemu Pukki, who had previously been more of a withdrawn forward behind Jordan Rhodes, started as the line-leader but even he drifted into the right channel.

Had that system not worked – and the likes of Daniel Ayala and Aden Flint gobbled up everything – the head coach might well have faced massive pressure.

Instead, Pukki’s presence helped Norwich impose their game on the Teessiders, even though he didn’t always operate as a classic centre-forward.

Tellingly, the winner came about from a move between Emiliano Buendia, Marco Stiepermann and Max Aarons in which four penalty-box passes were made without any of the recipients taking more than two touches.

That was, perhaps, the first sign under Farke that Norwich had finally learnt how to execute quick, incisive, team-orientated possession football without relying on the magic of one individual.

Canaries soar to new heights

2-1 and 1-0 away wins at Reading and QPR respectively saw Norwich achieve two things; their first road triumph since January and their first run of three consecutive victories since September 2016.

At the Madejski, we saw signs of improved decision making; academy graduate Todd Cantwell, who has shown flashes of technical ability at Carrow Road without getting too much game-time, timed his pass perfectly to release Pukki for his opener on the break.

At Loftus Road, the next 20-year-old to star was left-back Jamal Lewis, who took 48 touches in the opposing half, such was his influence on his side’s attacking play.

Although Lewis has pace and can run with the ball, his main strength is his exquisite first touch and ability to combine with his teammates in tight areas.

With the other full-back, Max Aarons, only 18 and Buendia just 21, Norwich have an exciting crop of young players who have all shown admirable maturity and a thirst to improve themselves.

Because none of these players take too many touches, it is possible that the team have become a more creative unit without their most creative player in James Maddison.

While the current Leicester star is a very good player, he tended to take a lot of touches and assumed much of the creative burden, which perhaps undermined the contributions of others; this year, the threat is more diverse.

Youth the way forward?

At Dortmund II, Farke was regarded as a better coach than David Wagner – and of course, we all know what he has achieved with Huddersfield.

Interestingly though, his job in Germany was about developing young players and perhaps that is where Farke thrives.

Since he took over as head coach, 11 members of the 2014-15 promotion-winning squad have departed, with only Alex Tettey remaining.

Interestingly – and this is a perception from the outside - one wouldn’t necessarily describe Tettey as a vocal character in the mould of, say, Russ Martin, Steven Whittaker, John Ruddy or Jonny Howson, who are all among those to depart.

He appears to want players who will humbly commit themselves to one process, rather than those who will respond strongly to different situations within games; young players tend to fit the former criteria.

It is possible that the lack of leadership in this Canaries side, which Farke has almost purposefully not addressed, could hinder them later in the campaign, but this last week shows that his methods are more likely to succeed with youth.

Pukki’s poaching

Teemu Pukki is in sensational form: he has scored six goals in 10 appearances for Norwich this season.

Interestingly, three of those goals have been one-touch finishes while the other three have been two-touch.

That would suggest he is confident of scoring from many different positions; it’s more important to him to get the effort in early and catch the goalkeeper off-guard, than spend more time trying to find the perfect angle and risk the situation going to waste.

For example, for the goal against Middlesbrough, he needed one touch to trap the ball, but was then happy to toe-poke it past the goalkeeper in a crowded area.

Pukki applies the less is more mantra when creating, too, because he always looks to shift the ball to a teammate quickly and that allows Norwich to find gaps when their opponents’ defensive shape isn’t in order.

The Fin has been a fine addition to the Championship and, if Farke’s side are to reach the top six this season, he will almost certainly have played a massive part.

Back on track

These three victories and improved performances have drastically improved the mood around Norfolk. While it would be premature to make definitive conclusions about what Norwich can achieve over 10 months based on events in seven days, the pre-season target was tangible progression with an outside chance of reaching the play-off places; these results put them back on track.

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