I think I can honestly say that in over forty years of supporting Norwich City that I can’t remember an injury situation quite like the one that Daniel Farke currently has to deal with.
The fact that he has to play against the best team in the country and one of the top five in the world (and they’re not fifth in that list) today, makes it even harder for him.
To beat Manchester City you have to have a specific game plan. A way of defeating everything that they can do on the pitch during a game just isn’t possible, so you have to play a certain way and stick to it.
The trouble is that they can play in so many different ways and adapt to beat whoever they are facing, quickly and efficiently. Their players are as technically proficient as any in world football and they can turn you inside out.
As a coaching team, Daniel Farke will have watched Manchester City and he will have an idea of how he is going to play but, don’t forget, Manchester City will have watched us too.
I find it interesting that a lot of people think that Manchester City just buy the best players in the world and that’s that. It clearly is not like that though, as they only buy the best players to fit into their team.
Otherwise they would just be throwing money around at people like Neymar, Ronaldo, Mbappe and Messi, a bit like PSG and Real Madrid have done in the past.
The Manchester City recruitment plan is much more sophisticated than a teenager playing Football Manager in his bedroom and while they do throw money around, it’s at the right players for their team, not just at any cost.
As I say, they only buy players that they think can improve their team but crucially, those players also have to fit into what the team currently is.
Every team is trying to do the same thing and Norwich City are a great example of doing that, albeit at a much lower financial level. Not every team is capable of getting it right though.
So how can Daniel Farke possibly hope to compete, let alone beat Manchester City with the list of injuries that he has?
You don’t need me to tell you that he probably won’t but he will have ideas and he will give it his best shot.
There is no single way to beat the Citizens because as I say, they are very adaptable and they also have some wonderful technical players. In fact all of their squad are technically excellent on the ball, or they wouldn’t be there.
The signature position of a Pep Guardiola team is the high press.
They will look to press the opposition high up the pitch in their own third to win the ball on those (odd) occasions when they don’t have it. Last season Norwich City regularly had possession stats of near to or over 70% in the Championship – expect the visitors to be in that area of possession today.
That will mean that when we do have the ball, counter attacking will be key. Without having too much real pace in the side though, this will be difficult. As will everything else.
Jamal Lewis is very quick and it might be a waste to just play him as a makeshift centre-back. He will probably be our most speedy ball carrier today, so he will be important.
I know it sounds obvious but Norwich will need to try to stay in the game for as long as possible and by that, I mean to keep within a goal or two of the opposition.
Once a gap of two or three goals opens up then heads can drop and mistakes are made. I’ve seen it with opposing teams against Manchester City before and don’t forget, they beat Chelsea 6-0 last season and that’s what happened that night. Despite Chelsea’s team of international players.
Farke still has options at the back, it’s just trying to play them in the right way.
The disclosure of Ben Godfrey’s groin strain on Friday was a hammer blow but reading tweets from Michael Bailey, he could still play, which would be great.
Sam Byram will play right back and you would assume Lewis will play on the left in some fashion. Philip Heise is the only other recognised/specialist defender in the senior squad, so I’d assume he will also play. The problem is that Heise and Byram have not played regularly for months, so this is going to be a huge test, a trial by fire.
If Godfrey does make it then playing Amadou alongside him will be an option if Farke goes for a four at the back. The Frenchman’s strength and destructive power will be needed today and I imagine we’ll see Alex Tettey for the same reasons too.
There is the possibility of playing a different formation such as a 3-4-3 when we have the ball and then say, a 5-4-1 when we don’t.
I don’t know if Heise is capable at centre-back or not if we switch to a 3-4-3 as I have not seen enough of him playing. As I say, the only reason these thoughts are going through my mind is because of the genuine pace of Lewis and how we should best utilise it.
One thing I am sure of is that Farke will not attempt to sit back because to invite Manchester City onto you is suicide. There needs to be a balance.
In midfield, the options are limited but they exist.
Tettey, Amadou, Stiepermann and McLean can all play centrally and perhaps dropping Stiepermann a little deeper could be an option with maybe Dennis Srbeny supporting Pukki as a number 10. He’s looked okay there in pre-season.
As we saw against Liverpool, Pukki got in behind their defence a number of times and counter attacking is going to provide one or two moments like that, I hope.
Buendia and Cantwell will have to be on top form today, as will everyone, the whole team on the pitch and off it.
For Norwich to make a decent fist of this game they will need everyone to be at 100 per cent and that includes, the coaches, the kit-man, the tea lady and most importantly, the fans.
You will probably see the Canaries get beaten today, that’s the realist in me saying that. You know it and I know it. However, heads drop when crowds get on players’ backs.
Today is an exceptional circumstance in terms of injury and the calibre of the opposition.
Have a couple of pints and sing your heart out for the lads.