Well, what a month September was, eh!?
Norwich go into this international break in a completely different place to the last one, a month ago. Then, they had just been hammered 4-0 by Millwall and booed off by the travelling Canary faithful. It was a sorry place that they found themselves in, the bottom three no less.
During that particular break, Daniel Farke worked on stopping the rot and in particular in shoring up that porous defence. The return to full fitness of Timm Klose and Ivo Pinto, as well as the adoption of Marco Stiepermann at left back and most importantly, the introduction of Tom Trybull and Alex Tettey as defensive midfielders, paid dividends throughout September.
Things haven’t all been perfect, the 0-0 draw at home to Burton was very disappointing and gave some more ammunition to suggest that Farke didn’t know what he was doing. Since then Burton have been drubbed several times while City have steadily improved.
The defensive base has been used to nullify the attacking power of in form Sheffield United, Bristol City and pre-season title favourites Middlesbrough, who ended that game with £35m worth of attacking talent on the field.
The game against Reading emphasised to me what Farke is doing tactically when his side doesn’t have the ball and I liked what I saw. I’m a big Barcelona fan and particularly loved the style of play that Barca used under Pep Guardiola.
I’m not so much comparing Norwich to Barca when they had the ball because we’ve tried the possession based ‘tika taka’ at the start of the season and we didn’t have too much success. No, what reminds me of Barca under Pep is what Norwich do now when they don’t have the ball.
They hunted in packs against Reading to try to quickly win the ball back as they played a high pressing game. Trybull and/or Tettey will immediately move to whichever area of the pitch needs them as they join one or two other players as they smother their opponents before sticking a foot in and winning it back.
It reminded me of the way Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets operated in the Barca midfield and how they bust a gut to win the ball back at all costs. Once again, I’m not suggesting that our players are anywhere near the level of those superstars but, the style is reminiscent of their style of play.
It also worked when the opposition were surging forward, having evaded the high press. I recall one particular moment when Aluko was on the right fronting up James Husband. Josh Murphy immediately dropped back and while stood up by Husband, Josh sprinted back and made the tackle on Aluko, allowing City to regroup.
Husband, by the way, was good against both ‘Boro and Reading and looked like the player that the Tees press suggested that Norwich were buying in the summer. He looked much more confident and not at all out of place. Credit to him for personally turning it around for himself.
At the Madejski, James Maddison stole all the plaudits and won the man of the match award as he scored his second scorcher of the week. Now that he’s adding goals like that to his game, it surely won’t be long before he attracts the unwanted attention of Premier League teams.
Madders is technically excellent, we all know that but he is developing at a pace and revelling in the faith shown in him by Farke, who clearly trusts him.
Any Norwich player that is doing so well like that will attract big money offers and while you don’t want to lose good players, it means they are exactly that, very good players. The only way that City will most likely be able to keep a player like that, assuming his progress continues, is to get promoted. In the same way that you’d need to win promotion to be in with a shout of buying someone like Angus Gunn or even getting him on loan for a second season because Guardiola will want his young keeper in the Premier League next season.
That’s the economics of football these days.
On a final note, Cameron Jerome finally got his season up and running with his first goal of the season. He was unlucky not to score in the first half when he hit the post but he kept going and fair play to him for that, he got his reward with a very good header.
I’m fully aware that scoring goals is what he is judged on, being a striker and if he doesn’t score, he gets flak, I’m sure he understands that as well. His importance to the team performance was crucial and his renowned work ethic was crucial in the victory.
Jaap Stam would love to have a player like Jerome in his squad, let alone his team. The Royals looked well short of a front man and badly missed veteran, Yann Kermogant who is still some weeks away from a return.
It’s worth noting that Jerome is really the second choice to Nelson Oliveira while 35 year old Kermogant is still Reading’s first choice and will walk straight back into the first XI when he gets fit again. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson is the second choice striker at the Madejski and Stam doesn’t trust him enough to start at the moment.
Bodvarsson has scored just 7 goals since the start of the 2015/16 season while Jerome has 36 in his last two Championship seasons.
Yes, we’d all pick Oliveira as first choice but Jerome still has a part to play and he is a valuable asset to the team when Nelson is unavailable. In the current market, replacing him with a better player is just not economically viable at this time.
So, to finish, Daniel Farke deserves a huge amount of credit for what he has achieved in the last four weeks and so do the squad, who have taken his instructions and run with them. We’re in a good position now and hopefully that can continue.
You don’t win promotion from the Championship in September but you can lose it, isn’t that right Sunderland?