Norwich City Season Preview: faith in Farke

With the 2018-19 Championship season coming up, The Football Lab spoke to Norwich City fan Ryan Wilson (@ryanjameswillo).

You had your lowest finish in nearly a decade last season, yet at no point did a change of head coach seem likely. Is there a possibility that the board set more modest targets than fans would like to think? Or, more optimistically, is there something about Daniel Farke that inspires trust?

Personally, I believe the board were slightly more realistic with their targets. The Championship is getting more competitive by the season and our financial situation had become untenable. While we were optimistic that we could challenge, it was probably unfair to expect from a club in such transition in hindsight. Daniel Farke arrived with his own style and vision and, although we had severe ups and downs last campaign, it would’ve been drastic to scrap something we’ve invested in so quickly. I believe the club will give Farke a very reasonable chance to show that we’ve adapted and can succeed playing this way – if the signs are bleak a few months into the season, then the board will weigh up their options.

A lot of your play last season revolved around James Maddison, who has since gone to Leicester. Are you hoping that Moritz Leitner, who signs permanently from Augsberg and Emiliano Buendia, who joins from Getafe, will share the creative burden this year?

It’s slightly concerning that we’ve sold our two most creative talents (Alex Pritchard in January, James Maddison in June) and released Wes Hoolahan, too. The majority of the creative burden is going to fall on Emi Buendia, largely because of the record he brings with him from Cultural Leonesa. Buendia scored six and assisted 11 last season mostly from the left flank so the hype surrounding him is fair. Leitner adds a level of intelligence and composure in a deep-lying playmaker role, but I don’t see him as a game winner. We’ve added Ben Marshall and Kenny McLean who are both more likely to boost our attacking credibility in terms of assists, while I’m optimistic that Onel Hernandez and Mario Vrancic have settled and can make an impact. I really like Todd Cantwell too, but the competition is big for such a young player to break through.

The consensus is that your possession play needs an injection of pace and unpredictability. Are you hoping Felix Passlack will offer that down the right hand side?

We’re still short of pace for sure, but Passlack looks to be an overall upgrade on Ivo Pinto/Harrison Reed. The reports from Germany are promising so we’ll be hoping that he can hit the ground running.

You’ve added Teemu Pukki (permanent) and Jordan Rhodes (loan), who have impressive goalscoring records with Brondby and Blackburn respectively. Will the presence of two strikers encourage more positive passes?

We began last season with two strikers who are more than capable at this level in Nelson Oliveira and Cameron Jerome. Nelson’s exit now looks inevitable, while Cam is likely to chase promotion once more with Derby. It’s a positive to have two forwards with good tallies on board, unquestionably, but it’s important to understand that we must create opportunities and they must be able to buy into our play style.

There have been suggestions from pre-season that to incorporate two up top, Farke might dabble with three-at-the-back. Do you think that suits the ball-playing qualities of Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmermann?

I do think it suits Klose and Zimmermann, though Hanley looks more comfortable playing in a four back formation. That trio, while all talented, also suffer from a real lack of energy and pace. Ben Godfrey has been tested at centre-back in pre-season, while Sean Raggett has underwhelmed in his opportunities. If we are intent on playing three-at-the-back, I’d be keen to see another central defender arrive. Otherwise, we are well equipped.

Even with Ben Godfrey potentially moving into defence, central midfield looks like a competitive area with the emergence of Todd Cantwell and Kenny McLean. How do you think you’ll look there at Birmingham?

I get the impression we’ll start with Kenny McLean, Moritz Leitner and Tom Trybull, with the former playing a more advanced role. The formation is difficult to lock down as we’re experimenting over the summer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve got plenty of options with Cantwell, Godfrey, Tettey, Thompson, Vrancic and Stiepermann all currently on board, so you’d expect plenty of rotation.

You’ve not added a goalkeeper to replace Angus Gunn, at the time of writing. Based on his promising performances at Plymouth, would you be happy for the club to gamble on Remi Matthews?

Plenty of fans had read all about Remi’s performances at Plymouth and Farke has rewarded him with opportunities in pre-season. He’s not convinced as of yet unfortunately, so I’d assume we have one eye on other possibilities – though he’s first choice over McGovern if we don’t sign further competition. He’s a little on the small side but has a fantastic reach and quick reactions.

James Husband faced criticism at left-back last season, Marco Stiepermann played there out of position and Jamal Lewis only made his first senior start on Boxing Day. Is that an area to improve?

For me, it’s not. I really like what I’ve seen of Jamal Lewis and expect him to have the position locked down. Husband failed to impress, but Fulham and Huddersfield fans were both complimentary of his displays for them and I think he is a capable back-up.

Canaries aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

Here’s a chance to embarrass myself (possibly further than I already have)! Just nine of the last 30 relegated Premier League sides have bounced straight back, including five of 15 in the last five seasons. Considering the stats, I fancy Stoke most of all if it’s a one-in-three-shot. Middlesbrough have a defined style and the balance to compete, Forest should be much-improved following heavy investment, while Derby have quality all-over and Brentford recruit well and usually threaten. There’s plenty more business to be done though and it really does look tighter than ever.

Where will you finish?

I think we can finish in the top half and hopefully compete for a play-off spot. Based on the sides I think are better than us, I’d have us finishing 9th.

Thanks to Ryan for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on Norwich can be found on We Love Betting from late July.