After Norwich City appointed their first non-British manager in the summer of 2017, their first campaign under German head-coach Daniel Farke had some fans calling for his sacking.
Farke guided the Canaries to an uninspiring 14th placed finish in a year of transition, made worse by finishing two places below bitter rivals Ipswich Town, albeit on goal difference.
But after selling key players James Maddison and Josh Murphy for huge profit in the summer, and dealing mostly in free transfers bringing players into the team, how is Farke faring in his second season?
Strike force improvements
Canaries’ Technical director Stuart Webber and head coach Farke addressed the key area of concern early in the summer, their strike force. After losing top-scorer Maddison to Premier League Leicester City in June 2018, it was unclear where goals would come from within the current crop of players.
Nelson Oliveira hadn’t been the same since having approaches from other Championship clubs rejected by Norwich, ending up with only eight goals in a poor league campaign and no longer in Farke’s plans. Josh Murphy, sold to promoted Cardiff City, was third top scorer for the club in the Championship with seven. Losing those three saw the Canaries lose 29 of their 49 goals scored in the league that season.
Step forward Teemu Pukki. A free transfer from Brondby IF, the Finn has 15 goals and four assists in 27 Championship games this season.
Alongside him, Jordan Rhodes, on a season-long loan from Sheffield Wednesday. Although Rhodes has only chalked up six league goals this campaign, he’s scored some crucial late goals to pinch draws and wins from nowhere.
Adding players with such a goal scoring instinct has seen Norwich already equal the number of goals they scored in the previous campaign, but still with 19 games to play.
Academy players shining
Farke has also managed to change the dynamic of the team by including several highly-rated and highly-talented players from the Canaries Academy.
Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell have all notched up more than 15 league starts this season, with both Lewis and Aarons nailing down their roles as starters.
The addition of youth players has given the team a new energy, with Lewis and Aarons both using their athleticism and youth to constantly hug the touchline in attack and defence.
Cantwell’s creativity in a three behind Pukki with Emi Buendia and Onel Hernandez, opens gaps in opposition defences to allow Pukki to stretch his legs and roam free in attack.
Replacing the huge wages of more senior players with the smaller contacts taken by those youth prospects has also allowed the club to balance the books and erase some of their debts, a goal set out from day one by the clubs Technical Director Webber.
Promotion push genuine?
Their next game puts them up against Birmingham City, with the Blues just outside of the playoff spots. Norwich are 17/20 favourites to win and maintain their pressure on Leeds. Their first match this season ended in a 2-2 draw.
After their 12 game unbeaten league run, including nine wins, Norwich sit in third position behind Leeds United and Sheffield United. Only four points off top spot and with only five league defeats in 27 games, the Canaries sit at 4/1 to become league champions.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go this campaign and there’s bound to be drama. But Norwich and Farke have earned the right to be in the playoff picture and be in the conversation for who will win the Championship.
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