Norwich's reaction to Pulis and Bielsa nipping at their heels? Farke it
Background photo by: Caroline Flatt, CC BY-SA 2.0
There's a manager hogging the headlines in the Championship and it's not Frank Lampard. The Chelsea legend works wonders with Derby. Fans salivate at the prospect of seeing him across different stadia in the English second tier, given his high profile. For all of his undoubted quality, however, one unheralded manager is sitting atop the Championship: Norwich City’s Daniel Farke. The German tactician has the Canaries atop the log due to their impressive away form. The Norfolk-based outfit claim 19 points from an available 30.
Pundits often liken the former Borussia Dortmund II manager to Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp. They're both German and share a link to the Bundesliga giant but that's where the comparison ends. Farke is different. He doesn't worship at the "heavy metal football" church at which Klopp preaches. Instead, he holds a diploma from the Jose Mourinho school of management. His focus on defensive solidity reflects in just 13 goals conceded over their last 15 Championship matches.
The Canaries' decision to appoint him last year met with scepticism from passionate Norwich fans. At first, their judgement seemed correct as he led the team to a 14th-place finish thanks largely to James Maddison's play. When Leicester City paid £22 million for the talented young midfielder, last summer, the Norwich board applied the funds to financial needs first, using the remainder to buy new players. Results proved exceptional. New arrivals Emi Buendia, Tim Krul, Jordan Rhodes and Teemu Pukki joined a host of academy stars such as Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell, providing an exciting blend of experience and youth.
Former Newcastle goalkeeper Krul adds stability to the back-line since signing on a free transfer. The Dutchman quickly became a fan favourite at Carrow Road, making save after save in game after game.
Buendia, a 21-year-old Argentine, impresses on the wing and in attacking midfield but everything goes through German playmaker Moritz Leitner in the middle.
Ten goals in the Championship and another in the EFL Cup are repairing Teemu Pukki's reputation after the Finnish striker's difficult time in Scotland. Jordan Rhodes was a proven scorer in English Football's lower rungs. His eight goals, five in league play, suggest he has more to offer.
In modern football, academy graduates seldom receive enough time to showcase their ability. Lewis, Aarons and Cantwell's emergence inspires pride in Norwich fans. All three make a case they can be the club's future.
Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa, Mottingham Forest's Aitor Karanka, Middlesbrough's Tony Pulis and Aston Villa's Dean Smith all enjoy better reputations among English football fans. They may even boast more talented squads. Nevertheless, Daniel Farke's measured, controlled style of possession-based football that incorporates defensive solidity has Norfolk City on top. Is it miraculous or just a case of an intelligent manager discovered? It sounds complex but the German's secret is synthesising the best elements from different philosophies to make his team difficult to beat. The Championship stages matchday 20 this weekend. It's early. Regardless, expect Norwich to be there or thereabouts at season's end. If they secure promotion, their manager will deserve all the credit.