At the time of writing, Norwich have picked up ten points from their opening six league outings and they sit 7th in the Championship table as a result. What have you made of the opening month or so of the season?
It’s been a little bit disjointed, if truth be told, and I don’t think the results have necessarily married up with the performances. They played pretty well against Bournemouth and Derby and perhaps didn’t get the result those displays warranted but, equally, they beat Huddersfield and Rotherham without playing spectacularly. I think they are still finding their way to a certain extent and it feels like Daniel Farke is trying to combine what he’s built over the last three years, in terms of a slick, possession-based side, while also trying to add a new blend to that with the likes of Jordan Hugill and more variation in the way they attack. I still think there’s more to come but we’ve seen glimpses of their quality and the first goal against Rotherham is probably the best example of that. I’d still say they are yet to find their momentum and their way, to be completely honest.
Teams like Stoke and Huddersfield have struggled under the weight of expectation in the Championship after relegation from the Premier League over the last few years. Do you think Norwich’s recent experience in the division help them overcome that?
I think so. Norwich have been here before and I guess the major point is that is a relatively new group of players. They added 11 recruits over the summer and the players that they still have around from that title-winning squad two years ago have been changed a lot by the experience they had in the Premier League, which wasn’t necessarily positive. I can see that expectation being difficult for them and I think supporters are already demanding a bit more from them, but we’re only a handful of games into a new season so I don’t think you can expect them to be at the top level straight away. It’s a different dimension because two years ago when they won the title they weren’t fancied by anyone and could go under the radar, whereas now that’s not the case and opponents are setting up to contain them, rather than engage them in a football match. So it’s a completely different set of expectations they are dealing with; they didn’t have it in the Premier League and I would argue they haven’t had it since Farke came to the club. It’s new for everyone and I guess you either take it on your shoulders or struggle under the weight of it.
In the summer, Norwich added players new to English football, as well as players like Jordan Hugill and Kieran Dowell, who are well-versed in the rigours of the Championship. Would you say it was a successful window?
In terms of their targets, I think they pretty much got everyone that they wanted, though Farke has gone on record since and said they probably would’ve liked a centre-back after Timm Klose left. It was a churn to the squad that needed to happen after the way that they performed after lockdown last season and I think that probably focused their minds a little bit in terms of what they needed to re-build. The blend they’ve struck is probably the right one in terms of adding experience into the group because it was very young, particularly when you consider Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis were integral members of the squad. I think they will be pleased with their business and I think it was business that needed to happen. We saw against Rotherham, where Hugill scored a last-minute penalty, how experience can make the difference; they haven’t had that quality in both boxes for a good couple of years. I think they’ve covered both the short-term and long-term and, like Brentford, they tend to have pretty smart recruitment.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Tuesday night?
I guess Emi Buendia is the obvious answer. He’s an attacking midfielder who produced some really good numbers in the Premier League last season from a creative point of view, though he didn’t perhaps score the goals that backed that up. Todd Cantwell is the other one to look out for and I tend to say that if you combined the goal output of Cantwell and the creativity of Buendia, you’d have a £40-50 million player on your hands. Those are the two Brentford will need to be aware of and thwart because if you stop them, Norwich are going to struggle to create anything offensively.
How is Daniel Farke likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?
Throughout Farke’s time at the club it’s been a 4-2-3-1, with an emphasis on possession, but against Rotherham recently, he tweaked it so they were set up to battle with their physical edge. Against Brentford, however, I expect it to be a technical game of football, so I think their setup will be very straightforward. Oliver Skipp and Lukas Rupp are very functional and mobile in midfield and can support both phases of play. Norwich will look to play the ball through the thirds and try and find the striker with crosses, if it’s Hugill, or, if it’s Teemu Pukki, in behind with passes from Buendia and Cantwell if they both play. It’s as you’d expect but there’s certainly more variation now with Xavi Quintilla at left-back, who likes to cross, and also Przemysław Płacheta, who has added pace.
What’s your score prediction for the first meeting between the two sides since New Year’s Day 2019?
These are two teams who I think are going to be at the right end of the division come the end of this season and I could see Brentford edging it, but I’ll be optimistic and go for a 2-2 draw.
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