Norwich are rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table following a pretty miserable return to the top flight after one season away. What have you made of what you’ve seen so far?
It has been difficult. I think it has probably been tougher than maybe people thought it was going to be, particularly given that their recruitment in the summer looked positive, on the whole, given the resources that they have. They had a difficult start in terms of the fixtures – you can’t deny that – and I think that has probably eroded confidence a little bit; once that has gone at this level, it’s very difficult to get it back because of how ruthless the Premier League is. Once confidence goes then so can belief and it feels like now it’s just a case of trying to simplify where they are in terms of the football and trying to get those two things back. It has been a difficult start and I think fans are disappointed with it, really. I think that’s probably a fair reflection because I think most expected them to be at the wrong end of the table, just maybe not in the current situation they are in.
Daniel Farke signed a new four-year deal in the summer and sporting director Stuart Webber has come to his defence as the defeats have mounted up in recent weeks. How much pressure do you think he is under currently?
I think it is definitely mounting. When he signed the contract, there was a pretty universal belief among the fans that it was the correct decision and they needed to tie him down after his work in the Championship. From their perspective, there’s almost sadness about where it has got to because he has achieved such great things at the football club. We had a poll on our website earlier this week and when I last checked, 60 or 70 per cent of people were in favour of him going. It’s fair to say the fans have turned and in terms of the club perspective, if they continue the way they are playing and continue with the results, I think there comes a point where there’s an inevitability about it. Probably the most concerning thing is that they aren’t playing the same way they were when they were in the Premier League and losing football matches and if they were, it would probably make things easier to stomach. Farke is probably under the most pressure since he has been in charge of Norwich and he has had a few wobbly periods before.
They are struggling in front of goal in the league, with just three goals scored in their first 10. It’s the million dollar question, of course, but is there any factor you can pinpoint as to why things aren’t working out up top?
I just don’t think they have found a way to create enough chances. Only one of those goals has come from open play and if you were to really dig down into it, Norwich are conceding too many opportunities and not creating anywhere near enough. People will point to the fact that, in the summer, they sold Emi Buendia who was their major creative force last season and that Todd Cantwell is not in the picture at the moment. I think it’s fair to say they haven’t found the right balance with the signings they brought in who they had hoped would provide that creativity. The focus in recent weeks has been about shoring up the defence rather than how to score a goal and there’s still a lot of onus on Teemu Pukki to be the guy to do that. They have moved away from what they were doing so well last season in terms of passing the ball and breaking teams down that way and have resorted to more long ball stuff, which doesn’t necessarily suit the players they have got. When you combine all of those factors – losing Buendia, style of play and an over-reliance on Pukki – you get the answer as to why they are struggling to find goals. It’s frustrating because they have spent £16 million on two wingers who, at the moment, aren’t delivering in one case or aren’t playing in the other. It’s a little bit baffling at the moment, to be honest.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Saturday?
The standout has been Mathias Normann (pictured above). He signed on loan from Russian Premier League club Rostov in the summer and he has been excellent. He has probably been the one shining light in Norwich City’s season so far. He’s quite muscular and has dyed silvery grey hair and tattoos, which means you can’t really miss him! He’s not the tallest, but he’s really imposing and is a noticeable presence on the pitch. He has technical quality as well and loves a big switch of play. I’ve been really impressed with him so far.
How is Daniel Farke likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?
He has changed his formation in each of the last three games, so it is difficult to guess. Against Leeds it was a three at the back out of possession and a four in possession, which was interesting. In terms of style, most Norwich fans want to see them go back to the way they played last year and to keep the ball a bit more, but it has been a different approach. They have been a lot more physical, which has come at the cost of a little bit of quality, to be honest. They are more direct than last year and that’s noticeable when you watch them play, but it’s difficult to pinpoint how they are going to play because confidence is so low. What you can say about the Leeds game and the last half-hour, which was pretty abject, is that before that, they were spirited and there was a lot of energy. No one is questioning their hard work, it’s more a quality issue at the moment. Brentford fans can expect to come up against a side that works hard and, in terms of application, is pretty solid. It’s just a case of whether Norwich can keep them out for 90 minutes, I would say.
Meetings between these two teams have been tight in recent years, with neither having scored more than once in the last five. What’s your score prediction for this one?
I’ll be honest, it’s difficult to see where Norwich are going to win a game at the moment. Brentford are coming into this off a back of a few defeats so they need a win, too, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a draw. I’ll try and be optimistic and go for 1-1.