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14th Sep 2019

Daniel Farke’s heavy metal football silences Pep’s orchestra

Kyle Picknell

I don’t know how else to start this other than by saying Norwich City manager Daniel Farke looks like a disgruntled IT technician called upon once too often to reset a password or block

Regardless of appearances – he also looks like a roadie for a moderately successful European heavy metal outfit – the German was forced into making four changes to his side due to something of an injury crisis in the Canary ranks. He handed starts to defenders Sam Byram, Ibrahim Amadou and central midfielders Kenny McLean and Alexander Tettey to give the newly promoted side something of a makeshift defensive spine against the reigning Premier League champions.

It wasn’t so much a kiss of death as a full-blown, tonguey snog of eternal destruction.

They started brightly though, as Norwich tend to, and were handed their just rewards when McLean was granted an ocean of space to run into from an attacking corner, slamming a header in at the near post. Farke, in what you can only really call some kind of celebration, solemnly nodded his head in unison to the waves of supporters lost in this unthinkable rapture around the stadium.

Clearly, this had more than a hint of pre-meditation about it; the single weakness in an otherwise impenetrable coat of armour pin-pointed in video analysis. A set-piece move honed to a sharp point on the training ground in response.

They had done the unthinkable. They had pierced the unpiercable skin of the champions. Cue the Norwich fans in attendance belting out ‘Championes, Championes, olé, olé, olé‘ back at the City contingent who had belted it out in a jeering kind of fashion at them a few minutes earlier.

And just like that, they were two to the good. A goal-kick from Tim Krul was daintily chipped into the path of a backtracking Emiliano Buendia. He misjudged the bounce of the ball slightly but then recovered with a sumptuous flick over the head of the pressing Rodri. The City backline, at this point, was even messier, bitchier and more disjointed than our current political climate.

Nicolas Otamendi, because he is Nicolas Otamendi, was caught far too far forward. Kyle Walker too far back. John Stones, like the famous Stealers Wheel song, stuck somewhere in between. At least his ears were intact.

Buendia could do nothing other than slide the Premier League Player of the Month, you might have heard of him, through on goal and Pukki, to his credit, wisely chose to ignore the Fantasy Football hype swallowing him whole, the slight point increase for scoring a goal over delivering an assist, and decided to unselfishly square for Todd Cantwell to tap home.

You know, in an effort to secure the points where they really matter.

Something strange was happening in Norfolk. Manchester City were ponderous and unimaginative. Alarmingly so. They were second best to every second ball and even slower still to the one after that. As is now tradition, right when the Twitter stans were already crowning Liverpool as Premier League champions 2019/20 with only a touch of hyperbole, City managed to conjure a goal out of nothing. The hope can only build so much against this team of conquerors.

After all the thankless huffing and puffing it came so easy too, as Aguero dropped deep in the build-up, spread it out wide and then trotted slowly into the box between the new centre-back pairing, who were perhaps not expecting the sixth-highest goalscorer in the competition’s history to, you know, try and score a goal.

Even worse, Norwich stood a couple of yards off Bernardo Silva, which, if we’ve learned anything, anything at all, is at least two yards further away than you should stand off Bernardo Silva. As a result, he promptly took the opportunity to whip-plonk it on the Argentine menace’s head, who steered it into the corner right on the cusp of half-time.

Yep. Don’t bother with a second period. We’d seen this one before.

It was Farke’s side, however, that stormed out on the front foot. Pukki had a half-chance from an acute angle dinked wide, again after scampering in behind a scandalously high City line and with Stones and Walker, World Cup semi-finalists, title winners, whatever else, away with the proverbial fairies rather than keeping an eye on the actual birds fluttering around them.

Still, their own misdemeanours were nothing compared to the walking, talking, living, breathing existentialist horror-show that is Nico Otamendi who gift-wrapped, bowtied and then FedExed (paying extra for the international delivery) Pukki’s apparently inevitable goal straight to him.

It’s hard to know exactly what was going through Otamendi’s mind as he received a short square pass from Stones, took a touch, and then stood frozen in time like a neanderthal slowly being thawed from the ice. There can’t have been much at all going on, maybe some vague recounting of the current plot-points of Peaky Blinders, as Buendia swept in from behind and cut back for the Finnish star to smash home through the collapsing, dismayed bodies of Stones and Ederson.

Otamendi, meanwhile, was left frantically gesticulating as the goal went in, in a kind of ‘Give us a man-on shout, yeah?’ fashion. All his faux-outrage served to do was remind you of that seen in The Simpsons where Homer takes several hours to realise Carl has, in fact, called him slow.

Kevin De Bruyne, who, let’s be honest, should start every game of football barring any grievous, life-threatening medical condition, was brought on full-kitted out of the phone booth soon after the Norwich third. The fit-again Gabriel Jesus came with him, as did Riyad Mahrez soon after from the Galactico-ish City bench.

Bar a late drive from Rodri that slipped through the outstretched palm of Krul, Norwich remained dogged, composed and above all else, dangerous on the break. As for Citeh, well… they looked nothing like Citeh.

There’s no shame in losing away at Carrow Road to this Norwich team, whatever the pre-match expectations, the bookmaker’s odds or the gulf in finances. They are the real deal and on this evidence, Farke’s side will give every team they play a headache. A debilitating tactical migraine. Still, this is three points’ distance lost to the rampaging pace-setters Liverpool and given how mentally fragile they look at the back without Aymeric Laporte, who is out for another six months, City fans will understandably start to panic.

It’s become something of an exaggerated meme now, the staggering, profound impact that Pep Guardiola’s football has had on the once rugged English style. It might just be worth noting the work the Germans have done here too, be they the eccentric, affable manager of Liverpool, or even the scowling, unheralded genius taking a team of youngsters and underdogs and cast-offs to heights, and nights, that will live long in the memory.

Maybe give up resetting passwords and lugging guitars to Download Festival, Daniel. It appears you’re quite good at this.