As the questions surrounding the capabilities of Daniel Farke and his Norwich City squad were intensifying, they produce a performance which provides valid answers, for now at least.
The manner that Norwich took to dismantling a Middlesbrough side who haven’t conceded a goal since the opening day and prior to this fixture, hadn’t lost a game, was both impressive and uncharacteristic.
Carrow Road witnessed a facet to this side that hasn’t been displayed all too often under Farke’s stewardship.
Norwich were dogged, resilient and aggressive in their defensive duels, showing a level of self-confidence that could easily have been missing after the news of Grant Hanley’s injury surfaced. Considering the youthful make up of that backline, there was an adeptness to the manner at which they conducted themselves considering the experience and increased physicality of their respective opponents.
Farke’s team selection was met with disgruntles and confusion but proved to decisive and intelligent.
The premise of that selection was to solidify the central area of the pitch. Middlesbrough’s pragmatism coupled with the manner in which they overload the central areas to ensure they are tough to break down saw Norwich elect for muscle over technique, with a positive outcome.
The exception in that central area was the much-maligned Moritz Leitner.
Leitner’s ability is obvious to all who consume his talent but his output alongside his effectiveness has been scrutinised by supporters. Many supporters wonder if he possesses the capability to dig in and defend resolutely in a manner that will see Norwich harvest genuine upward mobility. He proved he can be part of a defensively sound Norwich line up.
I think all the #ncfc fans I follow have been hacked. Nothing but wall-wall positivity tonight – it's slightly unnerving!!
— Andrew Kent (@Kenty1985) September 15, 2018
When operating in that deeper position alongside a bullish midfielder in Alex Tettey, Leitner is given permission to roam and play in a role similar to that of a quarterback. It worked at Portman Road and it did again this time out. Farke may have stumbled upon a method that extracts the best qualities out of Leitner whilst providing the team with equilibrium.
Marco Stiepermann’s inclusion over Jordan Rhodes saw a predictable and negative response from all quarters prior to kick off. His Norwich career has been pitiful and hasn’t left first gear.
Stiepermann's had lots of obnoxious and critical comments from fans. Has been an easy target because he's been used as a utility man by Farke. If you actually watch him he's a very technical and smart player. Made the difference today and glad he silenced some doubters. #NCFC
— Sam Langan (@samuellangan) September 15, 2018
Deployed in an attacking midfield role, he displayed his intelligence both on and off the ball but also displaying several powerful surges towards goal. His composed touches coupled with his physical ballast aided Norwich’s game plan in counteracting an overly combative Middlesbrough midfield. Perhaps now we will see the best of him.
Constant supply lines in the wide areas was evident in this game.
The youthful endeavour in the full back areas coupled with the dynamism and confidence both operators held allowed Norwich to create patterns and in-roads down wide areas. Particularly in that initial period, Max Aarons and Emi Buendia weaved their way through Middlesbrough’s back line.
Aarons and Jamal Lewis have both seamlessly adapted to their respective positions, they are displaying performances which exude confidence and professionalism way beyond their years.
Aarons has embarked on the same journey as his Northern Irish colleague. His focus and assurance make him an obvious choice for selection currently. Inexperience means inconsistency, yet Aarons and Lewis have undergone years of coaching to prepare for this moment. Farke deserves credit for believing in their abilities and allowing them to flourish in the senior side.
They are grasping their opportunities with both hands and shining as poster boys for the academy system Norwich are placing a reliance on since embarking on this project.
Tony Pulis’ sides are competent, organised and streetwise outfits, a glance at the league table prior to this fixture provides a graphic illustration of that. Farke deserves credit for his approach and bravery against one of the Championship’s most confident sides.
When playing against Pulis’ teams, it’s easy to get dragged down to their level, Norwich didn’t. They imposed their own style onto proceedings and used the ball on the floor effectively. That was the purpose of deploying Teemu Pukki is a more advanced position, because engaging in any degree of physical would have resulted in dominance.
Pukki occupied the space in front of Middlesbrough’s three central defenders and that encouraged Norwich to play the ball through the thirds due to them not having the direct out ball of Rhodes. It made their philosophy more visible and forced them to be braver whilst in possession.
The Championship is a division all about levels and Leeds operated on an altogether different one to Norwich. This time Norwich displayed traits that weren’t evident in that fixture, resilience, doggedness and self-belief. It was refreshing to witness a Norwich press and work as a collective.
This could be the win Norwich required to release the shackles.
They have performed in spells of all of their games so far this campaign, this victory was a demonstration that they can perform for a full 90 minutes.
Norwich can travel to Berkshire full of confidence in the hope they build on an impressive outing here. Negotiate themselves through the next two fixtures, and they will find themselves in a much healthier position.
I’m sick of all of these Pukki and Messi comparisons. Can’t we just enjoy them both while we can? #ncfc #pukki
— Jamie (@Jamie_Hepher) September 15, 2018
The scope for improvement is vast, and this wasn’t a perfect display, but it was considerably improved on most witnessed to date this season.
Foundations have been laid, and now the search for momentum and consistency begins. The density of fixtures over the next few weeks provides a chance to embark on a run.
Onwards and upwards, hopefully.