I’ve sat down to write this piece with the deafening boos of vehemently angry Arsenal fans ringing in my ears.
I’ve been listening to the Arsenal vs. Man City game and for the Arsenal fans it’s same old, same old. I’m sure they’ll be having a post-match field day on Arsenal Fan TV. Wenger has maintained his stubborn stance for too long now and his reputation is slowly being chipped away as each disappointing result passes.
For all the analysis, words and debate that question where Wenger has gone wrong for so many seasons, a commanding, dominating midfielder is more often than not at the top of every pundits’ list. A player that might not be the tidiest footballer but one that will roll up his sleeves and get stuck in where it counts.
Which brings me to Norwich City and our own Alex Tettey. A player who, in Premier League seasons gone by, was criticised for his wayward passing, sense of panic in possession and uncanny ability to find his way into the referee’s book. Fast forward a couple of seasons and Tettey is pulling on the captain’s armband for City, helping the team dig in deep and spearhead the “new look” Farke defensive system, which is beginning to look more solid than we’ve seen for a few years.
Proper leadership on the pitch is a quality our team has lacked for quite some time (as Andy H highlighted on Wednesday). Last season the side was flooded with “senior” players, an imbalance that appeared difficult to manage and impossible to galvanise. Jonny Howson was a phenomenal player for Norwich -leading by example – however we never saw the continual vocal encouragement that Tettey offers, never waning in enthusiasm throughout the match whatever the scoreline.
It should never be underestimated how important a role sports psychology plays within the game, both on and off the pitch. All players hold different qualities. Tettey may not be the most technically gifted player who is prone to a mistake or two but he more than makes up for any deficiencies with his desire, reading of the game and breaking up the opposition attack, which allows us to build possession higher up the pitch and commit more men forward.
Farke is missing a trick however by using two central-defensive midfielders at home. Tettey’s skill-set is such that we can drop the second defensive midfielder and push someone higher up the pitch against lower-tabled opposition.
It’s also a myth that Tettey can’t pass the ball. He may have only played 16 games this season but his passing accuracy has been the highest in the team at 90% (source: Squawka). Compare that to Mario Vrancic, a player who has been noted for his range of passing, his accuracy has been one of the lowest in the side at 78%.
Tettey is averaging 42.25 passes per game compared to Vrancic’s 32.36 per game. Vrancic has made a great deal more key passes than Tettey but Farke is still playing him in a deeper role to allow Maddison to push forward. Why not allow them both to play higher up the pitch? Especially at home when teams, like Bolton, will sit back and absorb our slow and lethargic passing game for as long as possible to see the game out and run down the clock.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw could have been different had we taken those chances in the first half, yes, but we would have created a lot more had we been less defensively set up.
Vrancic has recently been replaced by Leitner but whether it’s the former, latter or Trybull in the side, their role should be exactly the same.
So, what about Tettey’s weaknesses? This season he has made the highest number of defensive errors of any midfielder, and only Christoph Zimmermann has made more as an outfield player. There is also no player more likely to get a booking… anywhere, not even on a Sunday league pitch (that one’s not factually accurate).
However, despite the first statistic, in terms of putting themselves on the line, Tettey makes more blocks per game than any other midfielder. It’s his work off the ball that is easily forgotten and where a player like Tettey makes the most difference. Had he been fit across the whole season we may have been a few more points better off.
I’ve never understood why a manager like Wenger can’t see the value in this type of midfielder. Far more skilled players than Tettey have been doing wonders in this role for over a decade now with their influence bearing fruits for their respective teams: Makelele, Yaya Toure, N’golo Kante, Wanyama, Dembele etc
There are plenty of midfielders that have come and gone from Norwich in the past few years where you think, we could really do with him back, and the number one player for me is always Bradley Johnson.
At a Championship level you’re always going to find a way to score, so whether you’ve got Oliveira up front or an elderly Tim Cahill leading the line you’re going to bundle the ball in somehow. The key to getting in the playoffs is grinding out those results consistently and that comes from having grafting midfielders that win tackles, protect the defence and start attacks at the earliest opportunity.
Tettey is the only player that has filled that missing void. Howson has been replaced by a combination of Maddison and Trybull. Snodgrass and Brady most certainly haven’t been replaced but that is probably one for another piece – all I would say at this point is that Josh Murphy is a drain on the wage bill at this moment in time and currently as useful as the refs vanishing spray on a snowy pitch.
City have struggled to find a balance between attack and defence this season and when we look back in the archives, the 2017/18 season will be a glancing memory; one where the season review never really made it into the Christmas stocking.
Tettey for me has been a big positive and next season (us Norwich fans are great at saying “next season it’ll be better”) I’ll be expecting him to be a stalwart in that midfield, with Farke becoming a little bolder at home.
In a year’s time I hope we’re congratulating the club for stumping up the cash to keep him because a cheaper replacement could leave us an even lower mid-table proposition with a leakier defence, and with another unwanted topic to grumble about on a Saturday evening.