In my final analysis piece based on the information generated from last season, I wanted to look at the formations and tactics employed by Daniel Farke and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.
Farke made a statement when he joined that he wanted to establish a way of playing that everyone would recognise as “The Norwich Way”, but that he wanted to have the fluidity to change formations within that construct.
We have seen a definitive style emerge over the last year, with building up play from the back, probing short passing, and a methodical approach to testing the opposition. On the minus side, it has been slow, it has struggled to break down opposition defences, and it has relied way too much on skill players (especially Maddison) to pull something unexpected out of the bag, rather than us moving the ball quickly in the final third to actively prise open a chance.
So, what can we learn from last season’s formations and results? If we start at the back, the formations were based around either a back 4 or a back 3.
As you can see 4 at the back was by far the preferred option, but in terms of success there was little to choose between them, with the wins and losses columns coming up roughly equal as you would expect from a side finishing mid-table.
In a back 3 however, the 3 wins and 2 defeats were accompanied by 7 draws, and in the 12 games played in those systems, we scored 12 and conceded 12. This suggests that with 3 at the back games are generally very tight, we don’t score many, but we equally don’t concede many.
With a back 4, the win/lose/draw ratio is much closer, although 15 wins and losses compared to 10 draws suggests that games are more open and therefore more likely to go either way. The 49 goals scored and 55 conceded in 40 games also supports that conclusion.
If we want to look at which overall formations worked best for us, we can go deeper.
The season was dominated by the 4-2-3-1 which Farke seemed to arrive at as the best line of fit to the options he had in his squad. As with the results for an overall back 4, the wins and losses columns for 4-2-3-1 were almost exactly the same but outweighed the draws, whilst the goals for and against were more than a rate of one a game that a back 3 produced.
The 4-1-4-1 formation benefits hugely by being used in 3-2 and 4-1 home victories against Swindon and Charlton in the cup and was found not to be fit for purpose in the league because of the isolation of the defensive midfielder, allowing him to be overrun.
The best comparison is probably to unite the results for 3-4-3 and 3-4-1-2 (two formations which are very similar anyway) and compare to the 4-2-3-1.
In the ten games played with a 3-4-3 or a 3-4-1-2 there were 3 wins, 6 draws and 1 defeat. There were 10 goals scored and 8 conceded. Again, very tight, more prone to drawing than winning, but only one defeat in ten games is not to be discounted.
Farke basically has a choice at the back. If he goes with a back 4, we may score more goals, but we will also concede more. If we go with a back 3 games will be much closer and goals at either end harder to come by.
In midfield we’ve seen against Villa and Millwall that 4-1-4-1 doesn’t work, and if you saw my last article on The Engine Room you’ll have seen the remarkable unbeaten record that we have when Tettey and Trybull start together. That’s an obvious must if we’re to look to move upwards in the table next year.
In my first analysis article the most startling attacking stat was that Maddison was involved in scoring or creating 29 of our 61 goals scored this season. When you consider that only two other players were involved in more than 10 goals (Murphy 19, Oliviera 12), and both have also been heavily linked with moves away from Carrow Road this summer along with Maddison, the task ahead of Daniel Farke is a scary one.
While we can see how to use a formation to keep defensively tight we also need to find a way to start scoring more goals, yet we’re contemplating trying to do that without the three players who contributed most to creating and scoring last year!
From a purely logical point of view it’s crazy, but individually we know that there are good arguments for letting all three go (Maddison’s fee would fill the hole in our finances next season, Murphy may not be a great fit in Farke’s style, and likewise Oliviera who should have done so much more with the game time he was afforded last season and should be eminently replaceable as a result).
Kenny McLean and Emi Buendia will be interesting additions to the squad to help in creating more chances and it will be fascinating to see how Farke blends them in with his existing squad.
There HAS to be a striker or preferably two to arrive and they have to offer more up front than Oliviera, Jerome or Srbeny did this season if we are to progress. Farke will need to tinker with how quickly and effective his team moves the ball around to allow his striker(s) to get some decent chances.
So what formation can we utilise to meet all these requirements? Playing Trybull and Tettey works. Of this we can be sure based on the stats. Having the two of them in front of a back 3 is probably defensive overkill though and doesn’t allow many bodies to push forward and help our shot-shy attack shorne of probably Maddison and possibly Oliviera and Murphy as well.
A 3-1-4-1-1 along the lines of the set-up Gareth Southgate is looking to move to with England would allow us to have the security of three at the back and allow Pinto and Stiepermann/Lewis to maraude down the wings without having to constantly worry about what is going on behind them. On the other hand, you’d have to sacrifice Tettey or Trybull to do it, and I’m not sure it’s a formation that would suit McLean or Buendia.
4-2-3-1 always seemed to me to be a formation for Farke’s initial journey and not his destination. Something that got pragmatic results with the squad he inherited but not the way he ultimately wanted to play. In that sense he’s yet to really reveal his hand as to what formation(s) he wants to use.
It will be an intriguing summer in terms of squad building. The players Farke brings in now will be HIS players, built for his system and his vision of the future. How successfully he can implement this (and how quickly) will decide his and City’s future. I suspect that we’ll know more about his preferred formation by watching who arrives at Carrow Road this summer than what formation he tried last year.