So much of football has become orientated on numbers and statistics.
Daniel Farke arrived in Norfolk seeking to install a football philosophy that would define Norwich City throughout his reign. He settled upon an emphasis on possession-based football, reliant on retaining the ball and patient build up play.
The quintessential example of this is Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning team, and although there is an obvious difference in class, the Germanic DNA is something Farke is looking to use to build his style of play.
Efficiency and productivity was a major concern however. Despite Norwich dominating possession in the majority of their fixtures, a return of 49 goals was simply not enough to mount any charge on the top six.
This notion of progressive football, commonly defined as possession emphasised styles of playing, will mean a conventionally regressive style will always exist. Furthermore, variations of possession-based football have seen the ‘gegenpress’ introduced.
There is more than one way to skin a cat = be it Leicester’s counter-attacking under Claudio Ranieri or Antonio Conte’s three at the back formation built upon defensive stability and inside forwards. Norwich opted for an approach reliant on technical superiority and ensuring they dictate and control the rhythm of the match.
In essence, this approach involves penetrating defensive lines and displacing the opposition’s defensive shape while occupying pockets of space to progress the play up the pitch.
It requires dynamism off the ball and composure on it.
Perhaps football philosophers would brandish it intellectual football, where your movement off the ball dictates the success you have on it.
Too commonly last season, Norwich lacked tempo and intelligence on the ball but also in the manner in which they operated off the ball. Occasions of Timm Klose bringing the ball into midfield searching for options only to be forced into a simple five-yard pass or resetting with a back pass were infuriating.
Good coaching would mean this possession isn’t done for the sake of it or maintaining an advantage in the possession stats but used in a way geared towards a positive result. By design, a team’s aim should be to maximise the amount of possession by using the ball efficiently and being effective with their usage of the ball.
This was seen in moments for City, but often that final piece of quality or lack of movement saw their play become restrictive. Avid watchers of the World Cup may draw comparisons with how Spain operated; the way they operated was almost identical to the methods deployed by Farke.
The proliferation of possession-based football saw coaches adapt and develop counter-pressing and attacking to nullify this approach – see Mexico or Sweden in Russia. Evidently, this is why Norwich struggled at Carrow Road. Teams would set up to simply exploit Norwich’s high defensive line.
Adaption and tweaking are required.
However cryptic Nelson Oliveira’s Instagram posts were, the reality is City require a more dynamic striker who can both connect the play in front of the defence through his technical play and also be a threat in behind. Oliveira didn’t require cryptic social media posts to reinforce his frustration at the style of play – kicking the ball into the stands repeatedly was evidence enough.
Purists of the English game believe a conventional 4-4-2 formation should be used to add simplicity and bring an offensive exuberance designed to enhance consumption, however, in order for Farke’s possession style to be successful, midfielders are, arguably, most important.
Furthermore, contemporary football has evolved whereby an emphasis of the midfield and avoiding being overrun has meant more bodies are needed in the engine room.
The possession needs to be used to create chances and to do that Norwich need a midfielder who can pass through the lines. Take Luka Modric – a midfielder who is constantly looking to be positive and create chances. Norwich need an operator in that mould.
However, that player needs to be coached in order to take risks – to be effective in possession requires a change of mindset.
Players are coached to play safe in order to retain team shape and do the basics. Farke needs to subvert this, coach the players to be brave and be expressive on the ball. Norwich require greater spontaneity and variation in attacking phases of play.
A greater width and injection of pace will also help. Direction with the ball and greater penetration is required combined with crosses in the box.
Overall, the possession-based style may not be to every supporter’s taste, but with some tweaking and an adoption of more positive coaching methods, this can be fine-tuned into a more efficient and productive style. A core of players that Farke trusts and who buy into his method is also essential.
Possession football saw Fulham gain promotion, Huddersfield before that, and so it has worked, but changes need to happen, and mental approaches need to differ.