It’s not often I feel the need to quote or paraphrase Roy Hodgson. The same Roy Hodgson who masterminded England’s classic Euro 16 campaign, during which part of the plan was to have the country’s best striker taking corners.
With good reason, dear old Roy went down in my estimations in those few weeks – as he probably did most of the nation – but yesterday was redemption time, and Palace pulled off what may end up being the result of the season at the Etihad.
It was his post-match words though that most struck a chord, one sentence in particular: ‘You don’t produce that sort of performance by waving a magic wand or having a five-minute team talk, there’s a lot of work that goes into that structure…’
And there, in a nutshell, while trying to explain how his Eagles beat Sheikh Mansour’s finest, Roy inadvertently described how the real City have led us all into dreamland as the Championship season reaches its halfway stage.
There are still some out there who are happy to believe our position at the top of the table (or at least in the top two) is somehow false, that we’ve had more than our fair share of fortune and that we’ll get ‘found out’ in the second half of the season and eventually slide to our rightful place in the natural order of mid-table.
And I’ll be honest, there were times when, despite the fluent and aesthetically-pleasing football, I was waiting for the rest of the division to cotton on to what’s happening here, and find a way to stifle and suppress our cultured take on the beautiful game.
In my, admittedly, overly-simplistic mind it seemed fairly straightforward:
- Press high and don’t give Tim Krul the option of going short to either centre-back.
- Squeeze Mo Leitner and give him little time to get his head up to pick his passes.
- Pressurise Alex Tettey – he’ll give the ball away.
- Make the game bitty and disjointed; disrupt their flow.
- Defend solidly with a bank of four and a bank of five.
- Don’t allow Marco Stiepermann to pick up space between the lines.
- Counter-attack with purpose; both their full-backs naturally push on, leaving space out wide.
(I did say it was simplistic).
Yet, despite many trying, most have failed. And even on the days when City’s opponents have had some joy in doing some or all of the above, still they are able to conjure up enough moments to impact the result of a game.
Bristol City did it quite well and came within a whisker, but still this group found a way. Blackburn too tried and, while they certainly did their best to disrupt, were ultimately undone by Norwich doing it the new Norwich way.
There are others of course – Leeds, Villa, Frank Lampard County, West Brom etc – who will be rather less concerned with stopping us playing our game but who instead believe they have enough quality to simply outplay us. With the exception of
Real Madrid Leeds, none have been particularly successful though. If anyone fancies their chances of out-passing this team, good luck to them.
Why wise Roy’s words resonate so much is because it’s precisely for those reasons he described that City have sustained this run and why it shows not the slightest sign of abating.
The type of performances City are producing week in, week out haven’t been the product of a wave of Daniel Farke’s magic wand. Quite the opposite. They’re the product of months and months of bloody hard work at Colney and I’m not even talking about the double-fitness sessions that have produced a team of supermen. I’m talking about the individual chats, the team meetings, the training drills and the underlying footballing ethos that supports everything said and done at Colney and Carrow Road.
Every player is crystal clear in what’s expected of him, both individually and in terms of the team, but of equal importance is the collective footballing intelligence and the understanding of the roles of others. This well-oiled machine isn’t one by accident and is the very antithesis of the result of Roy’s “five-minute team talk”. Try eighteen months.
I go back to one of those early friendlies in the summer of 2017 when City played a third of fourth tier German team on the tour. It was in the embryonic stages of Farkeball but still, the message was clear. Josh Murphy, once of this parish, made the mistake of ‘hoofing’ a clearance. Whether it was the row Z or the downfield variety I can’t recall, but what I do recall was the verbal volley he received from Daniel for doing something that was most certainly not in the textbook.
And that was before a ball had been kicked in anger. The message was clear. What I had witnessed the start of in Lowestoft only a couple of weeks earlier, was already being refined in the Webber/Farke way and there was certainly no going back to what we all viewed as the traditional way. And thank God.
What we’re witnessing now may not yet be the finished article but it’s a long way down the line from those opening gambits where Josh – and several others no doubt – were still content to give possession away when there was a chance of retaining it. The culture change has been phenomenal and is embedded deep.
All of which leads me to believe this is no ‘flash in the pan’ as our friends down south will have us believe.
It is no fluke than Ben Godfrey, having played little football, has been so magnificent he’s in serious danger of making one of those centre-back slots his own. It’s no fluke that both Emi Buendia and Mo Leitner – two of our best players – get crocked and the two players who replace them fit in seamlessly and play huge roles in yesterday’s winning goal. And it’s no fluke that our fullbacks – both just lads – display maturity unbefitting a pair who when Farke arrived were literally unheard of.
In short, there’s nothing flaky about this bunch and nothing ‘lucky’ about this fine run. The foundations are solid, the method embedded and, while I may be too close to be properly objective, there is nothing to suggest this runaway train is about to hit the buffers.
We’re in this for the long haul… and there is nothing those big-time Charlies managing their big-time clubs with their super-rich big-time owners can do about it.
Never Mind the Danger…
Happy Christmas y’all and thanks for reading MyFootballWriter.