Thanks to the wonders of the interweb I was able to watch both of City’s friendlies in Germany. And now part of me wishes I hadn’t.
As has become my wont over any given City pre-season, I’ve been banging on over how little we should read into the results of friendlies – be they good or bad – and how the whole thing is essentially an exercise in fitness.
This time round it is a bit different, with Daniel Farke and his team looking to implement a hitherto unseen ethos into his evolving squad, but the point remains: anything that occurs on the green stuff between June 26 and August 4 doesn’t *really* matter. The only things that do are that the players are super-fit and they’ve taken on board the new messages that have been drummed into them.
So I’m trying to keep a lid on it, but after watching the performance against Arminia Bielefeld – particularly the second half – they’re making it bloody difficult for me.
Context arrived with a reminder from my dad – an occasional source of wisdom – that the pre-season results under Gunn Senior were of the stellar variety, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact there’s potentially something refreshing and new unfolding before us.
And even if it does take a while to finally click into gear when subjected to the brutalities of the Championship it still promises to be as aesthetically pleasing as anything we’ve seen since the days of Ian Crook, when he would mesmerise us all by weaving those beautiful patterns on the Carrow Road turf.
But I will put this out there: brace yourselves for the first Norfolk cases of spontaneous human combustion in the 21st century.
At least half a dozen individuals, just in my vicinity of the River End alone, are guaranteed to go apoplectic with rage as soon as they set eyes on our new centre-backs patiently playing the ball neatly, accurately and methodically to one another. And woe betide them if they even think about laying it wide to the full-back and then prepare to take the return pass.
I partly jest of course, and to be fair Alex Neil did originally desire a possession-based game that involved his defenders being a tad more sophisticated that just hoofing it, but what we’re about to witness, if it gets implemented as the head coach demands it, will be taking it to a whole new level.
Rarely does Angus Gunn kick it long – only on the rare occasion when he’s getting closed down and he doesn’t have an angle from one of the back four or defensive midfielder – and the same applies to the whole back four. Don’t expect to watch either full-back take one touch and sling it down ‘the channel’. Won’t happen.
Occasionally, just occasionally, we may see a centre-back ping it long – just as Christoph Zimmermann did on Friday night to pick out Marley Watkins in what resulted in the penalty – but it will be measured and a weapon that’s used sparingly.
Cries of “GET RID OF IT!” and ” GET IT FORWARD!” will, I’m not sorry to say, fall on deaf ears. And so those for whom back to front in one punt is their preferred method of attack are going to be in for a long old season.
Patience is going to be the key word… for sure.
It’s been interesting to see this brave world ethos evolve. I was there at Lowestoft when it had its first airing and while its basic premise was clear it was also clear its implementation would take some time. I only watched highlights of what unfolded in Stevenage and Cambridge, so can only assume there were steady improvements, but by the time they made it to Germany to play MSV Duisburg the method was there for all to see.
And on Friday night, in a proper stadium with real fans – some of them a tad feisty – it was cranked up another notch. Interesting too was how the head coach identified and acted upon some issues he identified as the first half evolved.
For those who didn’t watch the game, City went in at half-time 2-1 ahead but had come under spells of sustained pressure from the home side. So, for the second half, what was initially the 4-1-4-1 became a 3-5-2 or variation thereof and it worked absolutely perfectly.
There was no significant change in playing style – it’s now embedded for a reason – but with footballing intelligence now a key component the players were subsequently able to adapt, combat the threats and pose more of their own. This culminated in Nelson Oliveira’s brilliant run and strike for the third goal – one that, in the circumstances, would have served us better if it had been in a behind-closed-doors friendly.
Almost unnoticed at the heart of all that I’ve described are two German centre-backs who, whisper it, are starting to look really solid. Yes, there was a mistake from Zimmerman that led to the goal conceded, but it was a rare blemish in a pre-season that has seen him play every minute of every game. And for someone who arrived as probably third or fourth choice centre-back he’s looked very much the part.
And next to him Marcel Franke has calmly and assuredly slotted into the left-sided centre-back role in a way that’s led some to belief he could indeed be the long-term solution.
What is clear, and which has been covered brilliantly by colleagues Andy Head and Connor Southwell, is that we now have a system that relies on having the right type of defender slotted into it. With the best will in the world, to shoehorn a centre-back pairing of, say, Ryan Bennett and Michael Turner into what we have now would likely be an unmitigated disaster.
And in truth that’s something that applies specifically to the defensive third. Angus, in addition to being a good shot stopper (he made a breathtaking finger-tip save on Friday night having had very little to do) has a decent first touch and can pass the ball, and right across that back-line only those who can adapt will survive.
As a creative force there’s less necessity on being the *exact* fit – the aforementioned footballing intelligence will hopefully kick in – but those who don’t, or haven’t, made the cut will be those without an exhaustive work ethic and who are not prepared to play their part in the suffocating high press the coach demands.
If all of this sounds a little too good to be true then you’re probably right – and football does have a horrible knack of dragging you back to earth if your head gets too close to the clouds – but in terms of anticipation and excitement this pre-season is right up there.
Now just watch Fulham go and spoil it all…