You know the scenario – happens all the time. Pop out, bump into a friend, quick chat, entirely about Norwich City, 100%, not even getting to the bit when you inquire as to each other’s welfare.
Well that, yesterday morning… in Beccles.
And in that short time, we predictably managed to hone in on City’s chances of survival next season, their style of play and how it compares to Gareth Southgate’s England – especially the thorny issue of playing the ball out from the back.
Obviously, it was John Stones and Ross Barkley who were centre-stage in this debate, with the calamitous Kyle Walker not far behind, but for those of us who have lived and breathed Farkeball for the past two seasons, it was a discussion point that has become all too familiar.
My reference point is always the River End – because that’s where I sit and where there is still more than a fair sprinkling of the “get it forward” brigade – but it seems the ‘get rid’ philosophy is one that prevails in pockets all around Carrow Road.
I’m almost certain there would have been pockets of England supporters in Guimaraes on Thursday night who were also encouraging Messrs Stones, Maguire and co to stop taking risks and get it forward.
It’s a debate that’ll be never-ending. Gary Neville picked up on it even before the England game had finished and continued it in heated fashion with Jamie Carragher afterwards, with Neville throwing his weight behind the ‘mistakes will happen but that’s no reason to stop doing it’ school of thought.
Neville is, on this occasion, right in my view. A philosophy that’s been nurtured for years and incrementally embedded over a couple of seasons as the players take on board its key principles is for keeps. Because it went horribly wrong in one particular game, for a host of reasons, is no reason to question its validity – unless your name is Sam Allardyce.
But why do it in the first place? What are the benefits of playing the ball out from the back? What is it that Daniel Farke, Southgate and Pep have against a bit of Pulis-ball?
Well, while I don’t possess any UEFA coaching badges, for me, patiently working the ball out from the back enables the team to build up play as a unit, with support and options available at all times. Players make angles and the player on the ball, in an ideal world has options forward, sideways and backwards.
It’s incumbent of course for the player, in a split second, to make the right decision, This is where it went wrong for a fatigued Stones – an easy pass back to Jordan Pickford would have enabled him to make an angle and receive it back – but this is the risk/reward element to the philosophy. So much is asked of the centre-backs and goalkeepers, mistakes will inevitably occur and cost goals.
The reward comes from doing it well, with the short passing through the thirds enabling your team shape to remain compact and not stretched – something that will be especially important in the Premier League. The Allardyce alternative is a long ball to a striker who wins the knockdown, and you go from there. It gets you down the pitch but can isolate the ‘big man’.
Equally just ‘getting rid’ when the high press comes rarely achieves any objective, especially when the team and its personnel are not equipped to go long. The argument that it gives the defence a ‘breather’ and a chance to get its shape back is flawed, as nine times out of ten the ball will come straight back. It becomes a game of just clearing your lines, rather than looking to start an attack.
The Allardyces, Brazils and Pulis’ of this world will argue that defenders are there to defend and should clear their lines, but Farke-ball demands so much more. Defenders (and goalkeepers) need to be comfortable in possession and as adept at passing the ball as they are at tackling and heading (and making saves).
As Southgate highlighted after Thursday’s game, and as both Farke and Stuart Webber stated during the season, the demands on the defenders and goalkeeper are considerable, and so it’s important those players know they will be judged gently if errors occur.
There will have been no flying teacups and brickbats for Stones and Barkley – just an arm around the shoulder and a reminder about good decision making because that’s what it boils down to. The philosophy is embedded – for City and England – and until an alternative regime takes over years down the line it’s not going to change.
Of course, the starting point is either developing or bringing in individuals who are equipped to play this style – and then allowing the coaches to make it second nature to them – but then also to put faith and trust in those players to deliver it.
But, as we discovered in Farke’s first season, it is a difficult balance to strike. There is a risk of being over-cautious and also overplaying when in possession of the ball in defence, but if the end objective is never lost it’s a highly effective tool in breaking down teams who sit deep in compact lines and those who deploy the high press.
The Premier League will naturally stress-test City’s ability to play this style to the limit – especially when we face the likes of the new European champions (eugh) whose modus operandi is built around a sophisticated, high-energy, high press – but it’s that trust Farke and co have in the players that will see them overcome the hurdles.
And the fields of Colney will be echoing to Germanic tones, drilling into platers old and new the way in which this style of play can be used effectively against top-tier opposition.
Every team deploys the press differently, some won’t deploy it at all, but one thing we do know is that Tim Krul, Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and whichever pairing of centre-backs get the nod, will be extremely well versed in what to expect and how to overcome it. So too the central-midfield pairing, whoever they may be, who play an equally important role in getting that ball moving.
So, the playing out from the back is here to stay – for both City and England – and there will be cock-ups down the line. But let’s trust those in charge to ensure the rewards ultimately outweigh the risks.
Alex B says
A great read and summary on this style of play.
It is very pleasing to watch but it can make the supporters nervous at times. I have never liked Big Sam’s style but as on Thursday, putting the ball into row Z would have given the team a chance to reorganize.
Pickford pulls off some good saves but is prone to errors, so he wouldn’t be my first choice in goal and Stones gets pulled out of position too easily,
Southgate is loyal to his team, so I can’t see him making any changes for today’s game.
Henderson is the new version of Wilkins – he spends more time looking to pass the ball sideways or backwards. It was said 1 in 10 balls go forward, so he slows down the style of play and Barkley isn’t much better, so the shield in front of the CBs is weak.
Today is a dead rubber for me and like in the World Cup, why do we need to know who is 3rd or 4th. It is there to just get money for UEFA or FIFA.
I would like to send my condolences to Leyton Orient, Spurs and the family of Justine Edinburgh on a sad day he was such a good footballer RIP.
Onwards and Upwards
Andy Delf says
The stark differences between club and national teams is the amount of time the coaches have with the players. The young British Norwich players had to be taught a new way to play. Those that couldn’t or wouldn’t have been moved on. The continental players brought in have been raised on this style of football and so have helped to embed our system. The issue for Gareth Southgate is that the style of football the England players are being asked to play for their country is different from that of their parent clubs. It will take a lot of time and embedding this type of football through all the age ranges of the national teams for our players to become comfortable with possession based play from the back. However it is right that Southgate should continue to believe in this style of play. The dinosaurs had their years in charge of the national game and delivered didly squat.
Canary Kevin says
If we lose every game in the premiership watching our new style of football (geggenpressing) then it has to still be good value for my season ticket. What would be the point of turning up to watch the long ball (let’s all give it away as soon as we get it) rubbish. We will win some games and 17th for the next ten years will not be the end of the world but boredom football will.
Alex B says
Since when has Gary Neville been so infused by a Liverpool player.
Watching the England game this afternoon Neville and the other presenter continuously praise Trent Arnold his passing needs to be better or is he colour blind 9 out of 10 goes to a Swiss player in Red his corners never get past the first line of defence and his free kicks again goes to a Red shirt.
Why not try Max Arron.
I am colour blind but know the difference between a Red and a White Shirt, very few are 100% colour blind not to know this colour different ????
Don Harold says
My natural inclination, as a not very good full back a long time ago, is to get rid of the bloody thing. There were literally hundreds of times last season when I had to stop myself from saying or shouting this out loud. While I must admit that my heart spent a considerable time lodging in my mouth, I came to realise that this band of brothers in yellow and green possessed more than enough skill, bravery and trust in each other to make me realise that things have moved on. I am sure that we won so many points late in games because our opponents were knackered from chasing the ball which was in our possession for about two thirds of most games.
I think we’ll take a lot of teams by surprise early next season and I hope Thursday’s fixture list is kind to us.
John Speck says
Playing out from the back just makes sense in modern football because it should allow your team to keep possession of the ball for most of the match, and therefore (hopefully) dictate the tempo and style of the game, allow attacks to evolve on the pitch and starve the opponent team of the ball.
The test is how rigidly you stick to the play-it-out-from-the-back possession-based method, and how and when the tweak it (and maybe at times abandon it) during certain passages of games or types of games, depending on the intensity of the press you face & a multiplicity of other considerations. Any temporary departure from the defenders’ play-it-out style would also depend of course on how else is playing further up the pitch for us as there’s no point hitting it long to short players who often won’t win the first ball/header.
I would say going long is advisable at times against a quality premiership team with a high-intensity high press, but this would not be of course the modus operandi for the entire game.
The goal must be through the season to play out from the back (Barcelona-light style!) but in an intelligent, nuanced, flexible and dynamic way. Something we managed with aplomb in the 2018/19 season!
Of course, sometimes this system will occasionally lead to mistakes or poor passes by defenders or the goalkeeper – perhaps involving goals against us, maybe at key points in the season in crucial games. And that absolutely fine!! It’s the risk we have rationally accepted is worth playing because of the larger rewards the system also yields. To not expect mistakes in such a system would be, well, utterly naive and foolish.
Richard Caston says
We saw several goals scored from quick passing at the back, through the middle areas in two or three touches, to Pukki (usually) to finish it off. We also saw some surprising use of the long pass, best from Christoph Zimmerman’s, and scored goals that route as well. So I think we can mix it up as well.
Jim Davies says
Gary, as a fellow River Ender, I agree that playing out from the back is far better than Hoofball (also known as the Ipswich method). However, I do blame John Stones for two of the goals on Thursday. The first, he didn’t have a Dutch player within 10 yards when he received the ball, but dithered for so long controlling it that he was closed down tightly by, I think, Memphis. He had plenty of time to pass back to Pickford, and then go wide to receive the return pass, when he would have been facing the right way to move forward and play out with control.
For the second, although the fatal back pass was made by Barkley, Stones made an ill-judged pass to him, when Barkley was being tightly marked, thus causing the hurried attempt to play it back to Pickford. Although I don’t advocate belting it up the pitch, putting it out for a throw in gives you a reasonable chance to re-form and recover the ball when it is returned to play.
It wasn’t the tactical plan that was at fault, it was two individual errors of judgement by Stones. I just hope he plays like that for Manchester City when we play them. Pukki will have a field day.
Stewart Lewis says
Any success requires a matching of players and playing philosophy.
There’s a case – though it’s not something I’d want to see or would have much faith in – for having an Andy Carroll up front and lumping the ball forward to him. But if you have Teemu Pukki, your style must be to create situations where Buendia, Stiepermann and others can play passes into space for him.
Three transfer windows – as Stuart Webber told us – allowed us to assemble a right set of players for Farke’s philosophy. It’s a philosophy that works, and is lovely to watch. That’ll do for me.
Colin M says
A long ball against teams that keep a high line can lead to goal scoring opportunities given Teemu and Onel’s speed. I see it very much as a surprise option these days but love the Farkeball ways.
VAR is going to be the single talking point for first weeks of next season and some long balls to unsettle defenders could have repercussions on VAR reviews as teams will look for more penalty kicks.
John Mitchell says
Is there a middle way? Some time in the 1970s, I read an interview with a Leeds defender suggesting that diagonal balls of maybe 30-odd yards towards the flanks were a good option. The idea is to play the ball into an area which presents a good probability of our team retaining the ball, but failing that where losing possession would not be as catastrophic as directly around our own box.
Stewart Lewis says
Exactly what Ben Godfrey was doing for Max Aarons!