Despite a paucity of minutes, Farke’s footballing philosophy can be fully implemented when the Bosnian is involved.
Upon his arrival from Germany, Mario Vrancic appeared to play the game a pace too slow for English football.
He struggled to adjust with the lack of time midfield players have on the ball in the EFL and was written off by the majority of the Carrow Road faithful.
However, the second half of his first campaign was more impressive and by the time City won the title in his second season, he was a cult hero at Carrow Road, after a number of goal contributions that significantly boosted the Canaries promotion push.
This season has proved frustrating for Mario. A paucity of minutes has resulted in a campaign for his name to be included in the starting XI. Farke listened, in the loosest sense, and he started against Watford on Tuesday.
But how did he fare?
Farke has predominantly deployed Kenny McLean in this role. Vrancic has deputised for the majority of the season and despite a pleasing introduction to the Premier League, Moritz Leitner appears to have played his last game for the Canaries.
The key difference in McLean and Vrancic is their instinctive reactions to moments during the game. McLean has had numerous comparisons to Jonny Howson – personally, my favourite ever Norwich City player – but I’m not entirely sure this is accurate.
While Howson had the same tendency to run with the ball to break the oppositions midfield press (his infamous goal against Man City on the final day of the 2012/13 season epitomises this side of his game), he had a composure on the ball which allowed him to act as more of a playmaker in a midfield two, as opposed to a more traditional box-to-box midfielder.
McLean’s initial thought is to be close to the ball. Whether this is in defence or offence, he provides energy to City’s midfield, aiming to assist in breaking up opposition moves and unlocking opposition defences. His relentless work rate is a major factor in being Farke’s midfield lieutenant this season.
There is certainly merit to McLean’s game, however Farkeball requires a central midfielder to control possession and dictate the tempo to those around him. McLean plays the game at such a pace, he misses aspects that a more measured Vrancic does not.
They both have their strengths and weaknesses of course, but the Bosnian allows Farkeball to be played in full flight. Control the ball in midfield and distribute it out wide to an overlapping wing-back, occupying the space vacated by a tapering wide-midfielder.
Within the first few minutes at Vicarage Road, this was apparent. Max Aarons found Vrancic in space, and once Mario had turned, immediately distributed the ball to Onel Hernandez. Not a wing-back, of course, but Onel’s game is far more akin to a natural wide player than his confrere, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia.
Finding these pockets of space is a key-aspect of Mario’s game. What this allows Norwich to do is link the defence to the attack in a controlled manner, playing at the correct tempo the game requires.
As you can see from the picture above, this is exactly what Mario does. He finds a pocket of space in the left half-back position, which would traditionally be occupied by Jamal Lewis. However, the wing-back has progressed up the pitch, joining Onel and Marco Stiepermann in attack.
All three are playing in-between Watford’s defence and midfield line. This is how you hurt teams who play two banks of four. The defence in particular will be left with a conundrum. Leave them, and the attacker has time on the ball, press and you leave space in behind for a forward to attack, and this is exactly what happens.
Mario finds Stiepermann, who turns and plays in Teemu Pukki. Unfortunately, the final ball from Marco isn’t quite there, but it shows how Mario allows City to create goalscoring opportunities with patience.
It’s not just deep where Mario can be effective, it’s further forward as well. Mario’s main strength is finding space and as the game evolved against Watford, this is where Vrancic became more effective.
This move was similar to the one Mario created ten minutes prior, but it was the Bosnian who was in the number 10 role, as opposed to Stiepermann and he played a different type of pass, almost cutting inside to play to Pukki’s feet. This is the type of move that would have resulted in a goal last season.
If Mario has cemented his place in Daniel Farke’s starting XI or is merely a rotation deployed for fitness reasons, we won’t be certain until 11:30 tomorrow when the team news is announced for West Ham. However, time is running out for Mario.
With the 31-year-old having just one year left on his current deal, time is of the essence for City in regards to the Bosnian. Calls for City to build their team around him may well be overdue but it does raise a bigger issue for the Canaries long term.
Alex Tettey and Vrancic won’t be a midfield pairing Norwich can rely on for years to come, so ensuring the correct personnel are recruited to replace the irreplaceable will be crucial.
Billy is ½ of NCFC podcast The Revere End. You can follow them on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook @therevereend and listen to their podcast on Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts.