When you think of a typical a Daniel Farke midfield – the type we’ve seen since his arrival at Carrow Road – you think of a free-flowing, attack-minded, creative unit, which will allows both defensive midfielders to be able to play the ball once receiving it from the goalkeeper or centre-backs.
From that base, the idea is to allow Norwich to dictate the tempo of the game and control possession while also creating opportunities, mainly through the midfield.
If we look back to how the midfield was set up in Farke’s first season, he typically deployed two defensive midfielders from Tom Trybull, Moritz Leitner or Harrison Reed; all three of a smaller physical build.
Leitner is, in midfield terms, what I class as a ‘luxury player’, a similar role to that played by Mario Vrancic played in the Championship-winning 2018/19 season. When I say luxury, I mean he’s solely on the pitch for one duty: to create the attack from our defence.
This player doesn’t excel in his chosen position in a defensive sense, however, they are deployed in a Farkeball midfield in order to help City control the tempo of a game and the possession, while also having a free-range to create chances offensively.
In the previous three campaigns, we have seen Farke’s City side attempt to control possession using mainly a 4-2-3-1. The two defensive midfielders are able to distribute the ball and essentially play as number 8s. Then the number 10 – who has been James Maddison, Marco Stiepermann and, for a short period, Ondrej Duda – drops into midfield to get the ball off the two sitting number 8s and drives forward with the ball.
Last season was something of an exception, where we saw greater involvement from Alex Tettey who, although now a more accomplished distributor compared to his days under Alex Neil and Chris Hughton, is still very much an ‘enforcer’ and a true number 6.
Prior to last season, we typically saw a more defensive-minded yet accomplished passer in midfield, such as the previously mentioned Trybull or Reed, or with the alternative of a deeper-lying playmaker such as Leitner and Vrancic.
The point of this piece is to now look at the start of the new campaign, and how not only the recruitment has transformed the midfield, but how Farke’s tactical philosophy has also evolved.
If you were to ask Norwich fans since Farke and Stuart Webber’s arrival, ‘do we have too many creative-minded midfielders?’ I think most, if not all, would agree.
Now consider this transfer window – the club decided to remove players such as Leitner, Trybull and, to a degree, Mario Vrancic from their future plans. They appeared to have transitioned to a more physical, defensive-minded number 6 set-up, as opposed to two number 8s by signing players such as Lukas Rupp, Oliver Skipp and Jacob Sorenson.
In the opening three fixtures, City have set up with a midfield three of Skipp as a CDM, Kenny McClean as a box-to-box midfielder and Rupp, who is again, a more defensive-minded box-to-box midfielder.
What is interesting is that in the Bournemouth game, the midfield was effective at retaining possession and defensively more solid, and although we lost, it’s fair to say we defended much better structurally. However, we didn’t offer any attacking threat via that midfield trio.
Slightly troubling is that the alternative options look a little bleak, and with Tettey being the midfielder to be left out and feature only on the bench, we are now in the opposite position of our previous three campaigns: lacking creativity from our midfield.
It appears the only player who fits the mould of a Farke number 8, is Vrancic who, at one point, appeared to have been frozen out of the squad.
So, should we be concerned for Norwich over the fact we appear to lack a creative-minded number 8? Could Jacob Lungi Sorenson be this player? If not, could this lead to issues with a lack of productivity and even a lack of possession?
The stats would suggest this may be the case, after only having 51% vs Huddersfield on opening day. In comparison, our average possession was 55.7% in the 2018/19 season when won the title.
I expect a Farke midfield to still dominate the ball but, as things stand, I see a lack of productivity from that midfield trio. The big question is, could this be detrimental to City mounting a promotion campaign? Or, could this be a tactical masterclass by Farke to transition his midfield into three midfield ‘terriers’?
We will have to wait to find out but the early signs, and the lack of chances and creativity, suggest we may have tried to transition too far and now find ourselves in a position of weakness that was previously an area of strength.