Identifying areas of improvement isn’t moaning. It is part of a healthy cycle to make the team get better. This piece is about learning from lessons past; especially as we know 4-2-3-1 will persevere.
WARNING: It will sound like a moan.
There is no substitute to for paying for quality unless it is free or heavily subsidised. But remember, expensive flops like Steven Naismith, Robbie Brady, Ricky van Wolkswinkel all cost the same as Ibrahim Amadou, Andrej Duda or Patrick Roberts; they cost relegation.
However, remember what stumping up sooner for Dean Ashton would have done, nor that Darren Huckerby was cheap. I’ll stonewall the quality debate straight away.
This season Ben Gibson was signed from the Premier League, so was Jordan Hugill, as was Oliver Skipp. Previously, Tim Krul and Grant Hanley both came via Newcastle, Teemu Pukki cut his teeth in a Schalke team that were in and around the Champions League, and Lukas Rupp has spent most of his career near the top of the Bundesliga.
My point is that we are champions-elect with a core of players from the highest divisions, albeit we got them affordably. The painful lessons of last season are thus: Buendia, Cantwell and Pukki managed 18 goals and 19 assists between them in the Premier League, playing 4-2-3-1, where we won only five games. Alex Tettey and Kenny McLean operated as a defensive pair in the 4-2-3-1 that lost 27 games. McLean and Skipp is, in my view, not a giant leap from McLean and Tettey.
Daniel Farke has blitzed this league with the improvements to his favoured system, but how will it work next season?
We will clearly be better is in defence, we will be more pragmatic, wiser, more mature, and, obviously, our front three have improved ever more. But we are going to persevere with 4-2-3-1, so please tell me how we will score enough goals next season when we are less prolific than during the previous promotion?
You don’t stay up with 1-0 wins in the Premier League. You simply will concede against even the lowliest teams. Any team needs to be able to score at will. Our big defenders offer zero threat from set-pieces. One goal from Grant Hanley all season.
Free kicks into the box are generally unproductive and so too are corners.
Our defensive midfield will likely be chosen from Skipp, McLean and Rupp, who have managed three goals between them all season, so key will be how we add goals to this group. Alex Mowatt at Barnsley has scored eight and assisted seven from an identical deep position.
Emi is Messi, granted. So is Pukki, incontestable starting players. But who supports them? Stieperman, Dowell and Cantwell have 10 goals and seven assists between them. Just consider that Danjuma has scored 13 for Bournemouth from the same position. He was expensive but my bet is Bournemouth will sneak through the playoffs and then the money is justified.
I’m not saying I want him, I’m saying that player for player, there are areas where we’d be more competitive if we invest wisely; Ivan Toney and Hugill went for approximately similar transfer fees. Let’s not compare.
Finally, about the goals. Please don’t just whimsically say we will buy another striker because it’s 4-2-3-1 and a lone striker 99% of the time! If you want a second striker for goals, we have to change the base formation, or you need to accept dropping Cantwell or Dowell…. neither of which is likely.
Succinctly, if the formation isn’t going to change and you agree to needing more goals, reality bites; someone has to make way.
Everyone in our nominal starting 11 deserves a chance in the Premier League, but we need to help them with capable understudies, starting with Mowatt, especially if we can’t get Skipp. Nobody on our current subs bench will scratch the standard in which we are immersed next season.
The head needs to rule the heart if we are going to be competitive and a lot of our squad players don’t make the grade. I’ll pray for more goals, more crosses, another defender, see more box to box work from Skipp and McLean, and have Buendia supply two strikers instead of one, although I suspect I’ll be all alone praying for a shift away from 4-2-3-1. I live in a fantasy bubble of 3-5-2 or 3-4-3.
Egg on my face? Probably.
Amazing work Farke and Webber, and , as always, Delia and Michael.
Another maybe 2 centre backs
Replacements for beundia and aarons and skip
Possibly another decent striker
“Midfield Mike” says
John Holland says
I’d say this pretty much sums it up. We need players with the ability of Aarons, Buendia and Skipp (Keep them or like for like replacements). It is wrong to look too much into the results of 19/20 as we were rarely able to put out our best team, how many times did we have a defence that either had an unfit Klose in it or a central midfielder (which weakened the midfield)? Learning from that we need serious cover in certain key positions (keeper, defence, CDM, striker), we might already have these players. But in terms of strengthening the squad we need to consider whether Nyland, Zimmerman and Hugill are our first choice cover in those areas. Is Omobamidele ready for say 12 PL matches next season? Is that the best way of developing him?
HI like likely we wont have skipp Next season i think we new two more in that position after see what present players manager last season definitly need one more striker and another seasoned ch would Be ideal and another right Back if arrons goes thing we Will make abetter go of it this time
“Midfield Mike” says
Yeap, I think things will definitely be better this season. I do think we lack variety and as was said repeatedly on MOTD last season, we were one dimensional in attack. Hopefully he’ll figure a way of mixing that up, but that was kind of my point, how can he shift things around with these players. When Hugill comes on, it’s still generally a single striker unless we are chasing a game. Interesting summer ahead! OTBC
Jonny Adams says
its a discussion (moan) that will be happening for the next few months I expect but agree with a few of your comments…
just a couple of my own thoughts / points on the above
I don’t mind the 4-2-3-1 as we seem to be playing it much better than we have done in the past and having Skipp or McClean covering in defence as the wing backs bomb forward has worked well, we are much more defensively solid then the last time we got promoted (Hanley has developed well under a full season, I like the balance of Gibson with him), and hopefully we will reinforce the defence with one extra CB following the major impact early injuries had on our us last season
My concern would be who replaces Aarons on the right, left back I’m happy with the competition and cover but we will lose Aarons and that has been a major source of supply with Emi on that right hand side
Also part of an effective 4-2-3-1 formation is that number 10 role which becomes the secondary striker when attacking, we all know how much we have struggled this season to find that formidable number 10. Dowell looked good in pre-season and recently, I’d expect him to start first game in the prem next season, but we also need another in that position, interesting to see Rupp play there, and I really like Rupp so would be happy to see him fighting for that position in pre season and then bring in a third option (stiepermann and Vrancic won’t cut premier so need to be cut loose – sorry harsh, head over heart)
I can’t agree with the Hugill note as he hasn’t had any time on the pitch this season except bit part to Pukki (which is fair enough), had he been playing for Barnsley on a full season of starts he may well have got 20+, still think that Farke could have got a few more minutes into him (late subs drive me crazy – especially when first 11 are playing so many games). However is Hugill good backup for Pukki in the Prem… possibly not, maybe a big loan opportunity
Ultimately it comes down to who we can convince to stay with the group… at least until January 2022… if we only lose Aarons in the summer then Webber has played a blinder.
Add to that Skipp on loan again for at least 6 months, a prem level right back and Centre Back, possibly a striker and we may have the makings of a good team (and staying injury free)
just my thoughts 🙂
“Midfield Mike” says
Great points thanks and I agree. My point about Hugill though is precisely what you’ve said…. we aren’t Barnsley. Wingbacks and crosses galore. To get the best out of Hugill, a change of formation is preferable, but we still normally only see him as a lone striker. I’m surprised we got him to be honest, when we could have kept Morris by contrast.
I agree with your wish to reinforce those exact positions.
Thanks for the comments
Colin M says
Interesting read Mike.
WBA & Fulham were promoted last season and looks as though they are coming down along with Shef Utd, how sad, too bad, never mind.
I expect Leeds Utd to do what those blunted Blades have done next season whether Marcelo is there or not, (not is most likely).
You are also assuming Daniel will stay? Covid travel restrictions must have been hard for him and his team, I’ve found it hard in my work, months away from family and loved ones, gut wrenching at times.
Staying in the Premier League is the Holy Grail for some but not us, it’s not our style. I love being a yoyo club, has a club’s fans enjoyed more fun since Nigel’s play-off year, 20 seasons ago, no chance, not even close.
It will be a new challenge against much the same old teams but with some different players and a more experienced squad.. Can we amass 36-37 points is the quest, we’ll have a chance, let’s enjoy it and hopefully get back to Carrow Road occasionally at least.
Another goal scorer and Oliver Skipp will do for me.
“Midfield Mike” says
Covid is a big thing isn’t it. I wondered if it effected Dowell a bit too, like the German guys away from families.
I work in HK and usually commute so I can sympathise with how you feel being separated from your family. Hopefully things will be better after the summer.
Colin M says
Thanks for your comment.
Looking at the wider picture it must be hard on all the overseas players, they don’t all have their wives, parents, partners, kids, etc with them. Being an island with very strict overseas travel restrictions for families is tough and travel within the UK and overnight stays also ruled out.
Let’s just hope above everything that infections remain low and serious illness and deaths from covid become rare.
Dan Rear says
They already are Colin, and always have been!
Great ideas, but I don’t agree, much. Our front 4 are growing, learning, developing and, due to the refereeing in the prem and VAR, will create and score more next season. No changes needed but we do need better back up/competition for those places. We need a 2nd Pukki to play when the 1st is injured. If there is no Skipp there is a mahoosive hole in the midfield. The Mayor is a great championship player but he did nothing to show he was premiership class. I would not buy another championship player to replace either of them. Lungi S is the future and I would hope THS might have another spare CDM if they take Skippy back. We need 1 footballing Central defender but so does Liverpool, Man U et al so no point in trying to buy one as we don’t have £75m. Step up Andy O. He looks class and is a perfect back up to Hanley and Gibbo. I would also recall a Loanee too as Zimbo is a great defender but not a footballer.. Sell Aarons, use Mumba. Prem survival guaranteed……….
“Midfield Mike” says
Spud, I’m confused!!!!
You don’t agree much….
*I said the front 3 are much improved.
You said you don’t think McLean is a Premier League player…. I’ve said that is an area to improve.
You’ve said you wanted more defensive competition, I said we were much better defensively, but only scored a single goal from a set piece….
You said we need a second Pukki…. presumably because you don’t see it in the squad players we currently have…. and that we struggle for goals if the GOAT stumps his toe….
Thanks for the comments. I can’t wait for the summer and to see what DF will do.
We’re not going to have Skipp. We’re going to lose Aarons. Lets assume we keep Buendia. If so, we need the following:
a. New RB. Byram is gimpy. Mumba not ready.
b. New CB. Hanley and Gibson are starters but need more backup.
c. 1 or 2 CMs. Need Skipp replacement plus another. Sorensen maybe can step up but can’t rely on that. Rupp is squad player.
Given money will be in short supply, that’s all we can afford and get some quality. Our front four is not going to be improved w/o a lot of money and the backups are OK. It would be nice to get more attacking quality but with limited funds, this is where we are, IMO.
“Midfield Mike” says
I think the quality is there, but it could be better harnessed. Succinctly, we cannot spend too much as you said, so I think we could shift around what we have and therefore minimise what we need. Can’t get Skipp? Go 3 at the back and bring in another midfielder etc.
Although I don’t articulate it well, I think we are on the same song sheet.
martin penney says
A very good read and certainly a provocative one, in a positive way 🙂
You appear to assume that Ollie Skipp will be here next season, which I’d rate as highly unlikely – although I don’t know the inside track. I doubt even Stuart Webber does yet.
I’m going to wait until the season is over before I get stuck into *who or what do we need for 2021-22* mode because the only thing I know for certain right now is that we will continue to play 4-2-3-1!
“Midfield Mike” says
Although DF did murmur he actually wanted a 3 man back line last season that never materialised.
Ref Skipp, I’d sell one of our gems (not Emi) if we could get him…. maybe even Aaron’s despite Skipp only being a loan.
I actually think the EASIEST to replace his Todd. We have enough creativity as long as Emi plays and other players offer the same goal threat from Todd’s position. I don’t want to sell him, I just think he would be the easiest to replace.
Tim Ball says
I wondered how long before the inevitable talk of next season would start Mike😂
I am sure Webber/Farke are sorting out what they would like, what they need and who they can keep as we speak.
Personally I think, Emi and Max will sadly be gone before we kick off next season. One hope we have of keeping Emi is his price tag. I wouldn’t accept anything less than £50 million, and we are perfectly entitled to insist on this, and that maybe a deal breaker financially in these covid times.
I can remember a very interesting debate with Rafa Benitez on Sky’s Monday Night Football a while back when he said that when Newcastle got promoted he felt they had to play 5 at the back. He felt it was fine in the Championship to play a back 4 but that in the Premiership promoted teams playing that way would concede too many goals.
I also remember Daniel Farke saying last season ago he wanted to try this, injuries to key personnel made this impossible.
I think 3 centre halves with Bali Mumba and Dimitris Giannoulis as wing backs is worth ago.
I think we need a right back, either cover for Bali or to start, another centre half or possibly two, a holding midfielder if Skipp goes back to Spurs, a wide right player and a centre forward if Adam Idah goes out on loan.
That’s 6 at least so expect Start Webber to be very busy.
I hope players like Kenny Mclean, Lucas Rupp, Jordan Hugill, Onel Hernandez, Prez Placheta, Jacob Sorenson and Josh Martin are all given a chance. Decisions on Zimbo and Sam McCallum will have to be made as well. Not all of these players may make the step up in class but I feel they could all make a contribution.
But it maybe time to let Alex Tettey, Mario Vranjic, Marco Stieperman, Michael McGovern
( Goalkeeping Coach ? ) Sam Byram all depart.
I know that sounds harsh, Tettey has been a fantastic servant to this club and Vranjic is one of my favourite players but perhaps their time has come.
I feels so sorry for Sam Byram who has looked excellent when he is on the pitch but we cannot have a repeat of Matt Jarvis again. Lovely lad, so unlucky but one of out top earners at the time and just not contributing.
It is always a sad time when you lose players you have come to love and admire, but keeping faith with all the last Championship winning squad was a mistake. I wanted the club to do just that but this time serious thinking has to be done.
“Midfield Mike” says
I wonder if DF will repeat last season’s wish to play 3 at the back…. although that was only mentioned later in the season. Not sure why we only had 4 senior CB’s before the season started BEFORE injuries if that was what he really wanted.
Agree against Byram. He put in 2 of the best 1v1 man marking performances I’ve ever seen last season.
Agree about those senior players unable to help next season but disagree about the young squad lads, I don’t think they are good enough yet, except Andy O.
I’m worried about losing Emi. We are a less capable team without him than we were 2 seasons ago. With Emi, we don’t have a chance, unless we get someone sensational to replace him OR we change formation completely.
Jim Davies says
“You don’t stay up with 1-0 wins in the Premier League”. Arsenal won the league with plenty of 1-0 wins. If you win 1-0, you get three points, just the same as winning 5-0 or 3-2.
“Any team needs to be able to score at will”. If all the teams could score at will, it would be basketball scores every week.
As others have pointed out, you’re making a lot of assumptions, including keeping Skipp. We’ll see some changes, I’m sure, both ins and outs. We’re already committed to spending some money on Gibson and Giannulous, so how much else we have to spend may depend on what we raise from sales.
Nice article, but in terms of forecasting who’ll be playing, or how we do in terms of survival, it’s about as much use as trying to tell me next week’s lottery numbers.
“Midfield Mike” says
HI Jim, my point is that WBA are capable of scoring 5 against Chelsea and 3 against Southampton. And they will still be relegated. As much as you remember the boring boring Arsenal, I remember the Mark Robins second half performance that set the catalyst for our most successful season ever. 1–0 wins may have won a league for arsenal but Norwich will be aiming for survival…. a very different target. The next 2 games are going to prove how far Norwich have climbed the ladder. So far both Bournemouth and Watford have beaten Norwich 1-0, which directly shows how they finished above us last season. Beating them in the next 2 games will be a very telling show of how far we’ve come. OTBC
“Midfield Mike” says
Thanks everyone for their comments. I hoped it would trigger further debate!
I think our squad is best suited to 3-5-2 but it means 2 things. Letting the Skipp and McLean off the leash, and it probably means either doing some bazaaar with Todd…. like Wenger did with Thierry Henry, or it means he doesn’t necessarily start, which would be sacrilege! He’s such a fabulous player. It’s why I wonder if bids did come in, is Todd the easiest to justify releasing? For me, he’s too good to play on the left and he’s too predictable because he’s got to come inside when he receives the ball…. no point dribbling outside of his marker because there is no point in a conventional lofted cross once he’s there. Play him centrally as DF did at the start of last season and Todd has shown that he is a very clincal finisher indeed.
Next is Emi. What a player. But i
Wish fans would review the goals from when J Rhodes was with us. Late goals, a change of shape, 2 up front. Emi was playing behind abs the passes he drilled into feet, to 2 strikers ahead of him, was even better than what he can produce from the right. That deeper, central role also facilitates a defensive midfield screen because he’s so snappy in the tackle and that pair need someone to help. Our 4-2-3-1 out of possession shape is very exploitable even at this level, and will be horrendous in the Prem.
We haven’t scored regular headers from open for years – and whether DF argues otherwise or not, it makes so one dimensional in attack, a statement i feel is even more relevant since Dowell has started to shine. I’m absolutely amazed that we can go into the Prem unable to score from a corner, a lofted cross or an indirect dead ball situation. 3 big CBs would certainly alter that statistic.
I’ve got to finish up tonight but I’ll follow up tomorrow if anyone wants to enjoy this debate further.
Succinctly, I still haven’t seen a plan B
You have rose tinted glasses about Jordan Rhodes and you are wrong. He is not Premiership class, not by a long shot!
“Midfield Mike” says
When did I say Rhodes was a premier league player? I said Emi was even better when he played directly behind 2 strikers.
Colin M says
Jordan Rhodes would be a great bench asset next season but his ship has most likely sailed.
Matt Moroz says
A thought-provoking, but ultimately completely flawed article full of illogical statements and assumptions stated as fact. Let me illustrate by focusing on one specific paragraph:
“You don’t stay up with 1-0 wins in the Premier League”. You do if you manage enough of them.
“You simply will concede against even the lowliest teams”. Mere surmise, sir.
“Any team needs to be able to score at will”. Except no team does or ever has.
Such sloppiness pollutes this entire article, seemingly due to lazy thinking and the motivation to spin a certain narrative. How about a rather more optimistic look at what may or may not happen.
Almost everybody at the club now has Premier League experience. McLean, Buendia, Hanley, and Cantwell offer so much more than two years ago in terms of either consistency or maturity. Gibson appears more reliable/consistent than Zimmo or Godfrey ever seemed. And as for dead ball situations, it’s early days, but in the 30+ years of following the club, I’ve never seen a better free-kick than Dowell’s this past weekend. The way he shaped up to take it, the disguise on it, the whip and dip, was reminiscent of some of Beckham and Ronaldo’s finest efforts.
So we’re already looking in better shape, and reinforcements will be sourced. We cannot say 100% who will stay or leave. The team spirit this entire group has is clear to see. Here’s hoping that Emi’s new arrival helps motivate the family to remain in Pleasantville.
And finally. Am I the only person that thinks that, while often naive, on the whole, the team didn’t look overmatched too often last time out? So many close games and prior to the intermission the team seemed to be building consistency and optimism was high. I feel that the team suffered terribly from the intermission as there was so much speculation regarding whether or not the season would complete. Imagine a situation, whereby, in your mind, the season was going to be declared null and void, with your status as a Premier League player secured as a result. Only to have that carpet ripped from beneath your feet when you’d very much put your feet up psychologically.
While many of the names are the same, these are not the same players that lined up against Liverpool in that opening fixture around 20 months ago. The same is also true of Farke, Webber, and everybody else involved (or possibly evolved) at the club.
In short, while it is not a practical option, if I had the choice of rolling the dice in an attempt to change and improve, or go with exactly what we currently have, with the approach we currently have, I’d go with the latter without a moment’s thought.
“Midfield Mike” says
Matt, that was rather punchy.
You seem to have taken liberties with anything that suits your wish to critique and stifle my opinions but yet:
You’ve bypassed my optimistic acknowledgement about improvements to 4-2-3-1;
Glossed over that I stated they are more mature, pragmatic and wiser, amd much better defensively.
You ignore I’ve said Buendia is like Messi, that Pukki is too.
You’ve NOT contested our goal return from set pieces,
Or that our defensive midfielders have 3 goals between them all season.
Of the outfield players likely to start next season, aside from Emi and Pukki, fewer than 15 goals have been scored the this group..
My whole waffle of an article is that to CONTINUE TO IMPROVE, some difficult decisions may need to be made yet you say SW and DF will do precisely that and reinforce in the summer. It seems your intent was not to engage in thought, but to belittle.
I offer observations in trepidation and excitement of what is to follow in the summer.
It is interesting in your remarks about last season, that results didn’t reflect our effort and gameplan. I AGREE with you, which frankly is why I was suprised we stuck with 4-2-3-1. My opinion of the formation is that the most important player is the #10 and that you need to be able to effect the game, especially on the counter or turnover of possession, from the deep midfield role…. the first pivot. Interestingly, DF’s cultural understanding of this formation was precisely that,.., hence his insistence on giving Leitner, Trybull. Vrancic and Stieperman those roles. He over estimated them in the Premier League, no problem.
However, his primary tweak last winter was to be more defensive. He gave up those players in deeper roles for more robust operators in McLean and Tettey, and he insisted on Duda and Rupp (initially) in place of Todd and Emi. Except for Duda’s first game, I don’t remember our central 10 having a goal scoring chance after January, which is why we won once or twice for the next 4 months.
I think for the 4-2-3-1 to work against Premier League teams, we need to find the play-making balance from deep midfield, and we need the 10 to play almost permanently deeper than we do in the Chump.
But to politely Summarise your thoughts on the second half of last season, Danny Murphy said if almost week on MOTD, we were simply to one dimensional too much of the time and I hope that is what we aim to change for the better..
I think DF and SW are on the case. OTBC
Gordon Jablonski says
Unfortunately, this is where the powers that be earn their money. This puzzle is almost unsolvable until two things are confirmed. Firstly, who is staying and who isn’t. If we lose Emi, Skipp and Aarons then replacing them will become hugely important. Emi is almost impossible to replace at the price we bought him for but if we have 50 Mill in the kitty from his sale, then who knows? Mumba can fill the Aarons gap but will take time to get up to speed and will need a backup especially if Byram takes a while to recover and stays fit. I have faith in Sorensen because he has done everything asked of him in a quiet and professional manner since his arrival and I believe he will step up again when called upon.
The striker question is a beauty. Rhodes is a NO, Huegill is only a maybe, Idah will be good in the championship but I am not sure about the prem and I do not know much about the kids. I would honestly like to see us with a young number 10 scoring goals in Europe. We are going to have to spend something, I think we all agree with that, so here are some possibilities. These are only on goals scored this season, I have not seen any of them play, so feel free to say no. valuations are from Transfermkt.com and of course there is always whether or not they can play in the Prem, which I have not qualified. All are 23 years or under.
Shayne Lavery – Linfield 20 from 24 starts – value 50K
Mirlind Daku – Kosovo – 25 from 26 starts – value 350K
Patson Daka – Salzburg – 23 from 20 starts – value 20M
Dembo Darboe – Solligorsk – 19 from 22 starts – value 770k
Right Wing – if we keep playing 4-2-3-1
Kevin Rosero – Santa Lucia FC – Columbia – 15 from 22 – starts 6 assists – 225k
Teun Koopmeiners – AZ Alkmaar – 15 from 28 starts – 5 assists – 17.5 Mill
Noa Lang – Ajax – Left Wing – 13 from 24 starts – 7 assists – 20 Mill
Of course, it all depends on scouting etc.
The argument is whether are not we have time for one of them to develop.
After all, there was this young chap playing second division in Argentine who was bought for a bout 2.5Mill a couple of years back….
The second thing is money to spend. If we don’t sell any players where do we get the cash to spend and how much is available.
Depending on how good our scouting is I would like to see somewhere around 50 Mill spent, but remember around 16 Mill of that is already gone on Gibson and Giannoulis and there is also Quintilla to consider.
I wish our management every success unraveling this ball of string
Chris S says
Agree Mike. My main concern is how limited our goal threat is if the one main route we use is snuffed out. There’s not a lot coming from elsewhere (recent results aside). You have to give the opposition plenty to worry about goal-threat wise because that inhibits how they play too. Is the current system good enough at the top level? We tried once and it very much didn’t work. If we try again with the same result where do you go from there?
Agree with your main point that we need more goals and marginal gains. Teams do stay up in the premier league though by being able to see out one nil wins. In fact it’s the blue print for many of the perennial mid table sides and our inability to keep clean sheets was our biggest problem last time.
I also entirely agree we need more goals from set pieces. We’ve stopped conceding so many from them but we should be scoring more. I’ve never seen a player win as many headers as Hanley does but fail to hit the target with any of them.
For a very good coach, Farkes (and Webber’s) failure to bring any of these marginal gains last time we were up came as a surprise to me so it will be interesting to see if we have learnt,
Danjuma also mainly plays as more of a wide striker so that’s not a fair comparison.
Main transfer target has to be the holding midfielder to screen the defence.