One of the most heralded aspects of Farkeball is its fluidity; the likelihood of a right-back playing as a striker for thirty seconds or a left-winger dropping into a third centre-back position. The reality, however, is slightly less anarchic than you might expect, and requires meticulous work on the training ground.
The only fluid element to the City attack is that Daniel Farke doesn’t mind which players end up where. As long as the relevant zones and areas are covered at all times, most players, barring the back three, are free to interchange across these positions.
In this way, Farke’s system resembles a sudoku puzzle, with players required to cover certain lines without ever doubling up in the same area. Each flank generally includes three zones: the wide area, the half-space (or channel) and the area in behind. One example is this situation in the recent win at Derby. Max Aarons receives the ball wide, in a fairly traditional right-back position. Emi Buendia occupies the inside channel.
As Aarons runs inside, into the area Buendia had been, the Argentinian moves wide. The same two zones remain occupied but the two players in them have switched.
They go on to switch again, as Buendia, the dangerous attacker moves closer to goal.
In both situations, the man who had the ball out wide has chosen to come inside, not only to create the midfield overload that Farke desires, but to create more options. If the man on the ball runs wide, the only way they can secure possession and maintain the attack is to find their inside man, whereas when they move inside, they can go infield or pass back outside, where the flanker will now have space created by the inward movement.
Another aspect of this pattern that’s crucial in making it work is that of the player running vertically. In this example it’s Todd Cantwell, the furthest forward City player on the pitch. He occupies Derby left-back Craig Forsyth, creating space for the two right-sided players.
Derby left-winger Kamil Jozwiak follows Buendia inside, leaving Aarons in acres. In an ideal defensive situation Rams midfielder Graeme Shinnie would’ve followed Buendia and allowed Jozwiak to stay with Aarons, but this is the benefit of positional fluidity.
The rapid defensive organisation required to deal with the quality of City’s fluidity is beyond the capabilities of most Championship teams, allowing the Canaries to bamboozle opposition into submission.
The inclusion of Cantwell in this move is vital to the effectiveness of its end product. Another benefit of attacking fluidity is the overloads it creates, with players from other areas of the pitch drifting into certain areas to disproportionately populate it, pooling huge amounts of space elsewhere on the pitch.
Here, with Cantwell’s movement focusing the play disproportionately on the right side, Giannoulis pushes forward on the left, finding space as Buendia launches a diagonal pass to him. Giannoulis lays off to Kenny McLean for a good chance.
Similar examples are regularly seen in City attacks, as here where Buendia picks the ball up wide. Aarons is inside and Cantwell is running beyond the last man.
As Buendia drifts inside with the ball, almost into a central midfield position, Aarons occupies the channel while Cantwell, noticing that neither wide man is stretching the play on the flank, sprints into this area.
There are also defensive benefits to this sudoku-style approach. Having a player based in each channel means that if the ball is lost passing options are minimised for the opposition and counter-pressing becomes easier.
This setup suits Buendia especially, given that angle of pressing is a rare weakness in his game. The number 17 so keenly hunts after the ball that he almost forgets about any other objective, heading straight for the player in possession and often failing to cut the passing lanes available to them.
The Canaries’ setup organises Buendia’s movements for him and allows him to head directly for the ball while others cover passing lanes.
Another advantage of Farke’s system is its ability to exploit the half-space. Again catering to Buendia’s strengths, the ‘sudoku’ setup places City’s most creative player in the most dangerous area on the pitch. I explained why the half-space is so dangerous in my piece on how to beat Norwich City, but briefly, its main advantage is in the fact that it’s not specifically covered by either full-back or centre-back, and possession there is bound to drag one of them out of position.
Buendia’s trademark assist usually comes from the half space, as it most famously did at Anfield in 2019.
Norwich City’s system may seem chaotic and unpredictable, but what makes it so effective is its trademark Farke meticulousness.