As excited as I am about next season, as confident as I am that Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke will get it right, I am still uneasy about some of the decision-making. For example, we don’t appear to be in the market for a striker, so what happens if Teemu Pukki gets injured?
I admire the optimism of some, but as things stand this squad (admittedly still only in June) lacks depth.
As of today, Farke is carrying forward nine outfield players that routinely played a part in the last promotion, and arguably only two or three others barely good enough for the subs bench. In my opinion, this squad is currently in a weaker position than during promotion in 2018-19. It has a better core to work from but we need several signings to counterbalance. That season, we carried forward 16 outfield players that routinely played a part in the promotion.
Back then, our various set-ups included play-makers and our attack was physically varied. Notable passing angles meant our fullbacks were involved in creating more goals, and we had dead-piece specialists. Crucially, our play-makers enabled tactical shifts from substitutions.
We also had a physical yet technical foil in the central #10 slot, and had different qualities in the final third, while Pukki was a yard faster than he is now. And even then Match of the Day pundits correctly analysed that we were one-dimensional. Wow. If we were predictable then, without Emi Buendia and Oliver Skipp, what are we now?
In 2019 our centre-backs scored 11 goals whereas this season, Grant Hanley scored once. Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis made 10 assists whereas this season there were only four assists from the fullbacks.
The central defensive midfielders scored seven in 2018-19 but even from deep still assisted seven more. This season there were only three goals but with ten assists, cognisant of the fact Skipp is no longer with us.
Marco Stieperman and Buendia were the two primary attacking midfielders in 2018-19 and they scored 17 and assisted 18 others, whereas Kieran Dowell and Todd Cantwell only managed 11 goals and seven assists – significantly fewer – although, in fairness, Dowell did suffer that ankle injury early on in the season.
Moreover, Stieperman and Leitner in particular enabled formation changes that also saw Onel Hernandez and Mario Vrancic further score 18 goals and assist in 16 others from attacking midfield. How many goals did Przemysław Placheta or Hernanedez score from the bench this season?
Also, Jordan Rhodes scored as many as Hugill and Idah combined. We now need multiple, concurrent substitutes if we are to change our setup, whereas before Leitner or Stieperman meant tweaking was feasible.
But it doesn’t make sense does it?
Cantwell and Dowell are better players, period. The problem, for me is that City do not have the deep-lying playmakers anymore and have dropped the foil of Stieperman, so unless there are changes to the setup, Cantwell and Dowell are going to lack a quality supply in the final third. That’s before you remove the security of Skipp and the brilliance of Buendia.
We need someone to ‘step up to the plate’ and in order to do this they need to be given the tools. Clearly part of the solution is already on board in the for of Milot Rashica.
But can City afford the deep-lying player-maker without forgoing the defensive robustness that Skipp provided? I’m not sure. Perhaps that’s the role for which Billy Gilmour – if he arrives – could fulfil.
Or could Philip Billing replace Stieperman as a physical counterpoint? He could, but if Farke wants a back three we could be spending 15million on a central #10 that won’t play, unless he’s played in a different role.
Can we afford that?
The team from 2019 only gained four fewer points and the goal difference was only three fewer, but they scored nearly 20 more goals. Before jumping on the obvious statement of defensive improvement, which I wholeheartedly agree with, spare a thought for the impact of injuries.
In 2019-20 Farke didn’t stand a chance, but had he been able to play a three-man backline with the attacking attributes of the promoted team? Well, that’s a different story.
While, as things stand, this squad lacks depth, the core of it is adaptable and talented and with just a little bit of tinkering, Farke could make some massive gains. Give him the platform for a three-man backline, which he wanted after the last promotion, and I am confident it will play out nicely.
Regarding our lack of central midfield depth, Alex Mowatt at Barnsley has played in front of a back three all last season, and as club captain played all 46 games while scoring eight and assisting in seven. He out-performed every central defensive midfielder we have except Skipp and even out-scored Cantwell and Dowell, who are attacking midfielders.
It’s only a couple of weeks to pre-season, and with players like Mowatt, you just can’t go wrong, and he’s a free agent.
And, to throw in a curveball, I’d offer a contract to Alex Pritchard. The lad is a quality footballer when he wants to be and in a team devoid of Buendia and in a structure so reliant on technical proficiency, he could be a rabbit in a hat.
In a team that is short on squad depth, encouraging him might just be like taking a punt on tyre fitter from Carlisle, or asking a superstar to leave Man City for lowly Norwich, or believing in a striker failing at Celtic.
There is nothing to lose by giving a humbled Pritchard a second chance but after losing Buendia, there might be something to gain, especially in the supply to Pukki.
Very considered and well thought out piece Mike making some pertinent observations which hopefully Messrs Webber and Farke are aware of. I genuinely think we have a better team than last time around but it does need strengthening and more depth. We seem more ambitious this time so hopefully a few more quality additions will do the trick. Whilst I am all for giving people a second chance, the likelihood of Alex Pritchard returning is slightly less than zero 😀.
Some very interesting thoughts. Would Mowatt be willing to go from 46 games a season to potential bench warmer. Pritchard would probably be grateful for a job anywhere at the minute, but he didn’t set the prem alight, nor has he been outstanding in the Championship and is he injury prone? I accept that his current situation may have humbled him and I do have mixed feelings on this one, but I think I would rather go with some of our own youngsters eg Josh Martin. Pritchard may block the emergence of younger talent. I am still hopeful that we will work something with Spurs re Aarons/Skipp.
Pete B says
With all due respect Mike I have to disagree with nearly everything you have written there.
First of all “we don’t seem to be in the market for a striker…” Based on what? Lack of rumours on unreliable blogs and websites? Well I’ve read a couple and dismissed them as pure speculation on the basis that the earliest we usually find out about Webber’s business dealings is when they’re imminent.
Pukki’s loss of a “yard of pace” is a bit extreme. I get what you’re trying to say but again disagree completely. When he’s confident (and more importantly fully fit) he showed that sharpness last season. He looks a shadow of the player he can be when injured (as at the Euros now, or post Leicester away in the Prem season).
The stats you quote about goals from defence is probably due to the defenders defending more. We didn’t go down last time because Zimmermann and Hanley weren’t scoring enough. It’s patently evident that Farke was concentrating last season tightening up the area we needed to, to be better equipped for this season coming. Defensive solidity is what keeps you up, rather than a gung-ho approach and entertaining failure.
It’s too early to say whether we get Skipp back, and the Gilmour rumours look encouraging. The holding midfield role is vital and I am confident we’ll be covered there. Another centre back is high on the list and rightly so.
As for getting Pritchard back… well while I liked him for us in the Championship a few years back, imagine the outcry if the sum total of our ambition were to be a player who couldn’t even get in the first team of a Huddersfield outfit struggling to stay out of League One.
I for one am pretty excited as to how our future looks. Losing Emi was inevitable, but Rashica looks an exciting signing. Gilmour looks quality if we can get him. Also I’d argue that the best performance of last season (along with dismantling Huddersfield and outclassing Brentford) was destroying Forest away when Dowell and Cantwell looked immense (and when Emi wasn’t even playing…)
Completely agree with all that you have commented.
I would add that the application of a solid dose of statistics as the numbers quoted fail to take account of either
1. the number of games played by each player, or
2. the fact that if one player is not in the team another takes their place; any loss of goals or assists is not total, it may be partial and it may even be increased.
Bruce C says
Couldn’t have said it better Pete. rarely have I disagreed so much with a piece written about NCFC.
I can only assume the Pritchard suggestion was a joke that fell flat and we’ll leave it at that.
Much as I enjoy the speculation of who we might sign, the truth is we simply don’t know who is under consideration and this past week has just underlined that. We could at least give Farke & Webber a bit of time before we start decrying the state of all things Yellow & Green, I think they may just about have earned that.
Not sure if Pritchard hasn’t been a bit too long in the wilderness (although we would welcome him with open arms of course) but I am totally with you on Mowatt, I’ve been waiting for a press release to say he’s coming in, I can’t believe we wouldn’t have been looking at him at some point.
Herr Cutz says
Looking for a class striker is needle in a haystack job, bargains like the Goat seldom happen, and we an’t go the dosh for an in form goal scorer. I’m sure Webbo is looking but I’m not holding my breath
You make some valid points in your article Mike and some of the other comments re Pukki being a shadow of himself after his injury at Leicester. The trouble that I envisage is who can SW/DF recruit who would be happy to ‘warm the bench’ in case Pukki suffers an injury?? Mind you, it would be great if Pukki could get a break from having to play every game..
As we all know, chances/goals are MUCH harder to come by in the PL with better defences/GKs and we can’t rely so heavily on our Finnish finisher – the midfield has to weigh in with some goals and I’d love to see Hanley getting some heading practice during pre-season, so that he can get a few on target.
It seems as though Rashica could turn out to be an outstanding piece of work by SW and let’s hope that NCFC can get the necessary clearance for him to join his new teammates in the very near future
Kev Hicks says
I think you’re right to highlight many of these issues Mike, and it’s a very thought-provoking article, but I do not think there is that much doom and gloom at Carrow Road.
At this point we’ve got four very good centre-halves – Hanley., Gibson, Zimbo and Omobamidele.
A purpose-built replacement for Aarons in Bali Mumba although I’d be happy to see Maxi stay!
I would have felt happier to see both Giannoulis and Quintilla (will NEVER forget that Xavi free kick!) available, we would be substituting class for class every time, although we do have Sorensen.
We either buy in a replacement for Emi or we don’t – Webber/Farke will decide – have said it before will say it again, Todd Cantwell can fill Emi’s boots. It could be the making of him and full England caps could be one of the rewards. He has a relationship with Super-Teemu already!
Midfield – the Mayor and Sorensen look quite accomplished to me and I think Lukas Rupp gets a bad press on the internet, he is a good, honest work-horse. Hopefully we will strengthen it some more.
Hernadez and Plachetta – how can we tell their true worth to us, they never seem to be part of a settled side, but I think we’ll soon know, and just to point out there have been several occasions where Hernandez takes on and beats defences, and he looks good when he’s playing ‘inside’.. It always seems to me that these two wingers suffer most from early substitutions and late appearances, so its hard to judge them honestly as part of a productive team.
Tim Krul is as good as any other goalkeeper in the Prem, and we all know what Gunny 2 is capable of on his day – if Webber could nip back in time and come back with a young, fit Kevin Keelan my cup would truly run over as far as keepers are concerned. As it is, we have McGovern and Barden waiting in the wings with Mair stretching to look over their shoulders – which ain’t bad, is it?
If you watch Rashica on Youtube you will see a very fast, enterprising wing-attacker with an eye for goal – we need to see how good he is at playing for others, but if he is good at that too – big bonus!
And we still have Sinani and Soto to come, plus Dowell, several untapped youth players, and whoever Santa Webber brings in before the window shuts, can’t wait!
I think we have a strong squad and I think we’ll stay up!