City have been more active in this transfer window than most clubs. In this article, I will look at how things are evolving as the season fast approaches.
Daniel Farke will have known, for months, his preferred system for the Premier League. He will either want a back three or he won’t, but which will it be? It is important to know because the systems are so fundamentally different and massively impact on how the remaining midfield and attack are set up and who is recruited to best suit that system.
First off, it is important to understand that the passing angles created with three centre-backs can mitigate the necessity for deep midfielders to beat the press and trigger the first pivot. The idea is that beating a press results in a numerical overload in more advanced areas of the pitch. Therefore, Billy Gilmour might not always be deemed necessary if we play a back three. However, persist with 4-2-3-1 and GIlmour is vital, because, like Mo Leitner or Tom Trybull before him, Farke has the player to beat the press.
In midfield, without Emi Buendia in attack, there is a necessity for passing and creativity. If Gilmour is taking the ball from the centre-backs as the first pivot, as a central defensive midfielder, he will not be the man capable of setting a tempo. This leaves a massive onus on what we assume Pierre Lees-Melou must surely be bringing to the party. Furthermore, if Farke wants a back three with both Kenny McLean and Lees-Melou then the only way of playing Gilmour as well is with 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1.
Let’s think about these systems for a moment. Playing all three central midfielders in 3-5-2 would mean a second striker, and we don’t have one. And it also means no space for Todd Cantwell, Milot Rashica or Kieran Dowell. So is that likely? I suspect not.
A few months ago I suggested we’d be best suited to 3-4-2-1 and why I still like the idea, with the recruitment so far, I no longer see that as being optimum because move Gilmour forward closer to Teemu Pukki, and we become woefully short of pace and height in attack.
But I think that we must play a new formation because without Buendia, I have no clue where our goals will come from at the moment. Pukki without Buendia is not a threat in the Championship, let alone the Premier League.
We will need players closer to Teemu in order for him to compensate. I personally would like to see is Cantwell and Rashica start closer to Pukki as an attacking three, but this necessitates ball-playing midfielders as well as defensive energy and if you play a back three, it makes that midfield combination very tricky to get right, and McLean wouldn’t be one of them.
I only see that with Lees-Melou and Gilmour together, which would be a very brave call from Farke (and that’s an assumption that the Frenchman is suited to the role). It could well be that McLean is now the odd one out, unless we persevere with 4-2-3-1, in which case I see all three possibly starting, but I think the left of defence, with Ben Gibson and Dimitris Giannoulis, will be a weak link in that system, at this level.
I cannot get my head around not signing players like Alex Mowatt on a free or why Championship strikers like Yakou Meite aren’t given their chance. Adam Idah skinning Ben Gibson and slotting past Michael McGovern in a training exercise is not a yardstick to measure potential. It is a fallacy that he is expected to cover for Pukki in either injury or as a substitute.
Mario Vrancic could change the shape of games from the bench, a type of player we no longer have in the squad. Alex Tettey could see out a game defensively, a change we no longer have available on the subs bench. Buendia and Oliver Skipp have not been replaced, by Colney’s own admission. We are four first-team starters down and we’ve brought only three outfield players in.
Please God, get another striker. Fundamentally, City are, as things stand, starting this season weaker than we finished the last season.
So although I’m excited, I don’t see a logical, tactical evolution with the summer transfers so far. Meanwhile, Brentford have gone about this logically. They’ve nailed their #1 targets for Matchday 1, probably for their starting 11, and they’ve spent about the same as us (without selling Ivan Toney in the process).
They paid the extra for Kris Ajer that City would rather pay for a development player. The Bees have also brought in Frank Onyeka and Myles Peart-Harris. These further two players are very well-known names in positions missing from our jigsaw. I see a clear plan with Brentford’s signings; I see them, logically, slotting into a basic, well-drilled formation and improving it immediately, but I don’t presently understand the immediate integration of our own summer signings.
I would have expected Stuart Webber to have had nailed-on transfer targets the day we were mathematically promoted, months ago, but that really does not seem to be the case at all. So far, I see supplementary players unexpectedly snapped up rather than core players chased down, as Brentford have done.
To be clear, I recognise transfers are ongoing and I am very excited about all three outfield signings so far. I see them as valuable and I can see clear opportunities for them but I just don’t see an obvious transition into the starting 11 without further changes first.
I think Norwich would be foolish to release Cantwell and we were promised record signings after Buendia, losing Todd shouldn’t be a necessity to keep that promise. I see the transfers so far as half the job done, and it’s been done well, so let’s keep it going.
But please Stuart, let’s have a dedicated striker amongst the rest of the incomings. Josh Sargent perhaps?