First off, what a fabulous effort from the lads against Liverpool. The result is irrelevant, it was wonderful to see all the old faces around us and to see so many new faces too.
Generally, City were in the game in the first half but they obviously faltered in the second against one of the best teams in the world. However, Daniel Farke didn’t make it easy for us, and I’ll be the blunt retort to the forgiving analyses I’ve read everywhere else.
11 Men Defending Corners
We’ve seen this insanity for what is now five seasons. Every single week, literally, we are going to concede goals as we did to Mo Salah. It is excruciating to watch and not lost on MoTD pundits (again).
The Base Formation
I make no apologies for this one – it is a moan. Even in the Championship, even with Oliver Skipp in the side, City were vulnerable to the counter. Our attacking overloads from advanced fullbacks and the huge spaces (even with three central midfielders) between wide midfielders and (the rest of the team) leaves us woefully exposed. This is a Farke problem, not the players’. “You get punished if you don’t get back into shape”.
Wingbacks or Fullbacks, not both
I have no idea why we commit to overlapping fullbacks when they have nobody to cross to, because Teemu Pukki, in complete isolation, has dropped deep to link the midfield and the width.
I have never seen Max Aarons so exhausted as he was for Liverpool’s second goal. Committed upfield, he was so tired he was 20 yards away from Firmino when he tapped in at 2-0. Farke shouldn’t be setting up to be so exposed, as was not lost on MoTD pundits (again).
Pukki was dead on his feet at half-time, so was Milot Rashica, Todd Cantwell was slowing by the minute, and Aarons too. By the time the changes were made, Liverpool went from 1-0 to 3-0. It was poor player management. The 20-30 minutes when those players were forced to keep playing will have exponentially affected their recovery time this week, not to mention risked muscular injuries. There were ample fresh legs on the bench. I’m sure Liverpool would have scored a second and third anyway, but the risk to the players was ridiculous, and the unnecessary fatigue made it easier for the Reds.
I’d really hoped we would see our supporting midfield closer to Teemu than actually transpired. The opposite was almost true. Cantwell is not a winger, yet both Todd and Rashica almost hugged the touchlines and nobody was ever anywhere near Pukki, who had one sniff of goal from the one time Cantwell was closer to him and played him in midway through the first half. City won’t score like that this season and Pukki won’t get the chances he needs to turn his conversion rate into points.
I keep reading and hearing two things: City should play with a back three or City need a central defensive midfielder. It is almost like sportswriters in Norfolk think you can play with 12 or 13 players. Stuart Webber and Farke signed Billy Gilmour and Pierre Lees-Melou in the summer and in doing so, probably made Kenny McLean and Lukas Rupp third and fourth choice, and then everyone demands a CDM to replace Skipp, probably making them fourth and fifth choice when/if that signing is made.
I thought both (new) midfielders were excellent against Liverpool but they scarcely ever had a forward pass available to them and people wonder why they were susceptible to Klopp’s press. Liverpool are a fabulous team but let’s not pretend that Milner, at 35, or Oxlade-Chamberlain, should be able to over-power three City midfielders. The angles to our wide players were easily shut down and if Pukki plays alone, as Farle insists upon, then the opposition will likely have one or two excess players to press and receive passes, and City’s midfield will chase shadows and run themselves into the ground.
I repeat, Lees Melou and Gilmour were brilliant, but to add another dedicated midfielder to those two is going to impose very stifling formation restrictions. If I might suggest….
If Gary Cahill is viable, then surely Mark Noble is too. He’ll hardly play at West Ham now and City need a stop-gap at CDM. Last season we loaned the position to Skipp rather than establish a player there for the future. It is now the wrong time to bed-in someone like Sorensen because the stakes are too big. For me, this is actually the time we need a loan for a CDM. Noble is a player that merges the abilities of Gilmour with the running stamina of McLean, the defensive instincts of Skipp, the calmness of Tettey and the aerial presence of Lees-Melou.
All the Archant writers are saying so, as is every fan, even Mr Goss on Radio Norfolk: City are going to struggle to get the correct mix from what they’ve got, and without it, you can forget tinkering the attack or reinforcing the defence. In the modern game, the midfield is the be-all and end-all. We all saw Skipp yesterday against Man City. Enough said.
I really think, despite my comments above, that there were many positives to the game and fatigue (after the Covid outbreak) was always against us.
Farke had a very strong starting 11, and his choice to play three midfielders is a consequence of the summer signings but with them are obvious tactical limitations. City won’t score enough goals with that base formation, whether it’s against Liverpool or Brentford.
The loss of Buendia is profound and we haven’t applied a tactical formula in pre-season that will compensate for him.
To play three centre-backs will be at a forfeit of either Lees-Melou or Gilmour (dare I say both) or it will be at the forfeit of an attacking midfielder, where we’ve invested £30m on Tzolis, Rashica and Sargent, let alone Cantwell.
However, to conversely play a dedicated CDM is going to put an attacking, creative emphasis on both Gilmour and Lees-Melou, and I don’t think that is correct either.
Webber has got to nail down that Skipp-like replacement but I think they might have to swallow some pride because I think the consequence will be to drop a summer midfield signing. And when that midfielder arrives, Farke has also got to make some very brave calls in the attacking mix too.
Sargent looked very capable in his late cameo, Tzolis, Cantwell, Rashica… that is a hell of an attacking midfield…. and as for Pukki? Well, I’d always play him but unless we sort out the midfield mix and we become capable of compensating for Buendia, then Pukki might even be the odd one out.
Hanley, Gibson, attacking fullbacks, brilliant starts for all the new signings… it all bodes well. The squad gets better with each summer signing, the fitness will follow for everyone. I am sure Farke knows how he wants to improve but a lot of my points are recurring, and not lost on tactically astute fans or professional pundits.
This might seem to be overly negative but it is not. I loved that game on Saturday and I am optimistic for the season to come but both Webber and Farke are possibly making this harder for themselves than it needs to be. Brentford have kept it simple and so should we.
But likewise, let’s be very very clear, the MoTD pundits criticised Norwich for precisely the areas of concern that armchair quarterbacks have fretted upon for months and months.
The only thing Alan Shearer didn’t say was “it was almost as it was 2 years ago”. But there again, as Gary Lineker said, “easier days ahead”. Nothing to be sad about, a day to be jubilant about, everything to look forward too but very simple things need to be made right.
I’ll put this as a team suggestion to you all and would welcome any tactical debate in your comments.
Tzolis – Cantwell – Pukki
Lees-Melou – Mark Noble
Giannoulis – Gibson – Hanley – Aarons