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
Interesting read. I would certainly like to see Cantwell played more centrally so he can begin to dictate play. Not sure why you would drop Rashica without having seen Tzolis play. I liked Lees Melou and Gilmour and if we played with Pukki deeper and Cantwell more central maybe we would not need Noble. It will take time for new players to bed in. Like you I have long wondered why we don’t leave a fast player or two up at corners. The other team will always then leave a player extra to cover at the back and that means fewer to defend against. Plus it could be we that catch them on the break. But, I trust Farke and he will have his reasons. He will know the players much better than we do. To be fair, you can’t knock the miracles he has performed when we have had to keep selling player out from under him.
Steve Leach says
Lots of positives from Saturday but having no number 10 left Pukki hopelessly isolated
“Midfield Mike” says
Yes, it was even like that with 4-2-3-1, against the FEW teams that knew how to play us. And when Buendia didn’t play, even in the Championship, Pukki looked far less dangerous.
I really like the idea of Sarjent (unconventionally) playing behind Pukki. We’ve never had that and it gives a long ball release to beat the press, when necessary.
“Midfield Mike” says
Hi Steve, I actually meant to Rashica and not Tzolis. Sorry LOL.
I thought Rashica played well in parts but i suspect Tazolis will take some time to come up to speed.
Either way, it’s pointless he and Cantwell being so wide and away from Pukki, who needs both the creativity and spaces made by others to be closer to him.
martin penney says
An interesting read to be sure. People around me in the Barclay have moaned about 11 men defending at corners for so long .now and it was a topic for discussion yet again on Saturday, long before the Salah goal.
Consensus was that you either have to hack it forward to nobody or try to build from the back from perilous areas of the pitch while under extreme pressure from the opposition.
I won’t say that Billy Gilmour is undroppable, but let’s put it this way: I am sure Mr Tuchel would expect him to start a hefty number of matches
“Midfield Mike” says
I thought Gilmour, who was man marked by one of the best in the business, still played really well. The problem is that he SIMPLY limited physically. Nothing Colney can do can make him sprint any faster. You need legs in midfield, pure and simple…. Especially at this level. I really want Gilmour in or around the starting 11 but I’ve never believed in compensating for physical limits of players. City have made that mistake for years with the fabulous Tettey, but the demands on our other midfielders were so profound because Tetts could only pass backwards and sideways and never more than 15 yards. It’s a big reason why Leitner failed in the Prem…. Teams would literally leave Tettey alone and double up on the playmaker, rendering him useless. Gilmour has more energy, but I don’t think he necessarily offers so much as to impose the need for 2 other midfielders around him to compensate.
martin penney says
I love this kind of article, which consistently generates talking points, I’m always interested to hear what other folks think.
The one issue where I believe there is consensus concerns our lack of physicality. Not a dearth of athleticism as such although we do have a couple or more on board who are obviously lacking in that department.
Nobody surely wants a Carl Bradshaw but equally, to me anyway, nobody has ever really replaced Damien Francis.
If we all thought the same, etc 🙂
“Midfield Mike” says
Cheers for the comments Martin
I feel the only problem with playing Cantwell more centrally is that, despite his enthusiasm, he tends to hold on to the ball too long and is not good enough in a recovery tackle. His position should be on the right wing but dropping deep to cover when Aarons makes his run. I thought Rashica was good on the left but had no options when he got clear. Would like to see Lees Melou in the CAM position as he’s stronger, able to ride a challenge, and can head the ball as well as being able to thread a pass. We do need a big strong CDM. Someone to cover the ground and win aerial challenges as well as taking pressure off of Gilmour so that he can think more offensively with his passes. With the fullbacks, i agree, in a back four, we don’t both pushing up at the same time. If one goes, one stays to cover.
“Midfield Mike” says
I think the precise reason why Todd needs to try and hold the ball for longer is the lack of movement around him, the distances between he and Pukki, and the time for other midfielders to offer viable passes for Todd.
He generally receives the ball far deeper than an attacking midfielder ideals wants…. And it’s up to him to try and hold and carry the ball to a position where he can involve other attackers.
Young team, still learning, against less good teams 4-3-3 so Sorensen for CDM, Gilmore and PLM ahead, Dowel Cantwell, Pukki. Against best teams, set up for counter attack, Sorensen and PLM Defensive midfields, Gilmore Quarterback just in front, Rashica left wing, Tzolis Right wing, Captain America up top. If we as are behind and chasing the game, take 1 midfielder off and stick Idah as a second striker.
Mick Dennis says
Mark Noble? It’s not a computer game or a Fantasy Football entry. He’s in the last season of a £2.6m-a-year deal. Gary Cahill has been released by Palace.
Jim Davies says
And Cahill is not interested in playing for any team north of the Thames, according to reports this week. Brighton looks a probable destination for him, they having conned Arsenal into spending £50M. Noble is extremely unlikely, and would be a very expensive option, and is no different to Gilmour in terms of building a team for the future.
Alan Gardner says
Norwich’s style over the last few years has been to try and keep the ball, invite teams to come at them and then spring the counter attack. It worked in the Championship, but the Premier League is a different ball game. Keeping the ball for 60% of the time without scoring achieves nothing.. We still have to find a new Maddison, who will supply the through balls for our forwards and then we might get a few more results like we did 2 years ago against Man City. Players like Cantwell and Dowel do have those passes in their locker. Unfortunately in this league teams do not allow them to spend too much time on the ball.
One match does not make a season, but we have to learn quickly.
“Midfield Mike” says
“Keeping the ball for 60% of the time without scoring achieves nothing.”
Although it’s not the fashion, I agree with you 100%. Keep the ball to protect a lead, or to see how out a draw when you’ve no chance of scoring.
It’s not a moan, but last season City scored nearly 20 fewer goals than they did in 2018/19, before losing Buendia. The incision needs to come from somewhere and if you play 3 midfielders, somebody must take that responsibility.
Mark Noble, who is well beyond his best to replace Billy Gilmour, one of the brightest young players in the world. And MFW let this article through? Embarrassing.
Bruce C says
Interesting analysis (genuinely) – but your proposed 11 seems to compound the issue of getting overrun in midfield – been a while since I’ve seen a 4-2-4 formation! Noble is a bit left field and wouldn’t be my choice but I’ve seen worse suggestions.
Have to judge after the transfer window is done of course.
A really good read and one of the more sensible assessments I have read since Saturday, apart from “the result is irrelevant” which to me and many others is always important, certainly more so than some of the wishy-washy “it so good to be back” comments etc
Not sure about Noble but I get your point and we certainly need somebody like that
I agree the worst thing is a lot of things certainly in our defending seem exactly the same as 2 years ago which is crazy, I also have seen some of the more blinkered writers and fans bigging up the fact that we had stats wise as much possession as Liverpool……on dear….ours was all in our own third of the pitch and looked as though it could lead to a Liverpool goal at any minute. Pukki has also come in for criticism but to be honest as you have pointed out he really doesn’t stand a chance playing in a side with those tactics.
Gary Gowers says
Wasn’t it “good to be back”, then Martin?
I do apologise for saying so.
Of course it was good to be back but the point I was making was it seemed that it was more important to some than the result….I would rather have beaten Liverpool than be back to witness yet another defeat .
I do apologise for having a different view
Alex B says
Has anyone thought about Zimmerman sitting infront of the two CB he reads the game well and always gives 100% and would be available to drop back into making it a 3 CB at times
Tim Ball says
Interesting article Mike.
I am sure Daniel Farke would have some well thought out come backs to you on all your points Mike, bar one which i will come to later.
For a start I think Mark Noble would be well out of our price range.
Zonal marking versus man to man at corners is a well worn argument, but I was worried to see Pukki chasing Virgil van Dyk around the penalty area from corners. I remember Jamal Lewis being tasked with that job 2 years ago and dear old Virgil did not even have to jump to score.
But for me the one thing I do not understand and, I would like educating on this , is that I cannot understand why Daniel deploys time and time again no one the edge of the box from corners when we are defending ?
I can remember against Reading 2 seasons ago they escaped with an undeserved point because of this. Even in local amateur football we always had a man on the edge of the area defending corners.
Salah had time to control and shoot, with a man on the edge of the box he would have been hard pressed to do either.
I can easily understand that Norwich fans are bored that Pukki is all the time your striker. Still after 1 game putting away a player who has scored in 3 seasons almost 70 league goals sounds very short sighted.
Norwich problem is overall problem, now you have also shuffled team chemistry so its not anymore only quality problem. I wrote before that Norwich looks like a team which will change its tactics and playing style, reason to that desperation. This team looked very desperate second half of season last time in premier league. You changed your playing style then. Now your team look desperate right from first game. From highlights you can see when Liverpool scored 0-3, Pukki hides his head inside his shirt and looked desperate. I dont know if he can really be so naive, that he actually believed that things would change from last time in premier league. One big and impossible problem to fix is fact that your attacking play was basically based on chemistry and individual play of Pukki and Buendia. Now its broken and its not really surprising that Buendia is under criticism in Villa. Buendias role in Norwich was perfect for him and covering Grealish is already impossible task.
Norwich-Liverpool looked very much like fa cup game where championship team tries to fight against top 10 premier league team. Of course that does not mean 100% sure relegation, it depends always in league football that how many other clubs are having problems to get points. So limit to avoid relegation can be also very low.
You forgot one other left over from 2 yrs ago. The combination of zonal and man marking from Norwich on corners is not doable. To leave premiere level midfielders open at the top of the box will cost Norwich every week. Sala should have had a couple more with the time he had. It was as if Norwich defenders were passing the ball out to Liverpool for shooting practice. Got to contest the edge of the 18.
“Midfield Mike” says
Hi all, thanks for some great comments (as usual).
A word on why I suggested Mark Noble. Firstly, most importantly, I do not see an ideal PAIRING between any or McLean, Rupp, Lees-Melou or Gilmour. However, with every single one of those players, I.e. ANY CONTINGENCY AT ALL, I believe Mark Noble would partner any and all perfectly.
That means ultimate flexibility and as I’m not certain that DF knows if he wants a back 3 or other formation, this last midfield player MUST be bang-on.
A CDM specific player is all well and good, but such a player and….
Gilmour alone? Nope, I think it would lack goals and physical presence.
With Lees-Melou? Nope, he looks class but he doesn’t appear to be as creative as Vrancic.
With McLean? No passing.
With Rupp… I think that’s probably the last choice for most (respectfully to the player).
Sure, DF can repeat a midfield 3 but in my mind, he’s doing so to cover deficiencies with each individual within that 3. That’s a waste of a defender or a waste of goals.
I have no idea about how much City would need to pay, loans very often come with flexible wage structures…. But Noble has ALWAYS been a player to put football first and this is possibly his last season at the top. I think he would be to the other midfielders like a Gary Megson was to Crook and Goss.
The key point is not the player I mention but the ability to play alongside any of the midfielders we have an be able to cover all deficits from each. Whoever we get, I would prefer more than just a CDM.
Mick Dennis says
There is no possibility of Noble coming to us this season. It’s completely barmy to pick a midfielder whom you perceive to have the right qualities and suggest, apparently seriously, that he’d be the panacea. That is simply not how football works in the real world, and suggesting it might invalidates the whole piece. Lots of people in this thread have tried to tell you that more gently, and yet you didn’t get it.
What about Messi.? He could play behind Pukki.
“Midfield Mike” says
What about Huckerby?
Too old, just like Noble!
Overall, one of the better analyses but a couple of areas need addressing: it’s not the 11 that’s the issue on corners, it’s not using man-to-man (which is why there’s 11, as the opponents don’t have 11 in the box!). Zonal doesn’t work; time to change.
Second, Pukki’s not a midfielder (certainly not an outside one); either drop him or switch to 2 up front. Sargent would be good & Teemu can play deeper.
Third, Noble’s not at the club, so can’t play; & here I disagree with your dismissal of Sorensen. He’s a midfielder who proved his worth as a defender. Start him next to Gilmour or L-M.
Definitely put Todd in central MF then Rashica on the wing with either L-M or Tzolis on the other side.
I can never understand either why we dont leave one or two players up on the halfway line at corners .The opposition then have three players marking them.I would have thought that a DM would have been a priority signing,but Webber was waiting on Skipp I suppose. Definitely need one now though.