For all the frustrations we currently feel, I remain optimistic that City will survive. But I also think it is dangerous to downplay the last two games and hide behind reputations.
Leicester’s defence was as makeshift as City’s against Manchester City in 2019, which included Ibrahim Amadou at centre-back, and they appeared there for the taking. Arsenal, until we played them, have looked clueless this season.
In both games, Brendan Rogers and Mikel Arteta tinkered first and on both occasions, had a lead to protect and not chase.
However, I strongly believe that Daniel Farke is working on this appropriately. He’s running the marathon and not the sprint, is managing fitness, new tactics and new personnel who have never experienced this level before.
He’s confident in his 4-3-3 and is patiently tinkering with the personnel until he unlocks the magic formula. He has belief in 4-3-3 but then again, he had it in 4-2-3-1 the last time we were in the Premier League. So, persevere but please, get to the solution sooner rather than later.
Behind that measured approach is a plethora of unnecessary complications. This summer, without Oliver Skipp and Emi Buendia, Farke had a clean slate to build a squad geared to a specific formation with further scope for Plans B and C. No excuses.
What has happened instead, in my eyes, is so far rather confusing. For example, Milot Rashica has played on the left so far whereas last season, Cantwell was on the left. Christos Tzolis too is regarded as a left-sided attacker.
And If Sargent isn’t deployed played as a striker, he’s pushed to the right rather than provide a physical foil centrally, where others would benefit.
Grant Hanley is one of the fastest accelerating centre-backs around and after chasing Kris Ajer, a three-man backline seemed a certainty. But then we seemed to give up on that, based solely on getting hold of Billy Gilmour, perhaps unexpectedly, meaning the onus shifted to a midfield three rather than a back three.
It was further complicated because Gilmour came into a squad with only two central midfielders in the squad: Kenny McLean and Lukas Rupp. Pierre lees-Melou and Mathias Normann have since been drafted in to bolster the middle but none appear to complement the others.
Then in attack, we all knew Teemu Pukki would be less effective without someone capable of releasing him. We assumed that person, this season, would be Cantwell and therefore we’d get a physical foil to get the best out of both.
Instead, we’ve already seen glimpses of chemistry between Tzolis and Sargent and Rashica that could potentially render Cantwell and Pukki as the odd ones out. Farke considered Cantwell behind Kieran Dowell against Arsenal.
Right now there appear to be quite a few self-engineered complications and the one thing they have in common is that they are not conducive to a 4-3-3.
This is not a criticism of Farke by the way. I spent the last two years imploring for a shift away from 4-2-3-1 but I never saw a 4-3-3 coming – not with our individual players, before or after the summer transfer window.
So how does Farke get the most out of this squad?
My midfield base, subject to reality matching the hype, is Normann and McLean because you need that combativeness before anything else, with Lees-Melou pushing them for a start, ahead of either Gilmour or Rupp.
In theory, both would provide adequate protection for a back three, which would include Ozan Kabak when fully fit. That should take the onus off the under-fire Gibson, who perhaps should be the central player to carry the ball forward with Hanley and Kabak maintaining acceleration and pace wide of him.
In the wide areas, Aarons and Williams are Premier League players all day long.
Over the first few games, Tim Krul has been guilty of giving the ball away cheaply but give him a long ball option that isn’t Pukki and that particular stress is alleviated, while also providing support for the Finn and another.
The tinkering should come after the spine is in place and I can’t help but feel Farke is going about that dilemma in reverse.
The reason for dropping Cantwell, my man-of-the-match against Leicester, for Dowell, who has historically done less defensive work than either Buendia or Todd, was unclear, and to drop Gibson on account of pace against Arsenal when previously he’d faced Salah, Mane, Gabriel Jesus and Jamie Vardy just doesn’t rub.
I’ll keep the faith but two years ago, Farke refused to change the 4-2-3-1 all season and we were relegated without barely a whimper. If he stays with 4-3-3 and we are unable to keep pace with the teams expecting a relegation battle, then someone needs to ask questions.
But hopefully, the marathon plan will evolve in these crucial few weeks and I’ll have egg on my face again.
Let’s hope he has learned not to be so stubborn this time around and does what he’s supposed to do change how we play depending on the opposition this should be easier this time around.
MIdfield Mike says
Thanks Jim for the comment. Let’s hope he’s not stubborn. But even against Arsenal, with 2 changes…. he kept 4-3-3. That left one substitute to change the setup with Idah, for 10 mins, and then organisation goes out the window because you end up with players in sub-optimal positions, like Cantwell as a winger.
That’s a big moan for me. 2 changes out of 3 but maintaining the same setup….. it’s then too complicated to shift away from 4-3-3 with only 1 more sub…. and whatever is left will be unbalanced. Frustrating.
If DF wants our fullbacks to play as wingbacks, one clear and obvious enhancement would be to get a focal point in the most advanced role to take advantage of them…. and if they cut the ball back…. then City need BOTH a supporting box-to-box midfielder capable of shooting from the edge of the box AND have another attacking player arriving at the back post. The attacking player supporting the wingback is probably already too involved in build up play to positionally support a goal threat which is one reason our attacks have been toothless. Todd tends to be (necessarily) too involved in build up to be a goal threat which is a pity because he’s a gifted finisher.
Alex B says
Tim Krul is an excellent shot stopper but suggesting we need to go route 1 for his distribution doesn’t work he has had the same problem all his career and it is possible why he got no game time at the Euros.
All players have their short comings and at times the great KK messed up his distribution and it was his agility that saved him, TK is similar in his agility but passing out from the back isn’t his best skill and even this late in his career he needs to improve it or he keeps getting turned over the pressure is on the rest of the defence to mop up after him but he seems to get little or no blame when city lose
Midfield Mike says
Hi Alex, thanks for your comment.
Please, I didn’t say route 1. I said Krul needs other options. Opponents organise a press to force Krul on to his left, to kick to our right, Aarons, and turnover is proving inevitable when he’s trying to deal with a slow, lofted ball. Try that on Williams and the Man Utd loanee will cut players in half…. teams know it and make sure the ball goes towards Max.
I think your points about TK’s mistakes are very valid. He is guilty at times and gets little blame.
But to join the dots on your points, our inability to deal with a high press is down DF CHOOSING which CB’s he plays, DF CHOOSING someone like Gilmour (flashbacks of Leitner/Trybull) to encourage a high press because DF’s strategy involves that player breaking that press and triggering the first pivot….. and when DF has made those choices…. the formation gets chosen for him….. an imposed formation… and that is subsequently impacting the nomination of the 11 man team sheet to the detriment as an attacking force. Play Gilmour and he knows he needs 2 midfielders. A 3 man midfield. And he knows it lacks creativity, so he chooses a front 3 in the hope they can magic up chances themselves. And that leaves a back 4 doesn’t it?
Play Gilmour…. the formation is an imposition.
It just seems that DF then chooses to tinker all other permeations rather than address the core/spine/formation. I’m not sure that’s the most pragmatic way of doing things.
Simon Simon says
I’d like to see this team and formation at some point
Andy O Hanley Kabak
Rashica Sargent Tzolis
Alex B says
Cup game v Liverpool
“Midfield Mike” says
Tim Ball says
It is confusing to say the least Mike.
I haven’t got a clue on Daniel’s best formation let alone his best team yet !
The midfield is a real mystery as I cannot see Farke dropping Kenny at the moment, so its any 2 from Lees-Melou, Gilmour, Rupp and Normann with McClean I suppose.
Up front it is still Teemu and I would expect Cantwell to be back on Saturday with either, Tzolis, Rashica or Dowell. If Sargent is still injured.
At the back the full backs pick themselves with Bali and Dimitris in reserve. At centre back it all depends on Kabak’s fitness as I expect him to play on a regular basis when fit. Personally I wouldn’t think of dropping Hanley so again it is a choice between Andrew and Ben.
We seem to have a squad that does not seem to accommodate a no 10 very easily which makes it hard to fit in either Dowell or Gilmour to what I would have thought is their best position.
I would go Krul, Kabak, Hanley, Gibson, Aarons, Williams, McClean, Normann, Gilmour, Tzolis, Pukki.
This would be 3-5-2 with Tzolis slightly behind Teemu. The trouble with this though is our width comes from our fullbacks and we have bought 2 essentially wide players in Tzolis and Rashica so I cannot see Daniel adopting this.
This is also so tough on Omobamidele , Lees Melou, Dowell, Rashica and even Rupp who let no one down on Saturday.
Until Daniel can figure out his best formation it is hard to see a “First Eleven” emerge.
Really though he is closest in terms of new players back where he was in his first and second seasons of having to find his best 11.
Hopefully it will be as quick as the second year and not his first !
“Midfield Mike” says
You nailed it with “why I can’t see DF going 3-5-2 because he spent big money on wide players….” So many complications
To be honest, we could even try 4-4-2 for a while.
It would be very clearly defined in roles, offer Tim Krul the advantage of having four defensive options to pass to a solid midfield, and offer two up-front to score goals – which would at least present the opportuniies for winning more games.
We must win a couple of matches to get at least on-par with the teams just above us – no time like the present, as this early in the season we’re not currently overwhelmed with an insurmountable points mountain from other clubs battling and trying to escape the relegation battle.
Get clear of the bottom three, we will then be ready to tweak the tactics back towards Farke’s preferred methodology, which with all the guys embedded well together, might well be a real ‘killer’ move for us.
Just a couple of won matches and a few goals makes the Premiership look totally different for us.
I’d love to see a front line of Pukki and Sargent – suspect that with the right midfield impetus we would pop and buzz, if we can beat the other side’s defensive midfield.
It would offer the opportunity for Normann/Lees-Mellou/Omobamidele to snuff out threats, while other midfield blends can take the game away from the opposition in their danger zone.
Let’s have the other side worrying about the view below, and stop allowing them to make us their fall guys!
After all, we’ve already got four of the toughest games behind us – now the other clubs have to take those teams on.
Midfield Mike says
Quite happily go with that to Kev, but DF never would. If Sam Allardyce came into this club to save it in January, it would be 4-4-2 all day long, for all the reasons you’ve said. Of course nobody wants to see SA or anyone else achieve survival other than DF….. but the pragmatism MUST be delivered if his tinkering of 4-3-3 doesn’t work over the next 2-3 weeks. I worry he tries to impose his philosophy when the obvious says to try something else.
To me, I can’t help but think he’s trying to tinker attack and defence when he should first nail down the spine and then tinker. Seems a bit back to front. Everyone is saying the core isn’t sorted yet so such big, periphery changes as against Arsenal seem inappropriate at the moment.
Hi Midfield Mike,
take your point about the spine, and I would not wish to see Sam Allardyce step in, respect for him (and for the Tony Pulis’s of this world for that matter).
I would prefer Daniel Farke to be flexible enough to say change is needed throughout the season at different times, of different types, not just in desperation towards the end quarter of it.
Also, being prepared to change at any time should pose problems for the opposition which is very much the point in a game of tactics! It throws away predictability a bit, again, a problem for the other side to deal with if we coach our own team well. If teams are not capable of flexibility they are hidebound by dogma and dogma is easily-read by our opponents!
We surely can’t continue with a lone striker, we are robbing Teemu of the opportunities to function for us to his maximum – with guys like Sargent and Cantwell around, we shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to one or two scoring opportunities every 90 minutes!