David Hannant: Three could be the magic number for Norwich City and their defensive woes
PUBLISHED: 18:00 31 August 2017
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After the weekend’s utterly dismal result away at Millwall it would probably be daft of me not to address the enormous elephant in the room that is City’s defence.
Not since that unforgettable day at home to Colchester – and it is unforgettable, believe me, I’ve tried – has a Norwich backline conceded four or more goals in consecutive games, and that was with a whole pre-season separating it.
I’ll also give you a brief glimpse into the creative process behind this column – the final part of that sentence originally read: “has a City defence looked more tepid in one game?”
Then I thought: “Actually, it probably has. Brighton away. Sheffield Wednesday away. Need I continue?”
But the bizarre thing is, the overall play hasn’t been bad – in fact for the most part it has been really easy on the eyes. So what needs to be done to eradicate these utterly stupid errors at the back?
My suggestion is one I am relatively sure Daniel Farke has also considered and one I think would have been the plan all along had Timm Klose not picked up his pre-season knock.
What I would like to see, is a back three with wing-backs.
From what I have seen so far, a large part of City’s problems have been down to the marauding of our full-backs not lending itself well to the style of play.
Now, I’m all for attacking full-backs, however, with the way Farke likes his players to move the ball, there seems to be a greater danger of being caught out of position.
So many times, goals have been conceded by hopeful punts forward exploiting the space being left in behind Russell Martin, Ivo Pinto, James Husband or whoever is in those roles.
While the solid back four has been a staple of the game for years, it relies heavily on midfielders dropping to cover and the two full-backs developing an understanding with one another, knowing when to bomb on and when to hold fire.
At the moment, something just isn’t ticking with the back line – at times they look like strangers.
One just needs to look at the number of teams with leakier defences in the league than us – none – to see something isn’t working.
This is why I am hoping that when City line up against Birmingham after the international break, Farke will start with a back three.
Whether Timm Klose will be fit again by then, or perhaps the imminent Grant Hanley joins Christoph Zimmerman and Marcel Franke remains to be seen, but this is what I am hoping for.
Given the way Farke sets up to play, I feel three centre backs could be the way forward, as it gives the full-backs more of a licence to get involved with the attacking play.
The 3-2-1-3-1 type of format, with two wing-backs also allows for so much more fluidity in the sense of positioning – depending on who is in possession.
When City have the ball, the full-backs are much more free to bomb forward and almost act as straight up wingers, without leaving the defence at greater risk of exposure.
When the opposition have the ball, they can drop back and help to close up those gaping holes, either by making a back four with the three centre-backs, or even taking it in turns dropping to form a four.
Being able to seamlessly change formation to suit the circumstances of a game, seems to me to be something that would suit Farke’s style of play to the ground.
With an international break to make sure this system is bedded in, the two weeks off couldn’t have come at a better time – for once.
Usually, I can’t stand international breaks, but I’m more than happy for it this time, for two reasons.
Reason one: it gives the boys a real chance to work on formation, discipline and defensive routines in greater depth.
Reason two, probably most key: if stewing on such a poor pair of results for a fortnight doesn’t motivate these lads, nothing will.
Hanley a welcome addition
While I’ve seen lots of negativity about the potential signing of Grant Hanley, I for one think he would be a good addition.
At 25 his best years should be ahead of him, but he shouldn’t be too raw.
He has also learned his trade and honed his skills at Championship level, the very level we need him for. His experience at this level would be invaluable to help those alongside him to acclimatise better.
He also played his part in a successful promotion for Newcastle so knows exactly what it takes to get out of this league.
A Geordie friend described him to me as “clearly limited, but solid”. He also added he didn’t put a foot wrong for the Toon Army.
While clearly limited worries, if that simply means he’s not a Rolls Royce in footballing terms, that is fine.
If he is the type who will roll up his sleeves and stick a boot in, to complement our German ‘footballing’ defenders, then I’m all for it.
World Cup qualifying needs fixing
While I maintain this international break has fallen at the perfect time for City, I still don’t enjoy them,
Surely there aren’t many people left who enjoy missing out on proper football so we can be treated to banal, foregone conclusion matches where top European nations line up against builders, posties and part-timers.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for low ranking teams getting their snowball’s chance to compete at the World Cup, but the current format of qualification seems a waste of energy.
For me, the qualification process is in desperate need of repair.
One option could be a play-off system for the bottom, say 25 to 30 teams to earn places in the qualification groups.
This way groups would be smaller, less meaningless international breaks would be needed and we wouldn’t have to endure ridiculous matches like Germany vs San Marino – unless the minnows actually earned it.
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