Robin Sainty: Farke has taken City to a whole new level
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When Alex Neil’s Norwich team were relegated from the Premier League, the Scot appeared diminished and changed his playing style. Daniel Farke, on the other hand, and despite a more humiliating relegation, seems to be a man invigorated.
Rather than abandon the approach that saw City win the Championship two years ago before proving inadequate in the top division he has simply taken it to a different level.
Even though City’s attacking moves still flow and excite, the “if you score two, we’ll score three” attitude has been replaced by something much more pragmatic whilst remaining beautiful to watch.
Whilst the accusation had some merit last season, nobody could call City naïve this time around. No longer do we all have to sit on the edge of our seats every time a corner is conceded, nor do we see opponents being allowed to cut through great swathes of space in midfield when City’s attacking moves break down. Indeed, such is the energy and organisation of City’s pressing that they often seem to have an extra man on the pitch as the player in possession is swarmed by yellow shirts.
Part of this is down to personnel, with the likes of Oliver Skipp, Ben Gibson and Jacob Sorensen adding extra athleticism, but it’s also down to a greater maturity and awareness that is leading to better decision making.
It’s also fair to say that City are now considerably more streetwise as evidenced by the “buying” of free-kicks that so enraged the local radio commentators at Cardiff (although they rather lost the moral high ground when they described Harry Wilson’s cynical foul to stop a Todd Cantwell breakaway as “a brilliant yellow card").
Finally, this City side are also much more physical than their predecessors under Farke, which is one of the reasons that they have improved so much in defending set-pieces.
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The younger players like Max Aarons and Emi Buendia have matured significantly in the last 18 months, but it’s the development of two key partnerships that have really improved the defensive side of City’s game.
Gibson has developed a partnership with Grant Hanley which currently looks to be the best centre back pairing that City have had since Malky Mackay and Craig Fleming and his natural left-footedness and passing ability have given the defence a balance that wasn’t always apparent previously.
Ironically, this has largely been achieved with the right-footed Sorensen at left back, but his form has been remarkable, despite being regularly targeted by opponents, and it reached new heights against Bristol City.
It was the perfect response to the arrival of Dimitris Giannoulis and will provide Farke with a big decision to make once the Greek international is up to speed.
The other key partnership is that between Skipp and Kenny McLean which has impacted on both the attacking and defensive aspects of City’s game.
Both have great engines and cover a lot of ground but, as Grant Hanley pointed out earlier this week, their football intelligence and willingness to deal with the "ugly side of the game” makes them a centre back’s dream.
However, they also contribute massively to the team’s attacking play, with McLean regularly popping up in and around the opposing penalty box while Skipp is always prepared to make surging runs from deep positions to get City going forward.
With the Canaries picking up 52 out of the last 66 points and recent performances becoming increasingly dominant, the yellow and green Ferrari is close to firing on all six cylinders, with the only slight concern being a tendency to be slow out of the blocks at the start of the second half.
Consequently, the opportunity at Barnsley to further rehabilitate returning players and rest some of the regulars comes at a good time and Farke will hope that it provides him with some serious selection headaches when City get back to league action.