Five questions about why Norwich City haven’t fired yet this season
PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 October 2020
It is said that this is a transitional period for Norwich City but we have only sold Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey from the last promotion team and have strengthened everywhere.
The loss of Timm Klose is (respectfully) irrelevant given his injury record, and while Alex Tettey has stayed for another year, we have recruited the excellent Oliver Skipp.
Against Derby we saw outstanding passing from Lukas Rupp, and Max Aarons, Ben Gibson and Emi Buendia all looked a class above. We have a fantastic goalkeeper, a warrior in Zimbo, natural wingers left and right with raw pace, we have playmakers galore and we have a number nine that can bully defenders. And Teemu Pukki.
We have been playing 4-2-3-1 for the last nine months so therefore even the tactical demands on the squad haven’t actually changed. So aren’t we actually in an enviable position? Calling this transitional seems farfetched.
In my mind Daniel Farke has been lucky to avoid justifiable criticism. I’ve got more questions than answers so far this season and I think we ought to be doing much better. I’d like to highlight five questions because to me, all fingers point to flaws in our set-up...
Question one: Upon loss of possession, the involvement of our attacking full-backs makes us vulnerable to the counter-attack whether we are playing (abysmally against) Luton, or Bournemouth. DF’s philosophy is heavily reliant on attacking full-backs, but has DF tinkered his set-up enough to counter that vulnerability? With such heavily committed full-backs, would the width of a back three be more secure?
Question two: Marco Stieperman is the best player in the squad at facilitating the ‘vertical pass’. He drags his marker away and turns back into the space between opposition defence and midfield. He then holds the ball and makes intricate passes to over-lapping midfielders or full-backs.
However, to play him in 4-2-3-1 means the explicit exclusion of a second striker and it prohibits the enigmatic Buendia from operating in the central number 10 position, which significantly limits the effectiveness of Pukki.
Is the compromise of fulfilling ‘vertical passes’ and ‘second pivots’ worth the omission of the conventional influence of Buendia or at the omission of a second striker?
Question three: The 4-2-3-1 formation needs specific players in the starting 11 that enable the formation to work but who are not players that work in other formations. Ffor example, the aforementioned Stieperman is neither a winger, a central midfielder or a second striker.
Therefore, to change a formation during a game, specific and predictable substitutions need to be made to change the shape effectively. We have seen Przemek Placheta and Onel Hernandez start the same match but without a number nine (Jordan Hugill) to supply.
We know that Pukki and Buendia thrive when Emi plays centrally, but we have not seen this since promotion (Todd Cantwell then Ondrej Duda were the central number 10 in the Premier League).
So what is it that DF sees in a 4-2-3-1 setup that looks average defensively and limited in attack?
Question four: Our substitutions have involved chasing a game rather than controlling it. DF takes off the width of Hernandez and then without a natural winger, only then do we see Hugill. We see the introduction of Adam Idah, but with his raw pace he is the striker we see dropping deep rather than playing off of the shoulder of defenders.
Opportunities to revert to Plan B and C and even D are limited by three substitutes and the adaptability of the remaining starting 11 to fulfil different roles as the formation shifts. With Farke, does the team adapt logically with his substitutions? Is there a cohesive shift from Plan A through Plan C?
Question five: Our central defence always looks exploitable, surely they would also fare better as a back three? We could have started with a three-man defence for any of the league games so far this season but DF hasn’t done so.
The three-man fallacy is just that: he wants to play 4-2-3-1. We’ve allowed two centre-backs to leave and Sean Raggett. Gibson, Hanley and Zimbo might work, but I doubt we will ever see it. Are we seeing a defensive base being built this season that is good enough for promotion?
I want to reiterate that I want DF to succeed and stay at NCFC. I love the guy, Stuart Webber too.
However, for me, the dormant potential is being stifled by the set-up. I don’t contest good possession stats this season and we look more solid but the reality is those possession stats are built on a compromise of a loan striker and little creativity.
DF tries to impose 4-2-3-1 on to his players rather than have the natural abilities of his players dictate the formation. Succinctly, if Mike Walker or Paul Lambert had this squad of players, we’d have 12 points on the board already and we’d still be in the League Cup, regardless of whether this strengthened squad is in a transitional stage.
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