Robin Sainty: City stars have clear belief in positive philosophy
PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 October 2018
The game against Wigan last Saturday demonstrated how quickly football managers respond to successful tactics.
After the wins at Reading and QPR in which City’s rampaging full-backs had compensated for the loss of Onel Hernandez to injury by providing width, Paul Cook set out his team to neutralise Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis as attacking forces and very nearly came away with a draw as a result, despite his team not forcing Tim Krul to make a single save.
Over the last two seasons City have generally struggled when visiting teams produced a game plan to frustrate them with the impatience of the Carrow Road crowd becoming a factor as games wore on, something that Alex Neil referred to as forming part of his side’s planning when City beat Preston a few weeks ago.
However, on Saturday, as against Preston, Daniel Farke’s side found answers and, while never firing on all cylinders, produced a vital win. In that they were aided by a vociferous crowd who themselves had been fired up by an eccentric refereeing performance which brought to mind someone who’s passed the driver theory test but hasn’t yet mastered driving an actual car.
Wigan’s plan to combat Lewis and Aarons getting forward involved matching City’s formation and playing a high line but that left space in behind which was increasingly exploited by the awareness of Marco Stiepermann and the tireless running of Teemu Pukki.
Stiepermann in particular was frequently able to elude his marker and made a number of intelligent diagonal runs into the space behind Wigan’s left-back in the first half.
That produced some half chances but more importantly with their full-back under pressure it meant that the Wigan centre-backs were required to cover more area which in turn opened up gaps through the middle, and it was by drifting into one of these that he was able to set up Pukki for the penalty.
While City gave the ball away too much on Saturday there is no doubt that the tempo of their passing is significantly quicker than last season, and while their willingness to play their way out of tight situations will inevitably cost the odd goal here and there it’s exhilarating (and not a little nerve wracking!) to watch.
And so to Derby on Wednesday night, where City produced another controlled away performance and were unlucky not to extend their run of wins.
This was not a case of backs to the wall defending, but rather a composed display of quick passing and slick movement that clearly rattled the hosts as they struggled to cope with the speed of City’s counter attacks.
Despite the media’s annoyingly sycophantic attitude towards Frank Lampard the fact is that he has put together a very good side who play a similar style to Norwich, resulting in a game that ebbed and flowed in an entertaining fashion, and while the concession of a late equaliser via Craig Bryson’s knee was frustrating I think most of us would agree that a draw was probably a fair result.
Last season City went on a similar autumn run, but to be honest on occasions they rode their luck to the limit in doing so. However, there has been nothing fortunate about their results this time around. Anyone who hasn’t been watching games because of the turgid fare that was served up last season would barely recognise this vibrant City side who have clearly fully bought into their head coach’s footballing philosophy.
It’s not simply a case of the addition of genuine firepower, although that clearly helps, more the fact that the players are manifestly enjoying being given full licence to express themselves and are playing without fear.
While today will be another stern test against a Stoke side that has under-performed so far this season given the quality in it, it’s hard to bet against the Canaries at the moment.