Diamonds are forever - How Farke’s tactical change could help City score more goals
PUBLISHED: 18:00 10 March 2020
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Daniel Farke’s style of play has been pulsating to consume on occasion this season, but perhaps one criticism you could throw at Norwich City’s head coach is the lack of variation it offers.
The Canaries' philosophy, by design, is angled at allowing them to play through teams' defensive shape - to deconstruct it and exploit the space they create.
It's equivalent to moving pieces around a chess board - sometimes those passages can be patient as they seek to work an opening.
Often, the man in possession isn't tasked with producing a pass capable of creating a pocket of space, that is the job of City's creators behind Teemu Pukki.
The Finn is an integral cog in City's clockwork. In many ways, Farke's style is geared to play to his strengths, particularly from an attacking sense. That role he plays underlines why City are so reliant on him, because he enables their philosophy to thrive.
In a nutshell, that is why City's performances are gaining attention. When they are provided with an opportunity to penetrate sides through their slick possession-based game, it appears slick and impressive.
The tactical dilemma for City is that Chris Wilder and Alan Knill recognised their approach and concocted a tonic that stifled the Canaries' willingness to build out from the back.
On some occasions, City have been pressed relentlessly from the point their centre-backs receive the ball from a short free-kick. Their away defeat at Burnley exposed this dramatically, when Sean Dyche's men hassled City's defensive and exploited them in possession.
On the contrary, City bypassed the Manchester City press in that epic victory in September. Whether they can do that is dependant on the angles created by the midfielders in the initial phase of possession and whether they're structured in the correct way to enable them to play with limited touches.
That involves confidence and a willingness to get on the ball. City's bravery in possession has evaporated somewhat. Breaking defensive lines and exploiting high presses has become increasingly difficult.
For Wilder, it was about overloading key areas of the pitch. He instructed his side to sit in a deeper block and reduce the passing options available to City's defensive duo. Billy Sharp and Oli McBurnie were responsible for preventing Alex Tettey getting on the ball.
If Tettey did receive possession, that's when the suffocation tactic was triggered and the numerical advantages in central areas allowed Sheffield United to win back possession.
As a result of that, City were forced into more direct passes. Arguably, it's that by-product which prompted Farke to tactically alter his approach.
The Blades could mop up City's long balls with their dominant physicality defensively. Wilder's men won 14 of the 22 aerial duels from City's direct passing.
Pukki's effort from a corner aside, City didn't pose any questions of the Blades goalkeeper Dean Henderson, and ended the half with an expected goals return of 0.59xG.
Farke has always been adamant that plan B involved tweaking and adapting plan A. The German opted to deploy a midfield diamond and replace Todd Cantwell with Josip Drmic, who supported Pukki as a striker.
The Swiss international did offer a focal point to the Canaries attack. He was able to compete for those longer passes City were being forced into, and that allowed City to build off the second ball.
Pukki was given a greater freedom to drift, and his movement was critical to creating space for City's full-backs, who were responsible for providing the width in that particular system.
United's numerical advantage dwindled, and City's system freed up Emi Buendia to influence proceedings. City's defensive midfielder was responsible for sitting in front of United's low block.
Kenny McLean also played a greater role from an offensive perspective. He was tasked with supporting City's aerial efforts in the box when the ball was worked into a crossing position.
Farke utilised his aerial abilities in City's win over Everton in November and the Scot is the only player to net from a set-piece this season for City, scoring the opening goal against Pep Guardiola's champions.
In the second half, City upped their xG output to 1.24 and reduced United's to 0.13.
The variation it provided City allowed them to get a foothold back in the fixture. As they continue their search for points in their quest for Premier League survival, the diamond system could pose a credible option from the start of fixtures - starting with Southampton on Saturday.