Solving the number 10 dilemma is key for City

Max Aarons of Norwich City and Conor Hourihane of Swansea City battle for the ball during the Sky Be

Conor Hourihane inflicted fresh misery on Norwich City with a starring role in Swansea City's 2-0 Championship win

We aren’t top by a fluke. However, don’t be blinkered either.

Swansea, Brentford and Watford are going to sprint to the finish and we need to stay in the fight. We aren’t playing worse, but I would suggest that teams happy to accept only a draw can set up and stifle Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia.

In order to regain our potency, a central attacking number 10 must step forward.  Without one, with a defensive pair rather than a playmaker from deep, 4-2-3-1 doesn’t function as intended. 

Daniel Farke has defensively improved 4-2-3-1 this season with two holding midfielders but they have managed just one goal between them and they lack the incisive, super quick passes out of the defensive midfield areas; the passes that Moritz Leitner and Tom Trybull were renowned for. 

Pukki looks increasingly isolated, often because Buendia and Cantwell are dropping deeper to receive the ball.  Our new tweaked system works well defensively but is there an attacking forfeit?

In 2018/19 Marco Stieperman was brilliant as a very unconventional number 10 but as we can see this season with Marco, Mario Vrancic and Teemu, all those legs are clearly two years older - a lot of pace has gone.  

If we are to claim another Championship title, or an automatic promotion, built on a solid defensive base then that number 10 role needs energy, game-changing creativity, and it needs goals, goals, goals. 

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Since I originally wrote this article, the Swansea result maybe outlined what some people have said for quite a while - this City side lack the X-factor of the team from two years ago. 

If Swansea highlighted anything it is that we miss the triggers from deep midfield that Leitner, Trybull and Mario himself instigated two years ago. Maybe DF should trust that Olly Skipp is good enough by himself to cover the defensive responsibilities alone, perhaps in 4-1-4-1, if he is to persist in a lone striker?

There is still a long way to go, plenty more ups and downs, but unless DF resolves the number 10 dilemma then this team isn’t going to score enough goals to stay in touch near the top. An attacking 4-2-3-1 relies on the number 10 centrally.

Nor should we kid ourselves about players coming from the bench; Jordan Hugill has three goals all season, Przemyslaw Placheta lacks the directness and unpredictability of Onel Hernandez. Even the enigmatic Stieperman had only scored one in 12 before his illness, so he can neither be the answer nor his absence an excuse. 

City won’t play badly, but teams now seem happy in defensive structures against 4-2-3-1 and the formation arguably isn’t currently working as intended.  The players are good enough, the effort is there, the attitude is there, so I can’t help but think that the base formation is what perhaps needs consideration?

We are still top (for a few more days), we can still get promotion, so just accept the dip and move on. I’ve no doubt DF will have us there or thereabouts, but the table doesn’t matter in early February!

OTBC

Zanonia Taylor, season ticket holder River End 

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