Connor Southwell: Do City's new additions point to a change in approach?
- Credit: Archant
After Norwich City's relegation from the Premier League two seasons ago, an inquest was opened into what exactly had fallen short in their pursuit for survival.
Stuart Webber had already had those conversations prior to Project Restart as he took long walks across the Norfolk coast. The verdict was that City didn't possess the required physicality, particularly in midfield, to compete and that Daniel Farke wasn't provided with the tools to make subtle tactical tweaks which are often so pivotal in the top-flight.
There were other conclusions. Webber made those public in an interview last summer.
Inside the camp, the message was clear; bottle up this feeling and work as hard as humanly possible to ensure it never returns.
Regret is perhaps the overriding reflection of their recruitment last time around. City set a high bar for the profile of player they wanted to recruit, only for finance or convincing players to sign proving an issue.
Investment in new technology that allows them to recruit players based on physical data will help discover players who are ready to impact the Premier League. That doesn't just mean size or power, but also consistency of sprints and stamina amongst a host of other things.
There is a school of thought inside Colney that their best outfield performers two years ago were those that possessed pace.
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This summer, both Webber and head of recruitment Kieran Scott have attempted to correct their own perceived shortcomings in 2019/20. Four are already in the building with plenty more still to arrive.
All are geared towards ensuring City make a better fist of it this time around.
Farke isn't a coach wedded to base formations or shapes. Instead, he is a coach who favours principles of play over particular tactical systems.
What that does mean is that, as a coach, he requires options that offer the flexibility to adapt in games should that initial shape get tweaked. Last season, City dominated with a 4-2-3-1 base formation, although when the full-backs pushed on and Oliver Skipp dropped back to protect the space vacated in order to control opposition counter attacks, it was more fluid than that.
The Premier League does require a different approach. In the vast majority of fixtures, City aren't going to be the side dominating the ball or orchestrating the play.
That said, City's boss won't radically move away from his desire for City to play their way out of trouble or to attack teams at every opportunity. But their signings this summer do suggest a change in tact.
Milot Rashica, who arrived from Werder Bremen as their first addition of the window, was described by many as a replacement for Emi Buendia. The two are not like-for-like footballers. The Argentine wants to get on the ball to create chances for himself and his colleagues.
The Kosovan is a player who wants to run onto those passes. Who wants to drive at defenders in one versus one situations. Somebody who drifts inside and exploits the space behind the defence rather than looking for pockets in deeper areas of the pitch.
Rashica is an option that suggests a counter attacking style of play. He is a ball carrier rather than a creator. Somebody who uses his pace rather than technique to unlock defenders. That doesn't suggest he cannot make those passes, just that it happens at a lower frequency than Buendia.
Even City's two midfield options point towards a change of approach. Billy Gilmour, although a very technical operator, is resistant to the opponent's press and capable of keeping the ball in tight areas.
His opening display, albeit against King's Lynn Town, displayed his metronomic qualities. His height makes him hard to dispossess. The Scottish international will be a useful ball progressor for City and they will be hoping he can link the play from defence to midfield.
In a limited amount of showings for Chelsea, Gilmour was more of a horizontal than vertical passer. Those lateral passes will be pivotal to shifting defensive shapes, but the Scot displayed his capability to play on the front foot when he sprayed a pinpoint diagonal pass to Rashica's left boot at the Walks.
Gilmour is no Skipp. But his balance, poise and technique will be a crucial springboard between defensive phases and countering - if that's the approach Farke looks to deploy.
Pierre Lees-Melou was an opportunity City simply couldn't turn down. As soon as his availability popped onto their radar, they sprang into action and moved swiftly to make him a Canaries player.
The Frenchman, a dynamic number eight by trade, has versatility and can even feature in the wide positions if required.
Quality not quantity is the mantra being adopted when it comes to recruitment. In order to do that, you need players who can perform effectively in a range of positions.
At the Walks on Friday, Farke deployed a 3-4-2-1 originally before converting to a more conventional 5-3-2 shape as he introduced both Todd Cantwell and Adam Idah. That formation may offer the chance to utilise wide options at wing-back without sacrificing Rashica's pace.
Both Przemek Placheta and Onel Hernandez have featured in that position during their time at the club. But it is worth noting that City's boss was without his starting full-backs in Dimitris Giannoulis and Max Aarons.
Farke was keen to play with a three last time around in the Premier League, but defensive injuries scuppered that plan.
Another theory is that Norwich may revert to a 4-1-4-1 that Farke favoured during his time at Borussia Dortmund II and has experimented with throughout his time at the club. The door is still being left ajar for the return of Skipp, even though that move is looking increasingly unlikely.
That is something that could become a 4-3-3 in possession, with a central midfielder given licence to join attacks alongside the two wingers. Both would offer City numbers in midfield, and the chance to spring without squandering defensive solidity should they turn the ball over.
Norwich are hunting for that defensive midfielder to shield the back four. Bournemouth's Philip Billing also remains on their list of targets but the two clubs remain far apart in terms of their valuations of the Danish international.
Reading too much into systems on the opening fixture of pre-season is futile, as the warm-up matches continue, Farke will persist with experimenting. Only Newcastle United away on August 7 should display a window into how City will truly line up on August 14 against Liverpool.
Until then, both the recruitment and tactical works continues.