Paddy Davitt: What plan is City boss onto now?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Once upon a time Daniel Farke was accused of having no plan B at Norwich City. He is rapidly working his way through the alphabet in the opening part of this latest Premier League tilt.
From a slavish adherence to possession football to a game where City have tried to blunt opponents on the walls of a reinforced defensive fortress, and hit on the counter.
In truth, neither extreme really adequately covers the Farke tenure.
City’s head coach is every bit as pragmatic and nuanced as the unchanged side he has selected in a new base formation since that damaging home defeat to Watford.
He was only a handful of games into his tenure in 2017 when a chastening defeat at Millwall prompted a rethink, before the bruises from a physical encounter at the Den had time to heal.
That brought a club record run of consecutive clean sheets, which sells a lie to the idea that attacking verve, which underpinned not one but two Championship title wins, was a total rejection of the need to keep the back door shut.
You could go on. Alex Tettey and Kenny McLean inserted into central midfield vacancies left by Moritz Leitner and Tom Trybull, who never really regained a foothold in Farke’s first team plans after failing to deliver in that first top flight tilt.
The previously bullet-proof Teemu Pukki making way for Josip Drmic later the same campaign.
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Both calls did nothing to alter what felt an inevitable descent, given the limited transfer work and the inexperience on and off that pitch in that environment first time around.
This latest re-design feels more marked; more a departure perhaps from the classic Farke style. But it is only in the degree of separation from a set of coaching ideas which he himself may agree had to be refined and distilled for the English game.
“It makes no sense to be stubborn. You have to be flexible. We are not here for style points,” he said, before perhaps his team contradicted him on the opening part of that statement with a stout show of defiance at Burnley recently.
“To be flexible within the approach means sometimes in personal terms with the players you select, sometimes in changing slightly the way we want to build up the play, but not the general approach.
"When I think about last season, for example, we were praised a lot for our offensive attack, for our possession quality, for our goals but I think one of our major strengths was also to be rock solid in defending.
"We had many clean sheets, and I remember earlier in my time here we set a new club record for clean sheets.
“To be quite solid in terms of defending is one of my major topics. If I'm really honest I wasn't happy with conceding too many goals at the beginning of this season. There were a few reasons and explanations why we did so, but it was definitely a topic we had to improve.”
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No question Norwich now look far more secure switching to a central defensive three since the Hornets’ loss.
But even that tactical revision was less a kneejerk reaction from Farke to a toxic Carrow Road defeat, than the realisation of planning during a disrupted pre-season.
“It is always important you can find solutions against each opponent whatever set up you choose, but it's also important that it suits your players,” he said. “It must also help your players to bring our game on the pitch. We were very self critical after the first Premier League games.
"Our last row was involved in a lot of the goals we conceded and if this helps the last row with an additional player as cover, or to give those players some more confidence, it makes sense.
“Also with three in midfield you can create different passing angles for the build up, and it can help nullify how the opponent wants to press.
"There are many tactical thoughts but the most important thing is whatever you choose your own team is comfortable with it.
"We prepared the defensive players for both scenarios, and it was something we worked on a lot in pre-season.
"But Grant (Hanley) was not available, Ozan (Kabak) had not been signed, so it was not perfect.”
Farke realises such flexibility now needs to be replicated at the top end of the pitch, to embellish a defensive template which appears to make City competitive if unable at present to deliver the wins they need.
That is the only currency which can avoid them being cast as also rans for a second time under his stewardship at the highest level.
But if Farke's coaching body of work from recent games tells us anything, should City’s struggles to score persist, then every available option is on the table.