Connor Southwell: City’s approach needed changing earlier, so why didn’t Farke see it?
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For all of Daniel Farke’s achievements at Norwich City, the German’s tactical approach against Southampton raised eyebrows. Connor Southwell analyses where it went wrong for City on Friday evening.
As team news arrived, the majority of Norwich City supporters would have been surprised to see Daniel Farke opt for a radical change in approach.
Beyond a handful of matches during his tenure as City boss, the German has deployed a fluid 4-2-3-1, a system that has allowed his team to develop their possession-based philosophy that they’ve become synonymous with.
Despite a brief period in City’s last Premier League match against Sheffield United in March, the Canaries hadn’t deployed a 4-4-2 formation under his stewardship.
Intrinsically, the concept was designed to match up Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side, with Tom Trybull deployed as a deeper midfielder to screen the central defenders and offer a ball-playing pivot to help break the Saints’ adept and intense press.
With the full-backs pushing high, Trybull’s inclusion was designed to shield the space and prevent overloads - with City attempting to lure in their opponents before finding a wide option or Josip Drmic with a more direct pass.
It was a system that was devised and rehearsed on the fields of Colney training centre - but the Canaries looked disorganised and disorientated.
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Farke has achieved remarkable things since taking the reins at Carrow Road in 2017, none more impressive than crafting a free-flowing, aesthetically pleasing and impressive football team with limited resources. But, on this occasion, he got it wrong.
Farke isn’t immune to criticism. The German may be inexperienced in the top flight, but his tactical approach and in-game management have been questionable this season.
Trybull’s role was designed to get City playing through the thirds with progressive passes to Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell from deep. Instead, Southampton used him collecting the ball as a trigger point for their press, and they flooded the transition to construct overloads.
A lack of defensive protection in wide areas gave Michael Obafemi room to stretch the game with his pace - Timm Klose’s lack of match fitness and the general exposure of the hosts’ back two proved to be a fatal mix.
Southampton were fitter, stronger and more tactically intelligent than their opponents. Every time the ball went out for a goal-kick, Hassenhuttl could be heard instructing his side to get ‘behind the ball’.
Technically, Southampton don’t possess the talent to win matches with individual quality - but their press is ferocious and City came unstuck.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and James Ward-Prowse nullified the Canaries offensive talent effectively, but one thing stands out – City lacked balance.
City’s most consistent run of form arrived in December, when they displayed positive performances without getting the points they warranted.
It was during this period that Farke discovered an equilibrium that enabled City to operate effectively in the Premier League.
Admittedly, defensive injuries have meant options in certain positions have been limited - but a top-heavy approach was asking for trouble and their softness allowed Saints to assume control with ease.
In principle, the tactical plan seems logical, but in practise, it was obvious it was flawed and the Canaries were getting overrun - the questions then turned to why Farke decided not to adapt and alter the formation.
Farke is tactically stubborn. His plan is devised meticulously and he is keen to stick with the script, even when the flow of the fixture suggests City should change tack.
It took two Southampton goals for the head coach to switch to a 3-5-2, and then 20 minutes later he switched again to a 4-2-3-1. It was reactive.
In contrast, Hassenhuttl adapted Southampton’s press during the first drinks break. His analysts continued to make their way from the press box to the dug-out to pass on their observations to ex-City defender and current first-team coach Craig Fleming.
Trybull became the target for Danny Ings’ press. He was the trigger for Southampton’s offensive press to spring into life.
For City to function efficiently, they need a balance across the pitch. No attack thrives without a defensive base and vice versa.
Too often this season, Farke hasn’t changed City’s system to tailor the flow or dynamic of the game.
Promotion in 2019 was based on a fluid, functioning system combined with an attractive, clinical philosophy. Both those aspects have evaporated.
Farke needs to become more proactive; City’s players need to be more capable at switching between systems in games.