Has Farke tinkered too much with his starting XI?
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The hackneyed phrase “selection headache” can take on various meanings.
Some managers can’t easily pick a team because they have so many good players it’s hard to know who to include and who to leave out. That’s not so much a headache as a luxury. And when the manager is asked why he has left out a star player the answer is simple: rotation.
For others, the degree of difficulty is accentuated by the number which sits in the points column. And that’s where Daniel Farke comes in. Farke has plenty of alternatives for each position, it’s just melding the right players into the right system – and that’s proving difficult.
Farke has started 19 different players in seven games as he looks for the correct formula.
Liverpool have also had 19 different starters, while Manchester City have had 18. Brentford, promoted alongside the Canaries, have had just 13 – a figure which in itself prompts plenty of questions given their squad depth would be considered similar to Norwich’s.
So where has Farke changed it, and why?
He actually kept the same starting line-up for the first two games, but, having been thumped 5-0 at Manchester City, made his first changes.
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It is important to note that the first six games of the season he opted for a 4-3-3 formation, changing to 3-5-2 for the trip to Everton last weekend – a move which forces his hand when it comes to selection.
Leicester (h): Farke’s first changes. The newly-acquired left-back Brandon Williams given his debut, having signed on loan from Manchester United, in place of Dimitris Giannoulis. Kenny McLean, having spent part of the summer on Scotland duty at Euro 2020, was back in the fold after a bit more of a rest and an injury and replaced Lukas Rupp. No big surprises there. So, a change at the back and one in midfield.
Arsenal (a): A few surprises as Farke makes four changes. One is in defence, as Andrew Omobamidele replaces Ben Gibson. In comes Rupp, Kieran Dowell and new signing Christos Tzolis and out go Billy Gilmour, Milot Rashica and Todd Cantwell. Probably fair to say Gilmour is struggling to get rid of that defensive midfield role – but the sight of Mathias Normann, along with Ozan Kaban, on the bench, will be refreshing.
Watford (h): Five changes now – but only one of those in defence, and that is because Kabak gets his debut, at the expense of Omobamidele – perhaps no great surprise there. Gilmour comes back, with Normann given his debut as the holding midfielder. Rashica returns in midfield with Josh Sargent up top.
Everton (a): A change of formation which means a return for Gibson, in defence, while Pierre Lees-Melou replaces Gilmour. Rashica misses out with injury.
So, of the changes, four have come in defence, one of which was prompted by a change of formation; in midfield it’s been more complicated, with eight changes of personnel, and just one in attack, with Sargent’s addition to the line-up against Watford.
It mustn’t be forgotten that Farke’s selection planning is not a simple case of picking 11 players from his full squad: he has had to deal with the late transfer window signings taking time to get up to speed before he can name them in his team; injuries - Rashica, Sargent and Giannoulis; illness - Lees-Melou (flu) and Todd Cantwell’s absence for personal reasons.
Many players have been away on international duty – and less-than-helpfully there’s another break around the corner - so there are questions over player fatigue, and the lack of time on the training field with his full squad, just when he needs it most.
On top of that is the question of form – and that’s been badly lacking.
All in all, perhaps Farke’s perceived juggling of his team hasn’t been that excessive: a team that is chasing a point by definition has to change. The question on City fans’ lips is: when will it work?