Robin Sainty: Where has Farkeball gone?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s nearing the end of the first half at Goodison Park and Pierre Lees-Melou has exchanged passes with Max Aarons on City’s right before hitting a sweeping crossfield pass to find Brandon Williams in space level with the edge of Everton’s penalty area. Two passes later the ball is with Grant Hanley, 10 yards inside his own half.
Fast forward to the 77th minute and Allan wrestles possession from a dawdling Kenny McLean halfway inside City’s half. As he does so, Andre Gray and Abdoulaye Doucouré both spot the gaping hole in the left of City’s defence and sprint into it without hesitation. Two passes later the ball is in Tim Krul’s net, and the game is over.
Hardly identical situations, but they provide an insight into the respective mindsets of the players on either side, and also how hard they were prepared to work for each other.
On the one hand, City’s approach exemplified a side with no confidence as trying to avoid a mistake seemed to override any ambition to be proactive, while Everton’s was positive and showed a determination to make an opportunity count.
However, it’s not quite that straightforward. If you watch those incidents again you will see that had Williams taken the positive course and looked to attack the byline he would have had little to hit in the box, nor was he given the option of a short inside pass to maintain the move’s momentum.
It’s natural for fans to berate players for dwelling on the ball or checking back, but if no one is showing for the ball there may be no other option.
Allan, on the other hand, didn’t have to think because Gray’s overlap made his decision for him, while Doucouré’s run in turn left him with a simple pass to make. Basically, City were waiting for something to happen while Everton made it happen.
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On Sunday I watched some recordings of games from two seasons ago, partly to cheer myself up, but also to look for any obvious differences, and two things in particular stood out, namely the speed at which City passed their way through an opponents’ press and the fierceness of their own.
Against Manchester City in 2019/20, with a side which on paper was vastly inferior to their line-up at Goodison last week, the Canaries moved the ball confidently in a series of one-touch passes and pressed aggressively, yet against Everton their build-up was so ponderous that it bordered on the glacial, whilst their press was often disjointed and consequently ineffective.
Compare that, as many have, to Brentford’s performance against Liverpool last Saturday, which was energetic, committed and passionate as opponents were harried at every opportunity.
Thomas Frank has clearly got his players totally focussed, but Daniel Farke seems to be unsure whether to stick or twist at the moment. Yet another reshuffle of the back line resulted in City looking more solid defensively until Ozan Kabak’s ill-advised challenge gave away the penalty, but at the price of carrying little attacking threat in the first half.
The second offered more hope with Mathias Normann and Lees-Melou providing some impetus, but there was always the danger that they could be exposed at the back by a high press, which is exactly what happened.
Somehow City have to find a workable balance between being defensively sound and carrying a viable attacking threat, but that will only help if they can cut out the individual mistakes which are undermining their efforts game after game.
They also desperately need a player who can make things happen, someone who is prepared to run at and commit opponents rather than constantly take the safe option.
The thing that attracted so many of us to Farkeball in its prime was its fearlessness, but what we are currently seeing is a pale and timid shadow of that, and that must change.