Robin Sainty: Norwich City ... now with teeth
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With City looking increasingly one dimensional as last season developed, it was inevitable that there would be speculation about whether we would see a different tactical approach from Daniel Farke this season.
However, with a foreshortened pre-season and limited game time available, along with the need to assimilate so many new faces, all the signs are that we are unlikely to see any significant alterations to the core system that City will employ.
Since his arrival at Carrow Road, Farke has always shown a strong preference for a 4-2-3-1 formation, although he has occasionally employed a back three, usually when chasing a game.
However, pre-season injuries haven’t given him the opportunity to experiment with a three centre-back set-up, even if he was inclined to do so, while the arrival of another winger in Przemyslaw Placheta to provide competition for Onel Hernandez again suggests that Farke is happy with 4-2-3-1, given that in a back three the full-backs rather than wingers provide width.
Worryingly, the defensive frailties which have been apparent for two seasons now were still there for all to see in Germany so the arrival of Ben Gibson is very welcome, but whilst there was clearly a need to bolster the central defensive resources, I would argue that the real problem area is actually midfield, where City were consistently overpowered last season.
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Last season, City’s midfielders were invariably lacking at both ends of the pitch, with far too little support for the lone striker, few goals and crucially an inability to provide an effective shield for a central defence which is required to cover pretty much the full width of the pitch due to the full-backs constantly being asked to assume advanced positions.
On numerous occasions last season opponents were able to exploit the areas behind Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons to stretch City’s defence and create space for their own midfielders to drive into, often with a City counterpart trailing in their wake. It is vital that those issues are successfully addressed if City are to bounce back immediately.
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City’s acquisitions of Oliver Skipp and Jacob Sorensen are clearly designed to provide more bite in central areas and reduce City’s dependence on Alex Tettey’s ageing legs, with both impressing in Germany, while at the other end Kieran Dowell comes with the reputation of being both a creator and a regular goalscorer from an advanced midfield position, while Danel Sinani, a diamond in the rough, will offer a degree of unpredictability.
From what I’ve seen in pre-season it appears that we will see a very similar set-up to the Championship winning season in midfield, but with greater emphasis on physicality, a faster transition in possession and a much more vigorous press than we saw last season.
However, for those dreaming of lots of clean sheets it’s worth pointing out that a high press doesn’t come without risk and means that City’s defence will be stretched on occasions when opponents are able to play through the pressure, and that is a trade-off that we have to accept if the Canaries are to continue in the same attacking style of their last Championship foray.
Up front it looks very much like a case of back to the future with Jordan Hugill providing a more mobile version of the role played by Jordan Rhodes in the Championship winning season, although I suspect that Hugill will get more game time than Rhodes did, and his arrival certainly offers Farke more attacking options than he had last season.
Will we see a front two? Occasionally, maybe, but given that it means one less body in midfield I don’t think it‘ll be a regular occurrence.
However, only time will tell, and much will depend on early results as City address the difficult task of getting back up.