Robin Sainty: City chief is tactically on the right track
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Who’d be a manager?
Daniel Farke dropped his 4-3-3 system after the defeat against Watford amidst widespread criticism from fans and with City still without a point.
At Everton he switched to a back five and despite a lack of cohesion City were still well in the game until an individual error gifted a decisive second goal to the hosts.
Next up was a tricky trip to Burnley where the team looked solid defensively and, while still struggling to create chances, came back with a well-deserved point.
And that brings us up to last Saturday when, against a team who could potentially have gone top with a win, City were defensively solid again but also created enough chances to win the game, although they failed to take them.
However, the response from some quarters has been “Why can’t Farke go back to 4-1-4-1 formation that City won the Championship with twice?”
Given that City also failed miserably in the Premier League last time with that system, and that two players who were central to its success last season are no longer at the club, I can understand why Farke is sticking with a formation that has generated City’s only points, and which has shown improvement game on game.
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Whether he has yet hit upon the correct personnel to get the best from it is still a moot point, but given the constant changes earlier in the season, which did nothing to produce consistency of performance I can see why he has tried to keep a more settled line up.
It is difficult to argue too much with the defensive set up and there is no doubt that playing three central defenders has got the best out of Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson, while it has also been noticeable how much more comfortable and effective Max Aarons looks now that he is not having to defend such a large area.
Midfield is more contentious and with Billy Gilmour, Todd Cantwell and Kieran Dowell in the wings it is important for the three current incumbents to show that they can be creative as well as shielding the defence, but the problem that Farke faces is that creativity at the expense of solidity could prove to be counterproductive given City’s limitations.
For example, I’ve read quite a bit of criticism that he didn’t put more attacking players on in the last 20 minutes against Brighton, and while that’s a perfectly valid point, I can guarantee that had he done so only to lose the game as the result of a breakaway he would have been vilified for throwing away a point.
Clearly the midfield has to be built around Mathias Normann who gets better by the game and has just the sort of never-say-die approach that City need, but while some of the players currently on the sidelines might offer greater creativity than Kenny McLean or Pierre Lees-Menou it would be at the cost of a reduction in the tracking back and work rate that those two bring to the table.
It’s also worth stressing that the formation itself isn’t inherently negative. In fact, fielding three centre backs offers plenty of attacking potential, given the greater freedom to attack that it gives to the wingbacks.
That in turn provides greater width to City’s attacking movements, which is important because Teemu Pukki’s strength is his ability to run the channels, which he found difficult due to the narrowness of City’s set up with the 4-3-3 and it has been noticeable how much more space he has been able to find in the last couple of games, with Josh Sargent’s perpetual motion another important factor in that.
City clearly need results sooner rather than later but the best way to achieve that is by tweaking something that’s beginning to prove effective rather than tearing up the blueprint and starting all over again.