Robin Sainty: Will Farke make same mistake as a former Canaries boss?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Shortly after joining Preston, Alex Neil told the Guardian: “A learning curve for me was getting to the Premier League with Norwich where I felt at times that we had to adjust our approach. Looking back, I would never do that again – I would carry on with the style that I’ve adopted. Now, I’ve got the courage of my convictions in terms of how I want my teams to play.”
Already some City fans seem keen for Daniel Farke to repeat Neil's error, but I don't see that happening, nor do I think it should.
Last Saturday's defeat was painful, but perhaps an inevitable consequence of an horrific sequence of injuries since the summer. It's easy in the aftermath of such a loss to single out individuals, and there is no doubt that City caused some of their own problems, but there are plenty of mitigating factors.
City's players have already lost twice as many days to injury (367) as any other team (source: www.premierinjuries.com), and on Saturday had to field one player with a hernia and two needing pain-killing injections. However, it's the volume of injuries in defensive areas that is crippling them, and for me the tipping point has been the loss of Tim Krul.
Farke's style is based on playing out from the back with the goalkeeper integral to the passing movements, but with Michael McGovern, despite some admirable saves, clearly uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, the ball was frequently launched long on Saturday.
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That is the first link in a negative chain reaction, because instead of controlling play by receiving the ball deep and breaking as a unit from a compact base, City's midfielders were forced to forage for scraps on Saturday as possession was constantly put up for grabs and invariably won by Villa defenders given City's lack of height up front, with the side increasingly losing its shape and the supply lines to Teemu Pukki being strangled.
Another essential element of City's system is a defensive midfielder screening the back four, particularly when the central two are so inexperienced, but with Tom Trybull and Alex Tettey out and Ibrahim Amadou required to play as a makeshift centre back Farke had no specialist available. This in turn meant that it was harder for City to produce a concerted press when out of possession due to an awareness of their vulnerability in that area and as the game developed, they became more and more stretched as Villa fully exploited the width available.
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In fairness, City once again didn't help themselves by another display of sloppy passing, with four Villa goals directly traceable to home players giving the ball away, while they also allowed too many crosses given that their centre backs were struggling to cope with Wesley's strength and were also slow to close down shooting opportunities on the edge of their box.
To be blunt, they looked mentally scrambled.
However, that performance didn't happen in isolation; it was the culmination of weeks of constantly having to adjust to the loss of key players and in some respects it's remarkable not that the wheels finally came off but rather that they stayed on as long as they did.
So, where do City go from here? Clearly, they desperately need to get players back, but should they abandon the blueprint that got them to the Premier League?
I would expect Farke to hold firm for two reasons. Firstly, because I don't think that the constant injuries have allowed for an accurate appraisal of how effective City can be at this level, but secondly because the squad has been assembled to play in the style that he favours and is ill-equipped to switch to a more robust approach.
These are tough times, but the way forward is to keep the faith and not be panicked into a change of approach.
Just ask Alex Neil.