Vrancic or Leitner are needed in midfield if Canaries are to survive
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I love Daniel Farke but midfield changes are necessary for us to survive this season.
For me, Alex Tettey pushes Tim Krul for player of the season. He’s never been my favourite midfielder, he will never quite be as good as Bradley Johnson or Jerry Goss, but I love Tettey, and for me he usually must play.
But in this piece I will try and suggest that if you play Tettey and Kenny McLean, it comes at a cost.
Next season I would like to see Ben Godfrey developed to replace Tettey, noting that Timm Klose is coming back in defence. Godfrey has a limited range of passing but he has a hammer of a shot and will not miss a tackle, will win headers and will be barking orders to those not pulling their weight.
Get Godfrey established in the role and we will have all of defensive strengths of Tettey but with running stamina too.
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Farke likes to play 4-2-3-1. Our attacking players - Emi Buendia in particular - rely on precise transitional play through central midfield. That’s why DF’s preferred option was originally Moritz Leitner and Tom Trybull with Mario Vrancic ahead.
Farke expected to be defensively solid because he had three technically-proficient midfielders but all three struggle with the physicality and tempo of the English game. Over time, Ibrahim Amadou, Stiepermann, Trybull, Leitner and Vrancic have all fallen by the wayside.
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Although it is kept ‘hush hush’, the reality is that Tettey and McLean were never his preferred pairing, they were the last possible permutation from eight central midfielders as NCFC looked to be more robust. We favour Tettey’s specific ability when in fact better defensive coaching should mean he isn’t needed as an individual.
However, the consequence of playing Tetts and McLean means that DF loses his ‘pivot’ and that is to the detriment of our attacking potential. To see the ‘pivot’ in action, review Teemu Pukki’s goal against Leicester which starts with Trybull. To call Tettey and McClean a ‘double pivot’ is ambitious!
I’ve got a lot of time for Super Tommy Trybull but unless Farke coaches this team better, midfielders like him will always be over-run. DF needs to routinely box clever.
When he does box clever, he does some quite fantastic things, Spurs at home springs to mind. Surprisingly, Stiepermann was in the starting 11 but was deployed specifically to man-mark Tanguy Ndombele, which he did brilliantly. Vrancic was less pressured because Spurs couldn’t get the extra midfielder in the game, nor could they pass out from the back.
Rather than the terrible Vrancic performance against Manchester United, we saw the best of Super Mario epitomised by THAT pass for Pukki’s ‘offside’ goal. For me, it was our best home performance of the season and the best tactical game from DF yet.
None of this is new. Last season, we were languishing near the bottom of the table in the early autumn when injuries (not deliberate selection) forced DF to partner Tettey and Leitner together. That midfield combination freed up Buendia in attack. Like Trybull in the goal against Leicester, Leitner playing deeper last season allowed us to trigger the ‘pivot’.
Leitner appears to be immature for his experience but he is a brilliant talent. That particular central midfield shift forced him to up his game, to take charge, to be a leader. That brief spell transformed our season but as a pairing they didn’t last long. Later in the season, Vrancic enjoyed a similar spell and I credit Mario with carrying us over the promotion line.
So if they are so good, why don’t Vrancic, Leitner or Trybull survive in the Premier League? Sucking eggs here, they simply don’t physically compete and we get over-run when they are paired with Tettey. Confused? Surely they should be more balanced? Not necessarily.
In our case Tettey stays in a certain zone and never ventures far from it. That means that other players need to do a lot of extra running to cover the ground Tettey cannot manage. That is precisely why the most athletic midfielder, McLean, has defaulted into the role. Leitner, Vrancic, Stieperman and Trybull aren’t engineered with McLean’s stamina.
So although Tettey dominates an area with supreme authority his partner needs to do a lot of legwork to compensate.
The second consequence is Tettey’s limited use of the ball. Opponent’s know he cannot hurt them with his usual range of passing so they feel confident overwhelming our other midfielders. The result is that we often surrender possession in a defensive area and guys like Leitner never get the time and space they need to excel.
In order to consolidate, we have defaulted to McLean and Tettey. Consequently, Farke is forced to play three attacking play-makers in Ondrej Duda, Buendia and Todd Cantwell and that clearly comes at a cost of an extra striker.
If DF chooses the security of playing a screen, please give the rest of the team a chance and change the formation! For example, 3-4-3 would be fine without ‘technical’” midfielders.
To survive this season, we need Buendia in the box, we need Cantwell and Jamal Lewis down the left and Pukki being supplied by wing-backs and from a central midfield pairing that can produce the ‘pivot’, which is probably Vrancic - who can also shoot from range. But it is a formula of hairline balance.
For the rest of this season, Vrancic and Leitner need to step up to the plate. The pitches are perfect, the weather warm, we have the entire squad fit. Behind closed doors, there could not be a better opportunity for the technical midfielders to flourish and for our attackers to thrive on their supply line. For me, if Mario and Mo do not impose themselves now, they never will.
But with Tettey and McLean in 4-2-3-1? I’m sorry but that midfield pair is great to my heart but all wrong to my head.
Attack to survive! OTBC
My preferred XI (3-4-3): Krul; Godfrey, Hanley, Zimmermann; Aarons, Tettey, Vrancic, Lewis; Buendia, Pukki, Cantwell.
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