I’ve been banging on about a lack of urgency in City’s build up play for weeks. It’s been as obvious as the day is long and was highlighted again on Saturday against Barnsley.
In the week, I suggested that if I were Daniel Farke I would change the formation and go for a 4-1-4-1 in an attempt to create more chances in front of goal.
I was slightly surprised and more than a little smug at 2pm when I saw the team sheet and realised that was exactly what he had decided to do. In fact, other than playing Mario Vrancic instead of Yanic Wildschut, Farke picked the team I suggested – perhaps he reads VN or watches the Pink ‘Un Show.
In all seriousness though, the team started very sluggishly and we were pushed back by Barnsley in the opening ten minutes. We were second best to everything until out of nothing, with their first shot of the game, Norwich scored.
Nelson Oliveira did well against two defenders on the right and played a low cut back across the box. Josh Murphy struck it first time and it took a wicked deflection to fly past Davies in the Barnsley goal.
It was against the run of play and City did then up their game with some more urgency. Oliveira shot narrowly wide and horrendously wide (twice) for City with Hammill shooting straight at Gunn at the opposite end.
The first half ended with Barnsley having had the best of the possession, rather unusually, which Farke moved to correct in the second half by replacing Husband with Zimmermann.
The formation changed to 3-5-2 and within two minutes of the re-start, Barnsley were level.
A swift counter attack saw the ball played to Barnes on the left in acres of space. It looked to me like Pinto or Hanley should’ve been picking him up and he fired past Gunn.
Maybe the team hadn’t adjusted to the formation but it was very poor defending and it cost us.
Both sides were poor in the second half and the best chances were for Maddison who had a shot tipped over and Oliveira, whose shot was blocked in the six yard box after Stiepermann played him in.
The biggest problem was again the lack of urgency, ideas and arguably a lack of commitment to the cause from some in yellow and green.
Our passing was slow and ponderous and didn’t do enough to open Barnsley up.
I like the style of play that Farke is trying to play. I love to watch it at Barcelona and with Manchester City, who are currently an absolute joy to watch. Both of those sides play this style but they zip the ball about with pace and movement and that in turn opens up chinks in their opponents’ armour.
Our lack of urgency means it doesn’t work for us when we play like we did here.
I don’t agree that we don’t have the players to play this style, as some on Canary Call have suggested. These lads are capable and several of them, like Vrancic, Maddison, Trybull and Oliveira can be described as technically very good.
So why didn’t it work?
I mentioned a lack of commitment, well, Mario Vrancic for all his technical ability, again lacked effort for the fight. Plenty of times, he just jogged back when he was behind Barnsley players in possession. He did at least challenge for headers this week but it wasn’t enough.
Josh Murphy was poor and contributed little other than the deflected goal. Marco Stiepermann isn’t a left or right winger, he’s a central midfielder being asked to play there and I’d like to see him in the centre. At least he fights for the ball.
James Husband looked lightweight and of our three subs, only Christoph Zimmermann played well. Watkins and Wildschut were totally ineffective and didn’t change anything.
Grant Hanley was given a rare start and looked decent. Never beaten in the air and showing a turn of pace. The goal apart, he did okay.
Only James Maddison really looked like he wanted the ball and wanted to try to make it happen.
The return of Alex Pritchard and Alex Tettey cannot come soon enough but will those two players be enough to turn things around? Not if the rest of the players play like they did here.
Creating so few chances means that there is pressure on the defence to be perfect. If you only score one goal in a game the defence have to be perfect or lucky and even Barca and Man City’s defences aren’t perfect every week – you’ll always get a chance against them and you’ll get more than that against Norwich City.
Tuesday night gives us another chance to get back in the saddle against Nottingham Forest but I have to say, the top six looks a long way away right now.