Norwich City: How Daniel Farke's 4-2-3-1 has propelled the Canaries to the top of the Championship Table - Football Tactics Explained
Winning their last five games and taking the Championship by storm in Daniel Farke's second season in charge, Norwich City is dominating teams in a buccaneering 4-2-3-1 system. After guiding the Carrow Road faithful to a satisfactory mid-table finish in his first season managing in England, Daniel Farke's domineering system took a while to be implemented. But after a summer of turnover, he has built an army that leaves the Canaries seriously unscathed by their prey - sitting at the top of the Championship table heading into the International break.
It would be presumptuous to suggest that Norwich weren't tipped to finish highly in many pundits and football experts pre-season table predictions. Before a ball had been kicked, many (including me) had Norwich finishing in mid-table obscurity and had written off any chances of a play-off challenge. But, such are the surprises that get thrown up in the Championship, that the Canaries are now flying this season under a manager treating the league to a blend of attractive football and defensive stability. But just how is the German boss reaping success with a team offering relatively little Championship experience?
Despite selling their two main sources of goals in the Championship last season - James Maddison to Leicester City and Josh Murphy to Cardiff - Daniel Farke knew an overhaul was needed in the summer to readily equip the Canaries to compete. Without the inspiration and goals of Maddison, the departure of the long-serving Wes Hoolahan to West Brom and a series of fringe players on their way out, Farke needed to bring in a series of foreign investments - a somewhat calculated risk, but one that the German has executed to perfection.
In particular, the inspired capture of foreign journey-man, Teemu Pukki from Brondby IF, who has fired 24 league goals this season and remains the Championship top scorer, was great business. Signing on a free transfer, many questioned the acquisition of a striker who had failed to find his goalscoring touch at his previous clubs; netting 9 goals in 38 appearances for a Celtic side dominating the Scottish Premiership every season. But Carrow Road has certainly provided the 28-year-old with an opportunity to rectify a career which was heading into the abyss in the so-called 'prime' of his post. Pukki's array of finishing talents have been crucial in Norwich's goal-getting side. The Finnish dynamo has showcased all types of finishes - predatory 6-yard tap-ins, cultured strikes from the edge of the box and solo efforts. His hold up play has also been a key fixture in the Canaries system. As a lone striker, it's his job to hold up the ball and bring his teammates into the attack. Buendia, Stiepermann and Onel Hernandez have all been beneficiaries of Pukki's tireless work for the team.
After losing the impact of starlet James Maddison, Farke knew he needed to replace his most influential player. He brought in Argentinian, fleet-footed Emiliano Buendia from Getafe. Capable of making an impact with both feet, the silky winger is given the license to express his footballing ability amongst the creativity in behind Teemu Pukki. The 22-year-old right winger operates in-between the lines and cleverly finds space so that forward passes are able to penetrate the opposition's midfield. Buendia's first touch is a notable aspect to his game, he is able to shift the ball with both feet to work space for a shot or a killer pass. An example of where his first touch was broadcasted was against Hull City at home where he manipulated the ball elegantly onto his left foot before rifling a shot past Marshall. Ultimately, Buendia's contribution has been crucial in Norwich's rise in the Championship, scoring 7 and assisting 9 goals.
Seasoned Championship striker Jordan Rhodes has struggled to even get a look in this season since his loan move from Sheffield Wednesday, such as the form of Pukki. But the capture of Tim Krul, a Dutch international and equipped Premier League shot-stopper has certainly lived up to the hype. Despite the lack of ability with the ball at his feet, Krul has adapted well to life in the Championship and kept a clean sheet in an impressive 29% of games this season.
Farke has invested his time at Norwich City in blooding through the youth too. The core of the team is laced with experience, but in the areas where energy is required, Farke has consistently stuck with youthful exuberance. A key area is the full-back positions. He deploys these positions like they are wing backs that must have the required energy to get up and down the pitch for 90 minutes, adapting to the modern game. Max Aarons (Right back) and Jamal Lewis (left back) are both products who have developed through the academy and been rewarded with the pressures of thriving in consistent first-team action. There are distinct similarities between the two players. It isn't often that the full back's first intention is to drive at their man, but both of Norwich's marauding wing-backs have the refreshing ability to beat a man with ease. For a young player, there is usually a question mark over their decision making. But remarkably, Norwich's prized assets are rarely caught making an error or a wrong pass. Aaron's, in particular, has made a worthy impact in the final third too, assisting 6 times (more than any other Championship full back).
The midfield anchor Tom Trybull is a key cog in the Norwich City engine. He often drops into the deep-lying playmaker role and always opens up space for himself so that the centre-halves have an easy passing option. Likened to the way Jorginho operates at Chelsea under Sarri, Trybull is an accomplished, neat player on the ball who constantly looks for a forward pass. However, the attacking talent around him is the beneficiary of his unselfishness - the German often drops in between the centre-halves when his team is attacking to make it a three. This provides license for the marauding wing backs to strut their attacking talent in the final third. Norwich usually isolates the opposition full back in a two versus one situation - Lewis or Aarons overlap to open space up for the wingers to cut inside and play a disguised pass or recycle the possession until space opens up.
Although Norwich's adventurous full backs and the indispensable attacking trio will steal the limelight, centre-halves Ben Godfrey and Christoph Zimmerman have formed an unbreakable partnership in defence and managed to keep out the experienced duo of Grant Hanley and Tim Klose. Farke's continuous admiration of utilising youth players speaks volumes about the coaches faith in improving talent that is at the club. Ben Godfrey, an acquisition from York at the age of 17 has risen through the Norwich youth set up and impressed on loan at Shrewsbury last season as they narrowly missed out on automatic promotion. The 21-year-old has flourished playing in front of the experienced head of Krul and captain Zimmerman. Though Godfrey has had to endure a patient wait for regular first team action since mid-December, the England under-21 international has nailed down the central defensive role with his ability on the ball and strength in the air.
Interestingly, Daniel Farke's adaptation of the pressing game is something that echoes Jurgen Klopp's gegenpress tactic at Liverpool. In this tactic, the box to box midfielder is crucial in keeping the team ticking over and their ability to be positionally aware. Similarly to Georginio Wijnaldum at Liverpool, Mario Vrancic has filled this role for the majority of the season. It's a position that requires bags of energy, an ability to pick out a pass and making in-roads beyond the defensive line. A game where his role had been executed to perfection was against Leeds - Trybull sitting in the defensive line meant Vrancic could offer that third man run that caught the backline off guard. In the Canaries 3-0 thumping of Leeds at Elland Road, Vrancic put in a man of the match display by scoring two well-taken goals and impressing his manager in the process. Farke had this to say about Norwich's pressing game against one of the league's best:
“The pressing of Leeds is outstanding, one of the best in the league. From the first minute we had the feeling that we weren’t here for a close result or a draw, no. We wanted to win the game and the lads showed this on the pitch today.”
Managers in the modern game frequently use the 4-2-3-1 formation - it is essentially the base formation before there are interchanges in the game. With the marauding wing backs and Trybull sitting in the defence, Farke's system alters to 3-4-3 formation in attack with Stiepermann and Vrancic operating in the advanced central areas - similar to the roles of Bernardo Silva and David Silva at Manchester City - finding the pockets of space and feeding the wide areas. Often Bernardo Silva will float out to the right side of the field so that it incorporates the space for Sterling to get in behind. Similarly, in Norwich's system, Stiepermann will roam out the right side of midfield which overloads that area of the pitch and vacating the space for Aarons to overlap and Buendia to cut inside. Essentially, Norwich's movement is attacking havoc for the opposition to deal with - their attacking players interchange so well. If Pukki drops in, willing runners will vacate space beyond the defensive line.
Norwich can dominate teams using this formation, with a central pairing of Vrancic and Trybull, with more recently Kenny Mclean entering the fray, but Norwich also has the ability to sit back and counter attack against teams. In their emphatic victory over Leeds, Daniel Farke tactically outsmarted Marcello Bielsa by sitting in with a rigid 4-2-3-1 formation and pressing from the front. Farke knew Leeds liked to enjoy possession in defensive areas and usually find passes in-between the lines to the tricky Pablo Hernandez. But to combat this, the German deployed traps by pressing in numbers so that Leeds found it hard to gain any momentum or a foothold in the match. Farke had nullified the leagues most potent attack by playing a calculated pressing game and matching Leeds in the middle of the park. He also made sure that Kalvin Phillips couldn't get on the ball and dictate the game by putting Stiepermann on him. For Leeds, Phillips is their deep-lying playmaker, if you shut him down you shut down the attacking prowess ahead of him. Even when Leeds tried to go long, the Norwich defence was unscathed and picked the Yorkshire team off on the counter-attack.
With a four-point lead at the top to protect, Norwich City is flying high and look set for a Premier League return. The Canaries have the 'easiest' run-in of the three automatic promotion candidates and their form against teams in the lower echelons of the table makes for impressive reading. They have picked up an impressive 42 points against sides that linger in the lower end of the table. With 8 games remaining, I don't think anyone can foresee a Norwich capitulation now heading into the business end of the season. After witnessing an exciting passing style of football with talented young wing backs and foreign flair oozing in the wide areas, Daniel Farke's long term commitment to the club bodes well for their future. If they are to gain promotion back to the promise land, Daniel Farke's 4-2-3-1 system will certainly be adaptable in the Premier League with the correct investments to their already talented squad.