The FA Cup an unwanted distraction from the league, or a welcome distraction from the league? Andrew Lawn loves it, so was only too happy to watch City frustrate a team it is impossible not to hate. Here is his take on a City performance that offers a tantalising glimpse of the future.
Random star performer
Josh Murphy; for two reasons. 1 - faced with a back line that cost in excess of 100m to assemble, Murph (costing 0m) was a constant thorn and buzzy threat. Exactly the kind of nuisance front man this correspondent thinks we would benefit from. 2 - it aptly demonstrated that the word “striker” is just that; a word. A label assigned to whoever is nominally meant to stand furthest up the pitch. Farke’s gameplan yesterday, and I would care to wager, his ultimate ambition for this team, is a fluid front 3 or 4, with no “striker”, but a raft of skilful players blessed with attacking verve.
Nods too to Christoph Zimmermann, Grant Hanley and Timm Klose. Excellent and encouraging.
Moment of the match
While not a single moment, the 10 or 15 minutes towards the end, that saw an increasingly desperate Chelsea resorting to increasingly wild potshots from distance, was a joy to behold. It was a sign that City’s defensive resoluteness is well and truly back, as we denied the reigning Premier League champions any clear sights of goal. That’s now 1 goal conceded in 4 games.
Resplendent in the increasingly lucky black parka, Farke was less animated than his clearly irritated smurf costume wearing counterpart in the away dugout.
Farke’s bold plan to match Chelsea’s 3,4,3 was a gamble, but spoke volumes about the faith he has in his young charges to go toe-to-toe with one of the most expensively assembled squads in the world (sidenote - how any manager can complain about a lack of depth when they have 617 players out on loan is laughable).
Biggest positive to take
There were many here, including the aforementioned defensive resoluteness, on which a successful team can be built, but the standout for me is that it appears Farke has found both his system and a combination of players that can implement it.
A back 3 of Hanley, Zimmermann and Klose combines brute strength with experience and no lack of ball playing. In front of them and with license to roam, Jamal Lewis has taken to senior football like a duck to water. His composure on the ball, allayed to an instinct for when to bomb on and when to hold, is admirable in someone in the very dawn of their career. On the opposite side, Pinto is a much better wing-back, than full-back. Between them Tettey and Trybull shielded the back 3 and hunted the ball superbly. With Tettey seemingly off this summer, a replacement for the Norwegian’s strength is a key piece of business for this January. In front of that you have the Maddison/Pritchard combination which looks better each week, mirroring the increasingly encouraging form and confidence of young Josh.
We’re far from there yet, but given time, patience and support, this young team has real potential.
If you’re being picky, the lack of a shot on target could form the basis of some grumbling. However, 7 efforts on goal, 3 of which were blocked en route, highlight that this was far from purely a containment job.
Better. While not a crackling 90 minute deafener, this was a huge improvement on most recent league games, aided by the ability of like-minded people to congregate together. The benefits of a dedicated singing section were there for all to see (hear) as the usual Block E back row gang, were joined by people, usually spread around the ground and the result was a much more cohesive noise, which emanated from across the Barclay. People also looked like they were enjoying themselves; which is after all why we’re all there and exactly what we would like to achieve, week-in-week-out.
An encouraging performance, that should buy Farke and his players more time from the boo-brigade, but one which has plenty of additional room for improvement. This was a showing that demonstrated how Farke wants to set his team up and what those individual characteristics for each position, that Webber talked about pre-season look like. Hopefully this heralds the beginning of the end for trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes, to stop the rot which set in years ago with a 6-2 thumping at StJames’ and we can all start to look forward to a bright new era. Encouraged.