David Freezer: Whatever the shape, Farke needs to survive Canaries limbo with credit in the bank
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As tempers calm after a poor 4-1 defeat at QPR on Easter Monday, David Freezer assesses whether Norwich City would be best to start with three central defenders again when they host Aston Villa.
To three, or not to three, that is the question among Norwich City supporters following successive defeats for Daniel Farke's team.
Losing 4-1 to a fellow meandering mid-table side at Queens Park Rangers on Monday has left many fans asking why City's boss has moved away from a formation including three at the back.
The added security of having a trio central defenders at the back had contributed to a feeling that Farke was laying solid foundations upon which to build for next season – when talk of transition and development will be given short shrift.
Christoph Zimmermann and Grant Hanley were the pairing deployed in the hope their height and strength could deal with QPR's giant striker Matt Smith but lost that battle.
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That followed a 2-0 home defeat to high-flying Fulham on Friday in which Zimmermann and Timm Klose were unable to keep the back door shut, as Hanley rested troublesome shin splints on the bench.
So will City bring back a defensive line featuring all three for Saturday's difficult looking game against promotion-chasing Aston Villa?
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After just one win in 10 Championship games, there is a clear need to stop the rot before it starts to spill into the next campaign, upon which so many of the club's hopes are now resting.
However, the 4-2-3-1 formation did bring recent success at Carrow Road. Farke was receiving plenty of plaudits for finally discovering a winning formula which also provided entertainment for the home fans following last month's 3-2 win over lowly Reading.
That day the Canaries played with two genuine wingers in Josh Murphy and Onel Hernandez and were comfortably 3-1 ahead at the break, before wobbling in the second half but holding on.
It seemed the need for three at the back in home games had come to an end, with a positive result and performance, only for a twang of Hernandez's hamstring to rob Farke of the width and pace which had proved successful.
The German persisted with that shape but with Villa followed by a trip to relegation-battling Sunderland, a Carrow Road clash with automatic promotion hopefuls Cardiff and a reunion with Alex Neil's play-off chasing Preston, the safer back-three system looks the safest bet.
Has starting with that largely 3-4-3 formation really been so successful though? Here's how the records match up...
Starting with three at the back
P10 W3 D5 L2 F11 A11 Pts14
Starting with four at the back
P30 W10 D8 L12 F31 A39 Pts38
So a three may be tighter and more difficult to beat but in terms of being more productive there isn't a great deal of difference.
Three at the back earned 1-0 wins at Brentford and Bristol City, as well as a victory over Middlesbrough at home. It held leaders Wolves to a 2-2 draw at Molineux but also could not prevent home defeats to Sunderland and Sheffield United.
While the traditional flat back four can include the worst results of the season, conceding four in each of the defeats at Villa, Millwall and QPR, it did also earn away wins at Sheffield United, Boro, Reading, Ipswich and Birmingham.
Also in the mix is the back three frustrating Premier League giants Chelsea across 120 minutes in the FA Cup, conceding just once to the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian before shootout heartbreak.
In amongst all this, a penny for Sean Raggett's thoughts?
The summer signing from Lincoln City has played a grand total of around two minutes since returning from his League Two loan in January.
The strapping 24-year-old centre-back has played a grand total of two minutes for the Canaries so far, coming on during the fourth minute of stoppage time during the 1-0 win at Bristol City in January.
Having been one of Lincoln's key players Raggett already had 28 appearances to his name so far this campaign but has only been named on the bench in five of the subsequent 12 games.
Building for the future? There are few signs that Raggett will be playing for City next season either at this rate.
The conclusion? Whether it's three or four at the back, the Canaries have been well short of the standard required to be a Championship promotion chaser this season.
How Farke handles these six games of mid-table limbo will now decide how much patience he has in the Carrow Road bank.
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