David Wagner deserves credit for Norwich City’s recent improvements and for his game-changing substitutions against Coventry City in a 2-1 Championship win.

Ben is a City season ticket holder and author of the NCFC Analysis social media account, who unpicks games with an analytical report highlighting tactical strengths and weaknesses.

This is what Ben made of more encouraging signs from the Canaries against a top six rival.

Norwich versus Coventry: In contention

Score: 2 – 1

Possession (%): 60 – 40

Passes: 597 – 406

Shots: 21 – 8

xG: 1.57 – 0.99

  • Norwich’s build-up rotations.
  • Uncertainty in Coventry’s press.
  • Substitutions: The Barnes effect.
  • xG overperformance and Wagner’s rebuttal.

Base formations

Wagner made one change to his last league eleven, as Fassnacht replaced the injured Rowe, while Coventry boss Mark Robins made four changes to his side. Both teams set up in a 4-2-3-1 base shape, with double pivots occupying the space behind three attacking midfielders.

The Pink Un:

In Norwich’s deepest build-up phases, the full-backs advanced on both touchlines while Sainz (7) inverted alongside Sara (17). Fassnacht (16) remained wide on the right, and Sargent (9) occupied the centre, creating an asymmetric deep build-up structure. The Sky Blues created a 5v4 central overload as they pushed forward in a relatively narrow 4-2-3-1 shape.

The Pink Un:

When Gunn (28) played out to Norwich’s left, McLean (23) often dropped into the space vacated by Giannoulis (30). This movement drew Sakamoto (7) out wide, thus opening a passing lane to Sainz (7), who dropped towards Gibson (6) to receive.

But with Allen (8) tracking Sainz (7), the visitors prevented a progressive pass and trapped Norwich man-for-man against the touchline.

The Pink Un:

Despite this early pressing success, Robins’ men struggled to consistently force high turnovers. With Simms (9) isolated in a 3v1, Norwich often had time to play into McLean (23) or Nunez (26) who exploited a 2v1 against O’Hare (10) when the wingers were too wide or deep.

By conceding overloads against the first two lines of pressure, however, Coventry rendered Norwich’s deep build-up phases relatively ineffective as they retained advantages in the last two lines of pressure, thereby limiting controlled progression.

The Pink Un:

In general, Norwich did well to adjust to these more passive pressing phases, with the centre-backs successfully targeting Sargent (9) or Fassnacht (16) directly. On City’s right, for example, Sargent (9) won the first contact of a long pass from Duffy (24), before directing the ball to Fassnacht (16) in space behind Bidwell (21), who had been drawn to press Stacey (3).

The Pink Un:

Notwithstanding Coventry’s central compactness, Robins’ side occasionally picked the wrong moments to press and sit off. Within the first fifteen minutes, Sargent (9) made his way into the visitor’s box following a moment of disorganisation in Coventry’s press.

The issue began with Wright (11) jumping from Nunez (26) to Duffy (24) on the left, before Sara (17) moved into the space behind, leaving O’Hare (10) isolated in a 2v1.

The Pink Un:

Having escaped on the right, Norwich shifted the ball back infield to McLean (23) who, with Coventry backing off in midfield, had time and space to pick a pass to Sargent (9). By dropping back after the initial pressing mistake, Coventry’s remaining defenders played Sargent (9) onside.

The Pink Un:

In settled phases of possession, McLean (23) either dropped to create a situational back three or he remained alongside Nunez (26) to maintain the host’s 2v1 against O’Hare (10), with Coventry initially creating a 4-4-1-1 mid-block.

Norwich’s usual settled-play rotations saw the full-backs overlap while the wingers inverted to occupy the space on either side of Sara (17), creating what would become a crucial 3v2 central overload.

The Pink Un:

When McLean (23) moved to the left of a temporary back three, Sainz (7) dropped back into the space vacated by the Norwich captain. In response, Allen (8) jumped between O’Hare (10) and Sakamoto (7), leaving Sara (17) in space to receive as Giannoulis (30) overlapped on the wing.

The Pink Un:

Halfway through the first half, however, a misplaced pass from McLean (23) exposed City’s overly expansive settled-play shape. With Nunez (26) alone in midfield, the Chilean was forced to foul Sakamoto (7) to prevent an opportunity for the visitors.

In what was a promising performance from Wagner’s men, this situation was a reminder of the risks associated with almost entirely vacating the second line of City’s settled-play build-up structure.

The Pink Un:

Having taken the lead, Coventry adjusted the balance of their press, creating a more passive mid-block for much of the second half. But when O’Hare (10) was drawn towards City’s situational back three, creating a 4-4-2 shape, Nunez (26) became free to receive between the lines.

The passivity of Coventry’s mid-block meant Nunez (26) had time to access Sara (17) between Sakamoto (7) and Allen (8). The Brazilian found Sainz (7), who played out to Giannoulis (30) on the wing, while Sara (17) advanced to receive a return pass between the lines.

The Pink Un:

Similar weaknesses were exposed following the introduction of Hernandez (25) and Barnes (10), with the latter playing a significant role in both Norwich goals.

In the build-up to the host’s equaliser, with Barnes (10) occupying space between the lines and Sara (17) dropping back into the initial build-up phases, Norwich were able to play through Coventry’s passive press with ease.

This was another example of the visitor’s being caught between pressing and sitting off, as Torp (29) began pressing Barnes (10) before realising he’d left space behind for Sara (17) to exploit.

The Pink Un:

In Coventry’s deepest build-up phases, the visitors created a conventional 4-2-3-1 shape, while Norwich pressed man-to-man on the ball side from their usual 4-1-3-2 structure. The host’s individual pressing responsibilities depended on the direction of their opponent’s build-up, while the full-backs were ready to track Wright (11) and Sakamoto (7) when they dropped towards the ball.

The Pink Un:

Given Norwich’s relatively intense press, Coventry occasionally escaped via a direct ball to Simms (9). The wingers advanced to pin Stacey (3) and Giannoulis (30) in the last line, thereby opening space for Simms (9) to challenge for the first contact.

The Pink Un:

But Robins’ men briefly found a pattern to manipulate Norwich’s press. After initially playing out to the left, a return pass to Collins (40) was followed by a bounce pass from Torp (29) to Thomas (4). Using the goalkeeper to change direction created an overload against Norwich’s press.

The Pink Un:

With Nunez (26) jumping out to Thomas (4) and Sainz (7) tracking van Ewijk (27), Torp (29) became temporarily free. Instead of receiving on the half-turn and playing forward, however, Torp (29) turned towards his own goal, allowing Norwich to force a high turnover.

The Pink Un:

Once Coventry advanced beyond Norwich’s high and mid-press, the host’s dropped into a solid 4-4-2 mid-block, while Robins’ side failed to create overloads against each line of pressure.

After shifting over in time with the ball, Norwich’s nearest pivot restricted access to O’Hare (10) by tracking him between the lines, while the full-backs followed the Coventry wingers, and the ball-side centre-back marked Simms (9).

The Pink Un:

Wagner deserves credit for City’s recent improvements and for his game-changing substitutions against Coventry, even if it remains, in my opinion, somewhat grating to hear the ‘told you so’ style media rebuttals, especially given Norwich’s reliance on individual quality.

This is a side with a front three of Sainz, Sargent, and Rowe, who are dramatically outperforming their expected goals tally, with the exciting trio scoring a total of 21 goals from 10.97xG. Expected goals don’t win games, but they do provide an indication of the balance between performance processes and individual brilliance.

With Norwich leaning towards the latter half of that scale, it’s bold of Wagner to seem so dismayed by any suggestion of his own fallibility – not least given the potential long-term impact of a blockage to City’s academy pathway.

It was, however, another promising performance from Wagner’s side on Saturday. If key players remain available and performance improvements persist, this result against a top-six contender will surely secure Norwich’s place in the conversation for the same positions.

You can read all Ben's previous analysis of Norwich City games via his social media accounts.

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