It was Robins vs Canaries at Ashton Gate in the EFL Championship’s early kick-off on Saturday. Dean Holden’s Bristol City came into the game having not won in any of their last four fixtures, whereas the visitors were unbeaten since their 1-0 loss at home to Derby County. Holden was unable to select two players that have been around the squad in recent fixtures, with both Andi Weimann and Steven Sessegnon out for long periods due to significant injuries. Norwich City were also without Xavi Quintilla, who in midweek, suffered a hip injury during the warmup against Brentford. Jacob Sorensen, therefore, made another start at left-back. The tactical analysis below covers the game in BS3.
Once again, Holden organised his Bristol City side into the familiar 3-5-2 formation they have gone with this season. Dan Bentley started in between the sticks, with a back three of Taylor Moore, Tomáš Kalas and Zak Vyner in front of him. Jack Hunt and Jay Dasilva both started as wing backs, either side of an unfamiliar looking midfield three. Regular starter Jamie Paterson once again was selected, alongside Chris Brunt and Callum O’Dowda, who both started only their second game of the season. Nahki Wells and Chris Martin were back among the starting XI, after being on the bench against Bournemouth in the week.
Daniel Farke made two changes to his side since Norwich’s last fixture against Brentford on Tuesday night. Once again going with his 4-2-3-1 formation, Tim Krul started in goal for the German’s side. Max Aarons, Grant Hanley, Ben Gibson and Jacob Sørensen made up the back four, with Oliver Skipp and former Bundesliga man Lukas Rupp sitting just in front the defensive line. Emiliano Buendía and Przemyslaw Płacheta started on either wing, together with Marco Stiepermann who played in attacking midfield. Prolific striker Teemu Pukki started upfront for the ninth time this season.
Bristol City in attack
When going forwards, Bristol City made sure they advanced with at least five players at all times. These attacks would consist of both strikers, two of the midfield three, and whatever wing back was opposite to the side play was on. For example, if Callum O’Dowda was to drive down the right side of the pitch with the ball, then the left wing back would push on and join the attack. The remaining defenders would then re-organise and become a back four.
Here we see an example of these attacking instructions in motion. Nahki Wells and Jamie Paterson have advanced with the ball down the left wing, getting into an opportune position to score. As per the instructions, we see midfielder O’Dowda and wing back Hunt push on into the box, finding an excess amount of space around them. In the scenario above, the ball finds its way to Hunt who finishes into the left-hand side netting. This was largely down to his instructions, which allowed him to be in a position to score.
With having target man Chris Martin within their side, Bristol City quite often tried to find their new signing with long balls up the pitch. Above we see Martin receive a long pass from goalkeeper Bentley, with both Paterson and Wells as supporting options around him. They make sure to be in space when the striker receives the ball, letting them take a pass easier when flicked on by Martin. However, the Englishman was only able to win two out of his 11 aerial duels throughout the match. This could possibly be a reason why the Robins struggled to create many big chances from open play against the East Anglian side.
The Robins in transition
When having won the ball in their own third, defensive midfielder Chris Brunt would regularly come short to receive passes from the backline. The Robins would attempt to foster attacks through their midfield, with the ex-West Brom midfielder playing a crucial role in the process. 12 of the 19 passes Brunt received in the 90 were between himself and the defenders, including wing backs Dasilva and Hunt.
Here we see an example of the types of space Brunt found himself in to receive the ball. He drops deeper and finds space within the midfield, showing feet to Kalas who then passes to him. From here he can then bounce the ball back to the defence, or turn due to the space he created for himself. Dasilva and O’Dowda then become the more forward options for him to play to.
After losing possession, the Robins would make sure their wing backs and two of the midfield three would track back and defend. This is inverse to when going forwards, where the same players here would be instructed to push on and attack. Above we see midfielders Brunt and O’Dowda cover ground to get behind the ball during this Norwich attack. As Brunt is tracking the run of the highlighted player, Vyner has the freedom to press the Canaries winger who would otherwise be able to advance further. These tactics worked for the Robins, who reduced the Norwich wingers to only completing one dribble throughout the match.
Bristol City’s defensive organisation
When using a 3-5-2 formation, the wing backs have the freedom to push on but also have responsibilities to defend. When on the back foot, Bristol City organized their backline into a flat back five. This ensures the three centre backs are not outnumbered by Norwich’s striker and two wingers.
Here we can see the way the back five looked when defending, with the middle centre back picking up the lone striker. Both of the Canaries’ wingers have come inside, and so Bristol City’s three midfielders tighten up to reduce the space they have to receive the ball. Dasilva, the left wing back, can see both the ball and the Norwich right back, who is pushed far up the pitch during this play. His defensive positioning allows him to do both simultaneously.
Norwich City on the front foot
Using their 4-2-3-1 formation, Daniel Farke’s side were able to create 32 attacks in open play throughout the game. They were able to take more shots than their West Country opposition (19 vs 15), finding the target more often (8 vs 6) along with creating more big chances in comparison as well (4 vs 1).
Here we see how the Canaries organised their players when in the final third of the pitch. Both wingers come inside, with Buendía (RW) making an underlapping run and Płacheta (LW) finding a pocket of space in between the opposition’s midfield and defence. As Bristol City defend with five at the back, bringing the wingers into the centre of the field gives Pukki more support when coming up against a packed backline. In the scenario above the striker, who scored 11 goals in the Premier League last season, moves off Zak Vyner’s shoulder and receives a through ball into the penalty area. This movement allows him to take a shot, which goes under the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
When using the 4-2-3-1 formation, either full backs are given the freedom to overlap when going forwards. This means when Norwich are on the attack, either Max Aarons or Jacob Sørensen should comfortable as a defender in the final third. Against Bristol City, the Canaries focussed the majority of their advances down the right side of the pitch (16 vs 9 through the middle and 9 on the left). Aarons was successful in 100% of his dribbles, with two of his five crosses finding a teammate. Above, we see the positions the young English right back found himself in during certain periods of the match, meaning ex-La Liga player Buendía (RW) could move centrally and pack the space around the box further.
The Canaries in transition
When having won the ball off the Robins, Farke instructed his wingers to come centrally and receive the ball from a teammate. When looking at both Buendía’s and Płacheta’s average positions throughout the 90 minutes, neither player often stayed within the channel outside the 18-yard-box.
Here we see an example of this when Lukas Rupp wins an aerial ball Callum O’Dowda. As soon as he gains possession, Buendía instantly moves towards space in the centre of the pitch. Both Pukki and Płacheta are positioned in a way that allows them to start in line with Bristol City’s defence, meaning they can quickly break away when on the counter. Throughout the game, the Canaries were able to successfully achieve nine counterattacks compared to the Robins’ two.
Norwich City in defence
When coming up against five attacking Bristol City players, Norwich organised themselves in a way that suffocated the opposition out of possession. In the second half, Holden’s side changed to a 4-4-2 as they looked for a second goal. This meant Farke had to adapt to this change and try to deal with wide midfielders, something Bristol City didn’t have in the first half.
Here we see Jamie Paterson, who was moved to left midfield, get surrounded by an excess amount of Norwich players. Farke’s tactics meant that the Robins player has nowhere to go in front of him, and no viable supporting options around to pass to. Out of the seven dribble attempts both wide midfielders had for Bristol City, only three were successful.
Late in the second half, Bristol City were desperately trying to find a goal. To deal with this constant pressure from the home side, Norwich set up their defence in two lines which the opposition would have to breakthrough. Above we can see the back four sit slightly deeper, allowing the midfield to hold their position in the dangerous zone outside the penalty area. This forces Bristol City to take shots from distance, instead of working the ball into the box and creating easier chances for themselves. Analysis shows the Robins only had two shots on target in the second half, with seven being blocked or going wide throughout the 90.
To conclude, Norwich City probably deserved all three points from Saturday’s fixture at Ashton Gate. Farke’s side created more chances and dangerous opportunities compared to the home side, who only managed five shots on target compared to Norwich’s eight. This was the Canaries fifth game unbeaten in a row, with their next game coming up against a tough Millwall side. On the other hand, this result means Bristol City have only managed two points from 15 in their last five fixtures, their next match coming up against a Huddersfield side who currently sit 12th in the league.