Following City’s 2-2 draw with Preston, I’ve tactically analysed the performance, focusing on areas they desperately need to improve upon, as well as aspects of their game that offered positives when compared to recent campaigns.
Let’s start with the areas for improvement, and Oliver Skipp’s involvement with Preston’s opener.
First and foremost, this was never a penalty. Yes, Skipp’s hands are raised, but why Ben Davies’ legs spontaneously buckle without any pressure applied, is preposterous.
Unfortunately for Skipp, Davies shouldn’t have been presented with an opportunity to fool the referee in the first place.
Skipp is in a good position here, but he fails to block the runner and Davies beats him to the ball, resulting in the panic that follows.
It’s probably a tad harsh to highlight Skipp for this incident. It arguably highlights City’s continued set-piece vulnerability more than the Spurs loanee’s inadequacies. But saying that, I’m not sure a video of Skipp’s every touch will be released following this game.
The strengths and weaknesses of City’s centre-back pairing is no secret. Christoph Zimmermann is dominant aerially, winning 10 of his 13 aerial duels, but suffered technically, with a pass success rate of just 73 percent.
His defensive partner, Ben Godfrey was the complete opposite, winning just three aerial duels but with a pass success rate of 83 percent.
You’d think this would result in a more balanced pairing, one which is capable of supplementing one another’s weaknesses, but this passage of play is a prime example of where both Zimmermann and Godfrey suffer.
Godfrey fails to get a clean connection on the header, which eventually falls to Zimmermann’s feet.
The sensible decision here, would be to play a pass to Max Aarons on his right-hand side.
This would allow City to retain possession, shifting the emphasis from the left side of the pitch, to the right.
Instead, he plays an aimless pass down the centre of the pitch that plays right into Preston’s hands.
This is where City fundamentally struggled in the first half: we played how Preston wanted us to.
City have to learn to be vigilant in the first 20 minutes of games and not succumb to the physical demands’ opponents will force upon them.
As the game went on, more space and time was available for Norwich to hit their stride, but had they been more measured with their approach in the first half they’d have dealt with Preston’s high tempo, pressing game with more ease.
Unfortunately, my critique of City’s defence doesn’t end there, as they were at fault for Preston’s second goal.
At the start of the move, City’s defence is in relatively good shape. While there is space between the centre-backs and wing-backs, any run down City’s right should be followed by Kenny McLean.
But after Preston continue to probe, Aarons and Zimmermann find themselves out of position.
Aarons’ attempt to get back in shape is naïve, and he leaves a gaping hole for Alan Browne to thread a pass into the path of Scott Sinclair, who attacks the vacated space.
It’s Sinclair’s rebounded shot that eventually falls to Darnell Fisher, who debatably was a touch fortuitous to still be on the pitch.
Quintilla’s Quintessential Quality
Not only do City need to improve in defending set-pieces, but creating more goal-scoring opportunities will be vital in any promotion push.
Last season, only 50 dead-ball passes led to a shot (Emi Buendia was accountable for 30 of them), with just two leading to a goal.
In Xavi Quintilla, Norwich have a left-back capable of producing enticing deliveries into the box.
Three deliveries, all of which all came within minutes of each other, are the ones I want to focus on.
This free-kick (above) results in a corner, which lands in a similarly dangerous position (below).
It’s third-time lucky for City, as the previous two deliveries were left un-attacked. While the Canaries may still have been goalless were it not for Declan Rudd’s goalkeeping mishap, it’s the area in which Quintilla is providing dangerous deliveries that excites me.
If Norwich are to be Buendia-less this season, then having quality deliveries from wide positions could result in an additional goal source this season.
This section’s alliteration could have quite easily ended with ‘pace’ or ‘persistence’, but I think Przemyslaw Placheta’s positioning is probably most apt.
Placheta’s intelligence off the ball – particularly on his more habitual left-hand side – is what impressed me most.
Pace, athleticism and directness are facets of his game that have been well documented. It was his ability in tight spaces, in-between the lines which was highlighted as a potential area for improvement.
We know how crucial these attributes are in Farkeball.
In this position (below), Placheta isn’t offering a viable passing option, as any attempt made would more than likely be intercepted.
As McLean plays the sensible option out wide, he makes a darting run down the left-flank, allowing Placheta to retreat to create a passing option.
As opposed to playing the first-time pass I highlighted, he cuts inside and evades a tight man-mark to bring Todd Cantwell into the game.
From face value, it appears obvious the types of areas in which Placheta wishes to operate in.
During the build-up, we can see the Pole circled as he joins the forward line with Teemu Pukki.
This appears to be something of a theme as, again, Placheta is aligned with Pukki during an attack, resulting in Aarons’ attempt rising over the bar.
It’s no fluke that Placheta then finds himself in the prime position for his well-documented miss, or his equaliser which pulls Norwich back into the game.
His ability to find pockets of space to operate in and take up goalscoring positions are facets of his game we didn’t expect.
However, the run he makes in-behind Preston’s defence late on is something which we were aware of.
Placheta is then capable of delivering a first-time cross into the highlighted zone (below) for Teemu Pukki to latch on to. If it wasn’t for a top-class save from Norfolkonian Rudd, then Placheta’s home debut may well have been remembered as one of the most impressive in recent memory.
To summarise, there are some new facets to City’s game that are impressive. A genuine goal threat, pace in-behind and teasing deliveries are aspects that Farke will be pleased with.
Unfortunately, the same defensive issues remain. Norwich still look vulnerable and maladroit from set-pieces, which is potentially a knock-on effect of having a centre-back pairing who have evident weaknesses in their game and which, if targeted effectively, will continue to be exploited.
Thankfully, City do have additional personnel in their ranks should they wish to utilise them and are genuinely creating different types of openings.
We just have to hope that their season won’t be defined by defensive ineptitude, instead of the offensive nuances introduced.
Billy is ½ of NCFC podcast The Revere End. You can follow them on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook @therevereend and listen to their podcast on Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts.
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