Norwich City failed to hit top gear against a well-organised Bristol City side at Carrow Road on Saturday, and Ben Lee has unpicked why the Canaries found it so tough to crack the code. 

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 another victory for David Wagner's side. 

Norwich Vs Bristol City: One step closer.

Score: 1 – 1

Possession (%): 49 – 51

Passes: 520 – 549

Shots: 10 – 13

xG: 1.33 – 1.67

  • · Norwich’s build-up rotations.
  • · An organised Bristol City press.
  • · Bristol’s well-coached build-up patterns.
  • · Limiting last-line overloads.

Base Formations:

David Wagner named an unchanged eleven against Bristol City, with Ashley Barnes occupying his usual role as a second striker behind and often alongside Josh Sargent in City’s fluid 4-2-3-1 base formation.

Norwich-born Bristol City boss Liam Manning made just one change to his side, as Robert Dickie replaced Matty James in the visitor’s 3-4-2-1.

Eastern Daily Press:

During Norwich’s goalkeeper restarts, the hosts created an asymmetric 4-2-2-2 structure, with Sara (17) dropping in line with Barnes (10) while Sainz (7) stayed high and wide on the left.

In response, Bristol City pressed high from a 3-4-3 shape. Conway (15) led the line in the middle of the visitor’s front three, while the wing-backs were ready to back up the press, and Roberts (24) jumped from the last line to occupy Sara (17).

Eastern Daily Press:

With Gunn (28) attempting to bait pressure, Bristol City waited for a pass to a centre-back before initiating their press. Following a pass from Gunn (28) to his left, Conway (15) pressed Gibson (6) from the side, leaving Sykes (17) alongside McCallum (15).

These first-phase dynamics allowed McCrorie (2) to stay close to Sainz (7) and Barnes (10) rather than being drawn to press Norwich’s left-back and risk isolating Tanner (19) in a wide 2v1.

Eastern Daily Press:

Given Norwich’s asymmetric build-up structure, however, when the host’s played out to their right, Bristol’s pressing dynamics were slightly different.

Twine (7) was ready to press City’s right centre-back, while Williams (8) stayed tight to the ball-side pivot, and Pring (3) backed up the press on Stacey (3). Behind the first two lines of pressure, Roberts (24) remained tight to Sara (17), leaving Norwich without an obvious escape.

Eastern Daily Press:

Given the space Williams (8) and Knight (12) were required to cover, the visitor’s aggressive front three occasionally left one of Norwich’s pivots free to receive in open-play build-up phases.

City either accessed a pivot via a full-back or they exploited the visitor’s lack of shadow-marking – where a pressing player blocks a passing lane to the player behind them.

Eastern Daily Press:

In one instance, Norwich exposed this issue further when McLean (23) dropped outside of the visitor’s defensive block to create a passing angle to Nunez (26).

With the Chilean midfielder receiving between the lines, he turned to find Sara (17) creating another angle to receive behind Twine (7). With Stacey (3) overlapping on the right, Norwich played through the visitor’s press by creating a diagonal line of progression.

Eastern Daily Press:

In more settled build-up phases, when Bristol dropped into a 5-2-3 mid-press, the visitors effectively blocked central progression by trapping Nunez (26) and McLean (23) between their double pivot and front three.

Without Gunn (28) involved in these phases, one of Norwich’s pivots – usually Nunez (26) – dropped between the centre-backs. With the full-backs advancing and the wingers inverting, City created their usual 3-diamond-3 settled-play structure deep in their own half.

Eastern Daily Press:

When Norwich advanced towards the halfway line, Bristol City dropped in their compact 5-2-3 shape and successfully limited half-space access to Norwich’s inverted wingers.

Instead, Sara (17) and Sainz (7) frequently dropped into the wide areas to receive outside of the visitor’s defensive block. In response, Bristol’s ball-side wing-back often jumped into midfield, leaving the wide centre-back to track Norwich’s advanced full-back.

Eastern Daily Press:

On occasion, Bristol’s compact 5-2-3 structure became an aggressive man-to-man press when the front-line pressed Norwich’s situational back three, and Bristol’s wide centre-backs jumped towards the narrow wingers.

But when Barnes (10) pinned Roberts (24) in the last line on Norwich’s right, for example, the host’s stretched Bristol’s pivots with Sara (17) moving out to the touchline. In such situations, Williams (8) pressed out wide while Knight (12) tracked McLean (23).

Eastern Daily Press:

A few technical errors from Norwich, combined with Bristol’s well-organised mid-press, meant the visitors were often able to push City back into their own half before forcing high turnovers.

If Norwich managed to advance into the Bristol City half, however, Liam Manning’s side dropped into a deeper 5-4-1 mid-block, as Twine (7) and Sykes (17) dropped alongside The Robins’ double pivot.

Eastern Daily Press:

During Bristol City goal-kicks, Dickie (16) dropped alongside O’Leary (1) while the wide centre-backs moved out to the touchlines. With the wing-backs advancing into the last line, Bristol created a 4-2-5 shape.

In Norwich’s highest pressing phases, Barnes (10) joined Sargent (9) in a front two, as Nunez (26) occupied the space just behind, and City’s wingers stayed deep to create a midfield diamond.

Eastern Daily Press:

Given Bristol’s 5v4 last-line overload, O’Leary (1) often played directly to one of the advanced wing-backs in an attempt to immediately access space to the side of McLean (23) or behind Norwich’s pressing full-backs.

On the visitor’s right, for example, McCrorie (2) would compete with McCallum (15) to win the first contact, while Sykes (17) ran into the space behind City’s left-back or in front of Gibson (6).

Eastern Daily Press:

But Bristol had more success accessing these spaces after playing short and enticing pressure, before going long later in the build-up phase.

This was made easier by the visitor’s first-phase overload – created by O’Leary (1) joining a situational back four – combined with Norwich’s suboptimal backwards press, which left big spaces between the lines.

Eastern Daily Press:

In settled possession, Manning’s side created a 3-2-4-1 shape. In response, Norwich transitioned between a 4-4-2 and a 4-1-3-2 mid-press, with the latter often creating man-to-man situations on the ball side.

This aggressive mid-press frequently forced The Robins back into their own half, where O’Leary (1) stepped forward to create another first-line overload.

Eastern Daily Press:

With Bristol shifting from right to left, for example, Sargent (9) was forced to jump from Dickie (16) to O’Leary (1).

As Roberts (24) remained unoccupied on the left, Sara (17) jumped from Williams (8) to press the left centre-back. This forced Nunez (26) to jump onto the ball-side pivot. Bristol then accessed Twine (7) in the space behind via a well-coached bounce-pass pattern.

Eastern Daily Press:

After frequently playing through pressure, however, Bristol were rarely quick enough to capitalise on their overload in the final third. Instead, they allowed Norwich to drop back into a 4-4-2 mid-block against The Robins’ 3-2-5 shape.

Sara (17) and Sainz (7) did well to drop alongside the full-backs to limit Bristol’s last-line 5v4 overload. In response, the visitor’s wide centre-backs were ready to overlap into the wide areas.

Eastern Daily Press:

Liam Manning’s side were often able to bypass high pressing moments, in part because Norwich occasionally overcommitted to the press without tracking back to prevent the creation of a free man, but also thanks to well-executed build-up patterns and smart tactical planning.

This, combined with the visitor’s organisation out of possession, is a testament to the quality of another promising young English coach. For Norwich, this was just one step closer to the play-off place they desire.