The Wrap: Norwich City – 0-2

The Sky Blues exited the FA Cup at the earliest possible opportunity with a sloppy performance against a second-string Norwich City side.

The game was pretty much over within seven minutes, with Norwich cutting the Sky Blues defence open with ease for the first goal and quickly repeating the trick to grab a second soon after the resulting kick-off. In an error-strewn showing from Coventry City, Norwich really should have grabbed another before half-time but were comfortable in their two-goal lead in the second-half despite a slightly improved Sky Blues showing.

Brilliance Versus Sloppiness

The first-half exposed the gulf in quality between the Sky Blues and a second-string Norwich City side. Whether it was because of just how well-drilled a slick Canaries side are or the lack of intensity in the Coventry City performance, or both, this game was was demonstration of just how much we’ll need to improve in order to take points off the better teams in the Championship over the remainder of the campaign.

For both goals, Norwich City exposed this team’s tendency to get sucked towards the ball by committing Leo Ostigard with their winger Przemyslaw Placheta, then overloading the remainder of our defence with well-timed runs from their midfielders and forwards. As much as it underlined the excellent work Daniel Farke does on the training ground, they were goals that felt avoidable from a Coventry City perspective.

As exposed as our back three looked for much of the game, it didn’t help that the midfield and wing-backs not only offered little defensive protection but gave the ball away a lot in areas that allowed Norwich to quickly break in numbers against us. Again, this was partially driven by how well-organised Norwich were in their pressing – in the first-half especially – as well as a lack of both intensity and quality in our performance.

The main learning from this game is that, while there is a gulf in quality between ourselves and the top teams in the Championship, the main way we can counter-act is by playing with intensity and concentration. The lack of intensity and concentration was probably down to the nature of this being a cup game that both teams could have done without, however, it doesn’t mean that what we saw cannot be learned from.

Can The 3-4-2-1 Work Against Better Teams?

Having looked so slick and confident against Millwall by reverting to the system that got us promoted, this game was a reminder why Mark Robins was forced into looking for alternatives earlier in the season.

Last week, it looked as if the system gave us five in defence, four in midfield and three in attack. This time out, it looked as if we had three in defence, two in midfield and one in attack. The key reason for this was Norwich’s intensity in the press.

Norwich’s pressing game stratified our team into three lines – the back three, midfield two and wing-backs, and forward three. It meant that their defenders had time to bring the ball into midfield, their midfielders had plenty of options in possession and their attacking players could get into space. When we were on the ball, Norwich’s pressing forced the exact opposite of those aspects of their play on us.

As well as Norwich pressed, it didn’t help that the 3-4-2-1 system requires our defence and midfield to be very precise in possession to move the ball out of our half and into the opposition’s. When those back seven players find themselves under pressure, they are either forced into playing long and hopeful passes towards an isolated centre-forward or into dangerous areas that risk the opposition getting through on goal if the pass isn’t accurate.

If we are to stick with this system against the better teams in the Championship, we are going to have to be much sharper and precise in possession than we were in this game.

The Julien Dacosta Show

The only major change to the team for this game was a first start for summer signing, Julien Dacosta, at right wing-back. It was a chance to get a first proper look at the Frenchman, and he ensured that this performance would go down as probably the most memorable thing from a Sky Blues perspective from this game.

For much of the first-half, Dacosta’s big issue was that he didn’t seem to know where to position himself on the pitch. For Norwich’s second goal, he stationed himself in midfield – which left Leo Ostigard in a one-against-one situation that dragged the rest of our defence out of position – there were moments where he even popped up on the left wing. In addition, there was one very sloppy pass that should have led to a third Norwich goal.

In the second-half, Dacosta seemed to nail down the positioning aspect of his game and used that to put in several crunching challenges that somehow avoided being punished with two yellow cards. However, there were also some genuine moments of skill going forward, with Dacosta getting in a decent position to grab  a late consolation goal for the team.

Overall, there was a chaotic energy to Dacosta’s performance – which isn’t what you really want from a defender. However, it was his first start in a long-time and in a slightly different position to the one he’s used to – having played predominantly as a full-back at his previous club.

Julien Dacosta wouldn’t be the first Coventry City player to put in a manic full debut before improving as he settles into the team. Whether he will improve remains to be seen, but it was certainly a memorable performance and not without one or two encouraging aspects.

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