Defeat at Cardiff City at the weekend has left us in a sticky situation. Three points above the relegation zone ahead of a run of three games against teams in the automatic promotion race, we are most likely going to have to beat one of the best teams in the division just to keep our heads above water.
At a crucial phase of the season, our form – especially in front of goal – has completely abandoned us. Two wins in twelve games and just seven goals scored in that period is the reason why we have drifted towards danger. The team is in desperate need of not just a big result but some momentum. We cannot afford to be overawed by the challenge ahead of us, now is the time for boldness, bravery and a killer touch.
After such a poor performance last time out, this feels like the time to make some big changes to both the starting line-up and formation. The key issue to resolve is our timidity in the final third, which hasn’t been aided in recent games by lining up with only Maxime Biamou and Callum O’Hare as our attacking players. Given the nature of the opposition we’re set to face, experience, physicality and fighting spirit are likely to be prioritised over technical ability.
The obvious change to stiffen the team up would be to re-introduce Kyle McFadzean to the defence. Although the experienced centre-back’s lack of pace could be exposed against the opponents that we’re up against over the next few games, having an experienced head in defence feels necessary to rectify some of the sloppiness we’ve seen at the back in recent games. It will be between Leo Ostigard or Michael Rose as to who is sacrificed to make way for McFadzean, with Ostigard likelier to drop out given a poor showing last time out.
To address the attacking issues, I would imagine that Jamie Allen will be sacrificed in order to bring in an extra striker to the starting line-up. With Tyler Walker not quite at full fitness, this is likely to be an important opportunity for Viktor Gyokeres to demonstrate what he can contribute to the team before competition for places in attack heats up.
The other big team selection decision is who starts at left wing-back with Sam McCallum ineligible for this game. It’s unfortunate for new signing, Josh Reid, that he appears to be out injured at the time of his biggest opportunity to get his first start for the club. Without a natural option for the position available, it is a call between sticking the left-footed Jordan Shipley there – a risk given that he’s not a natural defender – or to move the right-footer, Julien Dacosta, to the left and stick Josh Pask at right wing-back – which may rob us of an attacking outlet on both sides of the pitch. I get the sense that Jordan Shipley is the favoured option.
Last Time We Met
Against a second-string Norwich City side in the FA Cup Third Round, it was disheartening to see a full-strength Coventry City team beaten in such meek fashion.
The game was over within the space of seven minutes. First, Norwich played around our defence like they were a set of training cones to set up Kenny McLean for the opening goal. Almost directly from the kick-off, Norwich got the ball out wide and crossed for Jordan Hugill to put the game to bed.
Although the Sky Blues arguably had the better of the rest of the game, it was the same powderpuff, not-actually-threatening-the-goal, stuff that has dogged our season.
The Manager – Daniel Farke
Farke and Norwich City have made light work thus far of making an immediate return to the Premier League. Although this is a team that is very capable of playing some excellent, searing, pass-and-move football, they have rarely turned it on for 90 minutes this season as they have looked to manage this horrendously congested fixture list. Instead, they tend to play slightly within themselves for much of games before seemingly flicking a switch and devastating teams with short, sharp bursts of incisive attacking football.
Having been on a run of four games without a goal recently, Norwich put four past one of the division’s best defences in Stoke City at the weekend to demonstrate their capacity for brilliance. That recent reminder of their fallibility is only likely to strengthen their desire to produce a performance in this game, especially with the automatic promotion race having tightened up of late.
Who To Look Out For
As a result of some excellent recruitment over the past few years, Norwich not only have some of the best players currently operating in the Championship but have probably one of the deepest squads in the division. It provides Daniel Farke with the ability to freshen things up without compromising too much on quality, which has been a key reason why his side lead the league.
It is in attack that Norwich look the most devastating. Striker Teemu Pukki and attacking midfielders Emiliano Buendia, and Todd Cantwell all showed last season that they would be at home in most Premier League teams. That link-up between Buendia’s passing and Pukki’s intelligent off-the-ball movement has proven especially devastating for Norwich in recent seasons. In Mario Vrancic, Jordan Hugill, Adam Idah, Onel Hernandez, Przemyslaw Placheta, Josh Martin, Kieran Dowell and Marco Stiepermann, there is ample capacity for Farke to rotate his attacking options either from the start or the bench in this game.
Supporting the attacking players, full-backs, Max Aarons and Dimitris Giannoulis provide the width that allows the attacking midfielders to get into dangerous areas around the penalty area. In central midfield, Spurs loanee, Oliver Skipp, is a key organising presence, allowing the box-to-box, Kenny McLean to provide even more attacking support.
At the back, the experienced Tim Krul is an excellent shot-stopper to back up the dominant presences of Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley. Norwich avoid leaving the relatively slow Gibson and Hanley prone to quick counter-attacks due to their accuracy in possession and high intensity pressing game.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
With Norwich likely to dominate this game with their quality in possession and desire to press high up the pitch, it is essential that we do our best to keep things tight in and in front of our penalty area. That is likely to involve going a little more direct into the strikers than we usually do, as well as staying disciplined in our shape without the ball.
It will be a big task in particular for Matty James and Gustavo Hamer to patrol that area in front of our defence against Norwich’s three attacking midfielders and the runs of Kenny McLean. They need to be forceful enough to win the ball when opportunities present themselves while avoiding leaving space behind them that Norwich are well-drilled in exploiting. This is the kind of game where we may really miss Liam Kelly.
If Jordan Shipley plays at left wing-back, we are likely going to have to consider how we can offer him support in potential one-against-one or two-against-one situations against Emiliano Buendia and Max Aarons on Norwich’s right. That could lead to more of a 3-5-2 shape than a 3-4-1-2 – likely sacrificing Callum O’Hare. If it’s Julien Dacosta on the left, it will be important that both wing-backs get forward when opportunities present themselves and try and avoid taking too many touches to set-up chances to put the ball into dangerous areas.