Coventry City’s clean sheet and unbeaten run came to an end at the Coventry Building Society Arena in a game of few chances.
Despite Burnley dominating possession and having the occasional shot, the Sky Blues appeared content with the opposition’s threat for most of the first-half. The game turned on an excellent touch from Nathan Tella in the penalty area, with his effort squeaking past Ben Wilson to put the Clarets ahead.
From that point onwards, Coventry City struggled to lay a glove on their opponents. A quadruple second-half substitution from Mark Robins threatened to make things interesting, but the Sky Blues were unable to convert one or two threatening moments into genuine danger on the opposing goal.
The First Goal Really Matters
One way to look at this game was that one moment of quality was the difference between the two teams, another way is that the gulf between Burnley and Coventry City was much wider than the final result would suggest.
It was all the Sky Blues could do in the first-half to contain Burnley. Although, there were largely successful in that pursuit, it was a containment that came at the cost of attacking threat. There were one or two promising breaks from Coventry City, but there was too much ground to cover to convert half-decent moments into a threat on the Clarets’ goal.
On the other hand, Burnley may have been dominating possession, but they rarely had the Coventry City defence scrambled. Had Nathan Tella’s touch to set himself for the game’s only goal not been of such quality, it was reasonable to believe that the Sky Blues could have continued to frustrate their opponents. The longer the game remained at 0-0, the more of a chance there was that something could have broken Coventry City’s way and made it a very different of game.
That didn’t happen on this occasion and the Sky Blues had very little response to falling behind. It highlighted how different this team is compared to last year, instead of upping the ante to chase the game, Coventry City became fraught and uncertain. It is another reason why keeping clean sheets is so important for this team right now, there doesn’t appear to be the ability to move up through the gears and put teams on the ropes.
The Wing-Backs Retreat Ever Further
One of the key reasons why Coventry City were so penned in for long periods of this game was just how deep the team’s wing-backs were out of possession. It meant that the midfield had a lot of ground to cover to put Burnley under pressure and also made it difficult to quickly get on the attack as it robbed the Sky Blues of space out wide.
As has been noted on this blog over the past year or so, this is a deliberate tactic from Coventry City, however, this game was possibly the deepest the wing-backs have ever retreated. A key reason for this was just how high and wide Burnley’s wingers were, which left the Sky Blues with a choice between the wing-backs or centre-backs having to pick them up. It was the sensible choice for the wing-backs to do so, as the latter risked leaving the back three scrambled, but the call hamstrung Coventry City’s attacking threat. There were moments in this game where the wing-backs were deeper than the back three.
It was little surprise that Mark Robins opted to move to a back four when looking to chase the game. It wasn’t just that the wing-backs weren’t direct attacking threats, but that them being so deep hampered Coventry City’s ability to apply pressure in midfield and further up. While the switch to a back four left the team stretched, that was mitigated by being able to get on the attack quicker, which eventually forced Burnley into making defensive changes and focusing on holding their lead, rather than adding to it.
Going forward, it may raise a debate as to whether Coventry City may need to switch to a back four more permanently given that the deep positioning of the wing-backs can limit what the team can do as an attacking force. In games like this, when playing with wing-backs can leave the the team penned in, switching to a four may even be the best defensive move as it could relieve that pressure on the whole team.
Too Little, Too Late
Mark Robins made his big gambit of a quadruple substation and tactical switch in the second-half and it only just nudged up Coventry City’s attacking threat. Having extra men forward led to some half-breaks and half-moments but Burnley’s goal was ultimately rather serene despite all the effort and occasional excitement.
A move from 3-4-1-2 to 4-2-3-1 saw Viktor Gyokeres and Fabio Tavares either side of Matt Godden in Coventry City’s attack, which highlighted why a move to a back four can only be an emergency measure right now. While Tavares had one or two moments on his wing, and Gyokeres, a couple of runs with the ball on his side, neither are natural wide players and it showed in their inability to pick a final ball after getting into good areas. Furthermore, it really was a waste playing Gyokeres out wide as it meant he had additional defenders to beat before getting close to goal. A key issue with switching to a four in defence is that Gyokeres and Tavares are the closest thing Coventry City have to wingers, which cannot be changed until January.
Additionally, the situation late-on was where the Sky Blues really missed Gustavo Hamer in midfield. With Burnley looking to pressure Coventry City high up the pitch, the team lacked a distributor from deep who could open the game up and stretch the opposition to get on the attack quickly. Without that, there was a lot of hit and hope towards Viktor Gyokeres and Fabio Tavares, which was asking a little too much of the duo.
The effort was there from Coventry City, but the attempt to chase the game only served to highlight an apparent lack of quality in their attacking play. There was little pattern or even a sense of belief that the breakthrough would come. When the ball got into dangerous areas, there was a lack of certainty as to what the best option was. Going back to the first point in this article, this is why getting that first goal is so important for this team right now.