Nifty Norwich, the Guardiola-killers

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It’s official. ‘City’ means Norwich now. Like a WWE (or, its lesser sporting cousin, boxing) title belt, the shorthand has passed from Manchester to Norfolk.

This result, a 3-2 home win for City over visitors Manchester Blue, will likely spin narratives into a whirlwind. Has Pep Guardiola lost it? Is Rodri a downgrade on Fernandinho? Is Nicolás Otamendi in possession of a brain?

In truth, Manchester City fans probably shouldn’t be too worried. While it’s true that they gave up goals from very good chances, both the second and third came primarily from individual errors, Kyle Walker and Otamendi being the culprits.

In terms of the team’s systematic level, then, the vast majority of the 2.0 expected goals that Michael Caley’s model has them giving up in that match came from being bone-headed.

That should only be worrying to the extent that bone-headedness continues. Manchester City’s defining feature of late, apart from the quality, has been the unrelenting ‘on it’-ness. But that just wasn’t the case against City. Just look at this pass — early in the game — from Kyle Walker.


Manchester City weren’t this bad for the whole match, but it’s a good indicator that things weren’t meshing.

Now that I’ve calmed down Manc fans and Guardiola stans, we can focus on Norwich.

Defensively, they lined up like the below, an interesting variation on a pretty standard 4-4-1-1:


Alexander Tettey sat deeper than central midfield partner (and scorer of the opener) Kenny McLean to account for the danger that David Silva’s presence brought. It says a lot about how well that side of Norwich’s defence did that, Silva and Raheem Sterling switched flanks for the final five or so minutes of the first half, although Silva moved back during the second half.

There are a couple of things about City (Norwich) that point to the future of football, because they’re things that are done at top clubs but are starting to be seen more and more down the league and across divisions.

  • Pressing triggers
  • Combination play
  • Playing out from the back

This being a newsletter and not a dossier we’ll skip over the first two, mainly down to me not having good clips. Just take my word for it that City’s timing of when to press always seems purposeful, and that they always seem to know where each other are in possession.

In terms of playing out from the back, the influence of the manager is slightly easier to pick up from, in that there’s one thing that City do that is very simple but that surprisingly few players do. It’s all in the first touch. Check out the space that the players give themselves when they receive the ball. This is Norwich.


There’s going to come a day when all teams do this, and it’s almost certainly going to spark a revolution in the way football is played. Half-arsed or half-planned pressing won’t work against defenders who regularly work their way away from pressure like this; will quality at the back lead to teams sitting off and settling back into deeper defensive blocks more often?

Anyway, it’s just one feature of City’s game that is superb and helped lead to their victory over their Manchester counterparts. (On a sidenote, I also wonder how the quality of playing out from the back affects Manchester City’s play when they actually get the ball. I have a theory that it spooks them a little).

This three points shouldn’t make people think that City are going to surprise everyone and finish straight in the top half. Aspects of their performance, though, certainly bode well.

And they now hold the ‘City’ title belt. The Canaries will have to defend it when they travel to Leicester on December 14th.

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