Next Norwich boss must change squad or tactics

Alex Neil

The most successful Championship teams have a way of playing that suits their group of players.

For example, Brighton have an experienced squad and what it might lack in pace, it makes up for in leadership, organization and a relatively deep defensive line. By contrast, Huddersfield have a young, vibrant squad with quick, dynamic performers who can afford to press further up the pitch.

Norwich City’s problem is the absence of a coherent tactical strategy. After a slow summer which saw them add just three outfield players to a relegated side, they now have a squad with an average age of 28. Given Ryan Bennett’s poor positional sense, their most common centre-back pairing this year has been Russell Martin and Timm Klose, both lacking pace.

Given the experience of those players, the Canaries should not be conceding the third highest number of goals in the Championship, let alone so many from crosses and set pieces. Their frailties however, are not entirely down to personal. They use attacking full-backs in Ivo Pinto and Mitchell Dijks, who are both good going forward but do not offer much defensive cover.

Alex Neil’s penultimate game in charge was a 5-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday and, looking at WhoScored’s Player Positions tab for that match, there was no support for the centre-backs. The average position of every outfield player apart from those two was either on the half-way line or further forward.

One might make some allowances for the position the team was in – chasing a game they had to win to have a chance of making the play-offs – but this was not a new problem. We saw a similar setup at Bristol City, Burton, Wigan and Rotherham in the last two month, so any attacking player with a degree of pace rubbed their hands together when facing the Canaries.

The task for the next Norwich manager is simple: change the squad or change the tactics. Either build a younger side with the energy to sustain pressure in the opposing half, or continue to work with the older heads as part of a more pragmatic game plan.

In his final 20 months in charge, Neil was caught between the two. Even when working under Delia Smith, a manager cannot afford to ‘be having’ his cake and eating it.