David Wagner still has structural issues to solve at Norwich City despite Saturday's comeback 3-2 victory over Cardiff. 

Ben is a City season ticket holder and author of the NCFC Analysis social media account, who unpicks Canaries' games with an analytical report highlighting tactical strengths and weaknesses.

This is what Ben made of another frustrating Championship shift for Canaries' watchers.

Cardiff Vs Norwich: The End of an Era

Score: 2 – 3

Possession (%): 46 – 54

Passes: 379 – 458

Shots: 13 – 20

xG: 1.35 – 3.45

· Norwich’s build-up rotations.

· Cardiff blocking central progression.

· Why did Placheta play at left-back?

· Overloading the full-backs.

Base Formations:

On what was a crucial Saturday afternoon for David Wagner, both sides set up in 4-2-3-1 base formations; but the number tens, namely Marcelino Nunez and Callum Robinson, often created a front two out of possession.

Norwich Evening News:

In their deep build-up, Norwich transitioned into a 4-2-4 shape, with Nunez (26) and Ui-Jo (31) dropping into their own half ahead of McLean (23) and Sara (17). Rowe (27) and Fassnacht (16) provided the width ahead of the full-backs.

In response, Cardiff created a mostly passive 4-4-2 pressing structure as Robinson (47) joined Meite (22) in a front two. In their highest pressing phase, the front two blocked passing lanes to the double pivot, while Ralls (8) and Siopis (23) stayed close to Ui-Jo (31) and Nunez (26).

Norwich Evening News:

The host’s front two initially seemed keen to avoid being drawn to press when Norwich had a 3v2 advantage. In Norwich’s deep build-up, this advantage is created by the goalkeeper; in settled possession, the advantage is maintained by McLean (23) dropping between the centre-backs.

But between Norwich’s deepest build-up phase and periods of more settled possession, Cardiff’s press became more intense. In such situations, the ball-side centre-forward pressed the centre-back while keeping the nearest pivot in his cover-shadow.

At the same time, Cardiff’s ball-side centre-midfielder jumped onto the free pivot, while the nearest winger moved close to the full-back, and the remaining centre-midfielder closed down the ball-side deep-lying forward.

Norwich Evening News:

Early in Norwich’s build-up, McLean (23) or Sara (17) dropped into a situational back three while Nunez (26) dropped deep to aid ball progression; these rotations helped to disrupt Cardiff’s press.

By alternately moving into a back three, McLean (23) and Sara (17) gave Ralls (8) and Siopis (23) too far to jump. Instead of following the deepest pivot, one of the Cardiff midfielders tracked Nunez (26), leaving the front two stretched by the Norwich back three.

Norwich Evening News:

With Norwich quickly transitioning into their usual settled-play structure, another frequent build-up pattern saw McLean (23) move into a full-back position while Nunez (26) and Rowe (27) dropped into the space vacated by the holding midfielders.

By moving out wide – while the Norwich full-backs pinned back the Cardiff wingers – McLean (23) was accessible to the side of Cardiff’s front two, and Ralls (8) and Siopis (23) were drawn to press Nunez (26) and Rowe (27).

Fassnacht (16) would then move into the space between the lines, while Ui-Jo (31) forced the defenders back in their own half.

Norwich Evening News:

It was in these moments that the value of provoking pressure became clear. Cardiff’s back four were reluctant to join the highest pressing phases; as a result, by gradually drawing the forward and midfield lines deep into Norwich’s half, Wagner’s men created huge spaces between the lines.

Cardiff were quick to adjust their press in line with the state of the game. Once Norwich took the lead, the host’s press became more intense; once Erol Bulut’s Cardiff took the lead, their press became even more passive.

In these passive moments, where the hosts left Norwich’s centre-backs free, Cardiff prevented the central overloads usually created by Norwich’s midfield box. As a result, Bulut’s side often blocked central ball progression.

Norwich Evening News:

With Norwich building up in settled possession, while Cardiff created a narrow 4-4-2, the wingers inverted allowing the full-backs to overlap. But there were a couple of variations in Norwich’s settled-play shape.

The most common structure saw Fassnacht (16), Nunez (26), and Rowe (27) occupy the space between the lines as three number tens, while Placheta (20) and Fisher (35) hugged the touchlines to stretch the Cardiff backline. The inverted wingers and full-backs frequently combined to access space between the host’s centre-backs and full-backs.

Norwich Evening News:

But Nunez (26) occasionally dropped alongside Sara (17) to maintain a double pivot without McLean (23). This created a temporary 3-2-2-3 shape – a structure with a more secure 3-2 rest defence than Norwich’s usual 3-1 structure with Sara (17) alone in midfield.

Norwich Evening News:

Despite temporary structural improvements, however, Norwich’s predominant structure still leaves the defenders with too much space to defend in transitions. With Sara (17) often isolated as a single pivot, the centre-backs are frequently caught between counter-pressing and dropping back.

Norwich Evening News: The width created by Norwich’s overlapping full-backs, combined with Cardiff’s narrow 4-4-2, meant the visitors were frequently able to isolate Romeo (2) and Collins (17) in wide areas.

By accessing the full-backs via long, diagonal passes from McLean (23) – forcing the Cardiff full-backs to move out wide – Norwich were able to open the half spaces for the inverted wingers.

Norwich Evening News:

This pattern was particularly prevalent on Norwich’s left, where Placheta (20) overlapped from his controversial starting position as a left-back.

David Wagner’s eagerness to convert Placheta (20) into a left-back encapsulates what he demands of his full-backs. In periods of settled possession, when the wingers invert and McLean (23) drops between the centre-backs, Wagner’s full-backs occupy traditional winger positions.

In possession, there is no doubt that Placheta’s (20) profile is suited to this role, but coaches must consider the individual demands of their tactical setup during every phase of play.

These phases include offensive and defensive aspects, both with and without ball possession. Placheta (20) can execute the offensive demands placed upon Wagner’s full-backs, but he is not yet suited to the defensive aspects.

In their deep build-up, Cardiff created a 4-2-4 shape, with Siopis (23) and Ralls (8) creating a double pivot. Norwich pressed in their usual 4-1-3-2 structure, with Nunez (26) and Hwang (31) initially ensuring the Cardiff pivots remained in their cover-shadows.

Norwich Evening News:

The hosts built-up with verticality, as the ball-side winger often dropped deep to receive a direct, line-breaking pass from a centre-back. Norwich’s full-backs were quick to follow the wingers, while McLean (23) stayed back to create a 4v3 advantage in the last line.

Norwich Evening News:

In settled possession, Cardiff’s wingers stayed narrow and often dropped deep, while the full-backs provided the width. Robinson (47) often dropped into midfield to create a passing option between the lines.

In these situations, Norwich dropped into a 4-4-2 mid-block, with the front two continuing to block passing lanes to the pivots while the full-backs stayed tight to the wingers.

Norwich Evening News:

The visitor’s press began with one striker pressing a centre-back; Norwich’s ball-side midfielder would then jump onto the free pivot, while the ball-side winger jumped onto the nearest full-back.

Norwich occasionally failed to apply enough pressure to the player in possession and, in the first half in particular, the full-backs lost track of the wingers. As a result, Bowler (14) and Grant (16) were accessible on the blind side of the nearest full-back.

Norwich Evening News:

It would be hard to deny there were a few positives to take from Norwich’s performance on Saturday; in possession, their patterns were good. But the structural issues out of possession and in defensive transitions remain.

Ultimately, it will take more than one win to regain the support of the fanbase, but there is no doubt that this was a big one for David Wagner, not least given the backdrop it transpired against. This is the end of an era off the field, but Wagner will be hoping his future remains at Norwich.