Bristol City began their 2020/21 Championship campaign with a win against The Sky Blues. A great result against a well-drilled side, but it wasn’t all plain sailing on Saturday.
In this piece I’ll be explaining why City struggled in possession during the first half, and how they adapted to get a grip of a game that looked to be fading away from them.
It was a dream start for Dean Holden in his first league game as permanent (does a 12-month deal count as permanent?) manager, as Jamie Paterson got on the end of Wells’ ball across goal to finish after just 21 seconds.
However, after that it was pretty much all Coventry for about 55 minutes as City really struggled to take control of the game after the early goal.
The Robins found it hard to play out from the back and build attacks during this period through Massengo et al in the middle of the pitch, and one of the main reasons for this was due to Coventry City’s shape.
As you can see below, the Sky Blues’ front three of Godden, O’Hare and Allen were very narrow, allowing them to shut off all the passing angles through the middle into the midfield, forcing City’s back three to play wide to the wing-backs…
… Kalas (above) plays it square to Moore, who has to go left again to Rowe. This played into Coventry’s hands as their wing-backs constantly sprung forward to press their opposite number as soon as they received possession all game – forcing Rowe or Hunt to go backwards.
Taylor Moore’s vertical passing option was blocked off by Jamie Allen, forcing him to go wide to Rowe who was quickly pressed by the wing-back Pask. This resulted in Rowe going back to Moore who played a long ball up the pitch. This was a theme of the first half and one of the reasons why City struggled to retain possession and build attacks during this period.
Below are the pass maps from City’s back three during the game. Coventry shut off the central areas of the pitch very well as you can see from the lack of successful passes into that area. (Shoutout to Brad for letting me use his vis! You can follow him on Twitter @52_break)
Holden’s side improved a lot in the second half, especially after the introductions of Tyreeq Bakinson and Chris Martin in the 56th minute. But what did City do differently to get a grip of the game?
I think Dean realised that it was going to be hard to play through the middle of the pitch due to Coventry’s shape (mainly because they had zero luck of doing so in the first half) so he instructed his team to play much wider when in possession. Vyner was very wide on the right, with Hunt pushed on taking the Cov wing-back with him, and at times (however, not in the below screenshot) Weimann drifted to the left-hand-side, from midfield, with Rowe pushed on. This allowed City to play wide effectively – with Vyner and Weimann given space to bring the ball forward when they received it – and thus stretching the Coventry front three.
The fact that City were now getting forward more often because of this gave the team more confidence in my opinion – allowing them to play at a higher tempo with more purpose and intent for the final 35 minutes.
Below shows the difference between Vyner’s touches in the first half compared to the second (after the “tweak”). He was much wider, and higher, in general.
There was a difference in Weimann’s maps too. He received the ball in much better areas when offering a passing option on the left-hand-side – and from there he travelled forward with the ball more often.
The slight change in shape worked so well that Mark Robins brought on striker Tyler Walker for one of the two attacking midfielders behind Godden, Jamie Allen. Coventry then switched to a 3-4-1-2 from a 3-4-2-1 “box” as their box midfield wasn’t working anywhere near as well at stopping us play out like it did in the first half.
So then, 1 game, 1 win for Dean Holden and Bristol City, with the new manager already showing a bit of his tactical nous to turn around what was a very tricky game against a side who will stay up comfortably in my opinion.