The differences Dean Smith made to Norwich City during Saints victory
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There was plenty of extra attention on the Norwich City dugout as Dean Smith occupied it for the first time on Saturday.
Few could have expected the ex-Aston Villa man to have such a profound impact on the result with a half-time tactical shift which helped the Canaries come from behind to win 2-1.
Focus will now shift onto Smith's first full week on the training pitch at Colney with his squad ahead of another Carrow Road clash against in-form Wolves on Saturday.
If City can produce another winning performance, then they will have plenty of momentum in their sails. Smith won't be keen to look too far into the future, though.
But what were the key changes Smith made that helped City record victory?
1. Improved pressing
There was plenty of criticism around the passive nature of the Canaries' work out of possession so far this season.
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Daniel Farke's side pressed on fewer occasions than any of their Premier League counterparts for the opening 10 games of the season. Much like the majority of the performance on Saturday, it was a case of two separate halves when it came to their approach out of possession.
Smith wanted City's midfield to engage with Southampton duo James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu higher up the pitch in order to prevent the beginning of attacks and gain more territory in their opponent's half.
That tactical switch prompted a vast improvement from his side. Billy Gilmour began to excel, Kenny McLean exerted more energy and City were winning the ball higher up the pitch.
Statistically, the amount of pressing they completed as a collective doubled after the interval.
It was, according to the pressures per defensive actions metric, City's most intense press of the season. This was a noticeable and marked shift from what Smith's predecessor was asking his players to do from a defensive perspective.
Smith and his assistant Craig Shakespeare will now have an opportunity to fine-tune and implement a more structured pressing system at Colney in their first full week of training with the squad.
Given the occasional difference in quality on the pitch, if Norwich can master a high-tempo off the ball strategy, it may well see them extract more valuable points and bridge any gaps of quality between themselves and the opposition.
Farke's biggest strength during his City tenure was his commitment to his desired style of play.
That being said, many supporters were often left frustrated by his use of substitutions or being unable to implement the tactical changes required to help City amass enough points at the top level.
Identifying problems as they appear on the pitch is one thing, but finding solutions is a much harder proposition.
Farke was capable of doing so at Championship level. He performed a masterstroke to bring on Bali Mumba against Swansea that tilted the contest in City's favour. That is just one example.
Nobody will ever know if Farke would have spotted the issues Smith's saw during the opening period, but City's new chief proved he can be proactive in his tactical approach to matches.
In the Premier League, those little details can prove decisive in matches. That was the case for City.
Replacing Todd Cantwell with Josh Sargent and tweaking the press gave City a greater foothold in the game. From there, it was about finding a moment to take the lead, one Grant Hanley took with open arms.
That level of proactivity will be welcomed by City supporters who witnessed their opponents alterations swing the pendulum in their favour both throughout the 2019/20 season and opening 10 matches of the current campaign.
This is an early tick in Smith's box.
'We adapted to the game plan'.
That was the opening gambit of Smith during his assessment of proceedings at Carrow Road. The ex-Aston Villa boss made a point of highlighting the quality and intelligence his squad possesses during his first round of media interviews last week.
But actions speak louder than words. Smith will have learned plenty about his new players during a tumultuous first-half display against Southampton.
To rejuvenate a squad that had become familiar with the methods of his predecessor in just a 15 minute chat during half-time bodes well for Smith and Shakespeare as they seek to develop relationships with both players and supporters.
Yes, there were tactical tweaks in terms of engaging Southampton higher up the pitch, a more intense press and positional tweaks, but there was a shift in mentality.
Despite adversity in the opening period, they came out on the offensive with a belief they could find a way of winning a Premier League football match. Smith has injected some positivity and belief into this group of players.
If City are to continue amassing points at this level, then the identification of weaknesses and discovery of solutions will be of paramount importance.
Smith was praised for his ability to adapt game plans during his time at the helm of his boyhood club - the early evidence at City suggests that is something which could continue to be a strength in Norfolk.
4. Set plays
The importance of dead-ball situations was another thing Farke highlighted earlier this season.
It wasn't an area that City utilised to any great extent under Farke, with City scoring just three times from set-pieces during the 19/20 season - the lowest return in that particular campaign.
Hanley's header is only the second non-penalty set-piece goal Norwich have produced this season after Andrew Omobamidele's thumping header against Leeds.
Smith made a point of highlighting that area of the game as being integral to their survival prospects.
He is right.
Premier League games are often decided on incredibly tight margins. Stuart Webber has often discussed the importance of 'marginal gains', particularly in the absence of extreme wealth.
Set pieces are the footballing equivalent. If City can find goals from those moments, then often they will be crucial to winning a game, as was the case on this occasion.
That goalscoring burden on Teemu Pukki has been felt this season, with four of the Canaries' six goals being converted by the Finnish international. Corners and free-kicks represent a real opportunity for City to score goals at this level.
Many feel a strict focus on set-piece situations is regressive but leading the way with goals scored from dead ball situations are Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Perhaps more interestingly from City's perspective, Smith's Aston Villa side ranked third for goals scored from set-pieces in the 19/20 season, netting on 15 occasions.
This is an area of the game that Smith sees real value in - expect more goals from corners and free-kicks in the weeks and months ahead.
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