Tactical analysis: what tactical changes did Norwich make to beat Millwall?

Artwork by @chapulana.

The Championship has provided a thrilling chase for promotion in the last few seasons and this season is nothing different. Norwich City could have reclaimed the first spot on the table with a win over Millwall. They did just that but needed a strong second half to achieve it. In the end, the Canaries prevailed with a 1-3 win in London.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at two tactical trends during this Championship game. We will have a look at how Norwich set up and their quick, direct style of play that led to the three points down at the Den.


Teamsheet: Millwall – Norwich City

Millwall‘s manager Neil Harris came out with a 4-4-2 formation wherein Morison and Gregory were the strikers. They were supported by wide midfielders Wallace and Ferguson in attack, where they switched to wingers. But the main thing about this conservative approach of Harris, was that they were playing a top team in the league and they wanted to defend solidly against Norwich City.

Daniel Farke had a different approach to his colleague. He settled for a Norwich City with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Pukki as the only striker. The low block of McLean and Trybull meant that Pukki was supported by three midfielders which could pose a threat when in attack.

Norwich City’s attacking 4-2-3-1

As described above, Norwich City had a 4-2-3-1 formation. In this formation, there are two defensive midfielders playing in front of the defence and three attacking midfielders which aid the sole striker up front. McLean and Trybull were the controlling midfielders and Pukki was the sole striker in this attacking 4-2-3-1.

Norwich City’s attacking 4-2-3-1

The low defensive block of McLean and Trybull made sure there were six players with a defensive task and therefore the three midfielders could think of going forward and support Pukki. There is a clear difference between what attacking players are and what defensive players are in Daniel Farke’s approach to the game against Millwall.

The attacking midfielders Hernandez, Stiepermann and Buendia assisted Pukki in attack, but they all went into the middle of the pitch. They left spaces on the flanks for support from their full-backs, but this wasn’t utilised much and that’s why it was relatively easy for the Millwall defence to keep afloat.

Spaces on the flanks in the first half

Norwich City made good use of their possession. Every time they had a decent attack, they had four attacking players with the assistance of a controlling midfielder, as was the case in the image above. They were making good use of the ball but could utilise this more. This also had to do with how the Millwall defence was set up.

Millwall’s stable defence in the first half

One of the reasons that the score was tied was the solid defence by Millwall. They played in a 4-4-2 formation, but in defence, both the defence and midfield had defensive duties. On many occasions, only Morison would stay up front.

Millwall’s midfield is the first defensive line

The first line of defence is Millwall’s midfield. They think defensively and their formation turns into a 4-5-1 with Morison or Gregory as the sole striker. In such situations, they have eight or nine players behind the ball. As can be seen below.

Millwall have eight men behind the ball in defence

Because of the well-organised defensive approach, they force Norwich City to be patient and pass their way through the defence. This frustrated the visitors and saw them being blocked on several occasions.

The Millwall defence frustrates the Norwich attack with many men behind the ball

Quick, direct play by the Canaries

But 1-1 at half-time, however, wasn’t enough for the three points. Their initial game plan led them to situations where Hernandez and Buendia were posing as wingers, but that wasn’t successful enough as they made runs into the middle. They managed to score one goal, but Norwich City knew that something else was needed to be victorious on this day in London. The three points were vital in their chase for promotion to the Premier Leauge, so Farke changed it up to let the full-backs make runs down the line because they got a lot of space.

Lots of space on the left side for Norwich City during the first half

Norwich City were pressured a lot in the first half but were threatening on the break. As said earlier, they didn’t make the most of it and that changed with the incorporation of the left-full-back Lewis in the attack. Most of the attacks in the second half were constructed via a counter-attack and with the assistance of the left-full-back Lewis.

After the tactical change, Norwich had four players in the middle when in attack

With the four in the middle like they had been in the first half as well, there was plenty of space on the left flank for the away side. In the second half, they managed to use that space with the left-back. A cross from the left flank would pose great difficulties for the Millwall defence, but also the mere presence of a full-back making a run down the line made it difficult for the hosts. This could be seen in the 1-3 goal scored by Pukki.

The centre-back passes the ball directly to the midfielders

The intention of the build-up at Norwich is to get the ball as quickly as possible to the attacking players, as they then have the advantage of their way of play, not allowing Millwall to catch a breath.

There are plenty of options for Norwich going forward

There are many options going for Norwich at this point and Millwall have difficulties defending them. Because of their numbers, Norwich are quite certain to be a threat to Millwall and that also has to do with the upcoming full-backs.

Pukki makes a run in the middle and scores the 1-3 goal

In the end, the ball falls for Pukki and he scored the 1-3 goal, sealing the game and Norwich get the win in London. That quick, direct style of play made Millwall shaky and saw them conceding that particular goal.

Final thoughts

Norwich City had a difficult day planned at Millwall with the hosts playing a very decent defensive first half. Norwich City managed to get some counter-attacks away in the first half, but the change of plans in the second half made sure that the Canaries got the victory in the end. Their direct approach to attacking and incorporating the full backs in the attacks gave them that little bit extra that was needed to reclaim the three points.

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