Norwich signed Ben Godfrey in the winter window of their last Premier League campaign, January 2016. The Canaries signed him from York City, a League two team at that point, who eventually finished bottom, for a measly £150,000. He is now however a cemented first-team regular for Daniel Farke’s Norwich City upon their return to the promised land. This scout report will identify why he has so many minutes for Farke’s team.
He’s had to wait for his chance though. There was a season-long spell in 2017/18 under Paul Hurst’s Shrewsbury, who mounted an unlikely promotion push, before losing to Rotherham in the play-off final. It took until December 8th 2018 against Bolton at home for Godfrey to get his first start under Farke, funnily enough, he only got in after an injury to Timm Klose in the warm-up. Since that point, he’s never looked back.
Godfrey spent the vast majority of last season alongside Christoph Zimmerman. Zimmermann is a lanky, aerially dominant centre-back, but overtime Godfrey, under Farke’s tutelage, has developed into the epitome of a modern centre-back.
In this individual player tactical analysis, we’ll delve into what makes him one of England’s brightest youth prospects. Plus analyse why his attributes mean he is so suitable for Farke’s tactics.
Over the last few years, after a change of philosophy and club restructuring due to the arrival of Sporting Director Stuart Webber in April 2017, Norwich have recruited a number of technically brilliant players and Godfrey is no different. He averaged 53.87 passes per 90 last season with an exceptional pass accuracy rate of 91.66% in the 2018/19 season, both of these statistics are better than his regular partner Zimmermann. He typically circulates the ball via his centre back partner or a dropping midfielder from the double pivot, usually Tom Trybull.
He also has a knack of switching the play brilliantly. Due to him being the technically better centre-half Farke deploys him on the left of the two.
In the image above Godfrey, No.4, has received the ball from left-back Jamal Lewis. He then opens his body up to get the ball onto his stronger right foot, and then proceeds to play an inch-perfect diagonal cross-field ball to the opposite, advancing right full-back, Max Aarons, who’s made a clever curved blind-side run. This passage of play ends in a goal as Aarons squares it to Emi Buendia who has a simple tap-in.
Godfrey also possesses accomplished ball-carrying skills. In the back end of last season, when opposition teams realised the ruthlessness of Norwich’s attacking force, there was an increased tendency from them to sit in a low block and try to soak up pressure. This was especially true in games at Carrow Road.
Reading’s visit in April was a perfect example. They snatched a lead on the counter and then defended resolutely in a rigid back five until Godfrey broke down their barrier.
In the picture above Godfrey has already received the ball a good ten yards in the Reading half, an indication of how offensive he was, and how deep Reading were. He then strides forward, plays a 1-2 with attacking midfielder Marco Stiepermann around Andy Rinomhota, and smashes the ball into the far top corner to get Norwich back on level terms. The Yorkshire-born player definitely has no problems with taking matters into his own hands and just trusting his abilities. His no-holds-barred nature is also demonstrated below.
Chelsea right-back Cesar Azpilicueta has been slightly drawn out by the touchline hugging Lewis, opening up a large gap between him and Andreas Christensen. Godfrey spots the vacated space and glides past a total of five Chelsea players before winning a corner. From the resulting corner, he showed his aerial power as he cannoned a header off the bar.
The fact he’s doing such outrageous things against a top-six side, that has an abundance of attacking quality, emphasises his fearlessness, trust in personal quality and the faith Farke has in him.
Godfrey stands at exactly 6ft and at a weight of 74kg. It could be argued that he has a slight lack of height which can affect him when dealing with lofted crosses, but his muscular frame ensures that many a time he just overpowers them.
Here, in the 2017/18 League One Play-off Final, Godfrey, playing at CM where he predominantly played at Shrewsbury, regains possession off Rotherham winger Ryan Williams.
Godfrey had initially stepped out to cut off a passing lane to the player between RB and CB. Subsequently, right-winger, Williams has drifted inside, between the lines, to the vacated space left by Godfrey, which then led left CB Mat Sadler to step up. This opened up a large amount of central space that could have been exploited with some nice interplay if not for Godfrey’s recovery challenge. He intelligently placed his sizeable body between Williams and the ball, and used his strength to regain possession, then sensibly releases the ball quickly before reverting to his original, screening role.
In this 2017/18 League One season, Godfrey won an impressive 69.52% of his defensive duels per 90 as well as a very solid 7.38 interceptions per 90, playing at CM.
A similar situation occurred away at Stoke last season, though he was in his now regular CB role there.
In this phase, the ball has been flicked on centrally from a goal kick by Irish wing-back James McClean into the feet of youngster Thibaud Verlinden. The highlighted Norwich players, Kenny Mclean and Tom Trybull are the designated central midfielders for this game, but both aren’t occupying their zone. It was left to Godfrey to engage with Verlinden to prevent him driving into space or releasing either Sam Clucas, who had got goal side of right-back Aarons, Benik Afobe who was in the half-space further forward or an overlapping Joe Allen, also driving into the half-space offensive position. Instead, Godfrey efficiently dispossessed Verlinden, utilising the physical superiority he had, thus leaving advanced Stoke players on their heels in forward-facing positions and opening up the opportunity of a counterattack.
Both of the aforementioned examples are great instances of Godfrey preventing danger before it can develop, showing his game intelligence, and also using his physicality to make effective, efficient tackles.
Daniel Farke’s tactics at Norwich is very reliant on the two youthful full-backs getting forward and supplying the width, mainly due to Buendia’s and Todd Cantwell’s tendency to drift inside and attempt to create overloads centrally. As you would expect this leaves a lot of gaps in the channels for pacey, tricky wingers to exploit. Therefore it is not uncommon for Godfrey to have to step across and shepherd or chase down dribbling runners from deep. Luckily Godfrey’s youthfulness, he’s only 21, means he has the pace to catch up.
This is demonstrated in the image below.
Burnley winger Dwight McNeil has attracted fellow England U21 international Aarons into a position far too advanced for a right-back. Typically McNeil knocks it into the channel where other centre back Ibrahim Amadou should be protecting, but a clever diversion run towards the ball from Ashley Barnes has dragged him away. Now Chris Wood, scorer of the two match-winning goals in this match, has got open space to run into and hold the ball up until help arrives. However, Godfrey is not flat-footed and again calmly takes the ball off the Aussie forward before making a swift driving run and a line-breaking pass into Stiepermann.
Though against weaker opposition last season Godfrey won 73.4% of defensive duels in his new centre-back role, in addition to an average of 9.67 recoveries per 90. Farke did in fact convert him to a centre-back role for the 18/19 season, playing there for the first time in his career. After a 3-1 win away at then Premier League Cardiff in the Carabao Cup last season Farke was quoted saying, “He has all the ingredients to be an outstanding centre-back, world-class,” and interestingly, when talking about him playing in midfield for Shrewsbury, “In midfield you have less time so you improve your ball control in tight situations and your technique.” I think it’s fair to say these midfield experiences have definitely helped refine his ability with the ball.
Since getting his chance against Bolton Ben Godfrey hasn’t let this opportunity slip away. He has put in some brilliant performances against the likes of Leeds, at a hostile Elland Road, and helped defy the odds in an iconic underdog win against champions Man City.
If he can do some personal analysis to iron out some silly mistakes, usually positionally, along with making the Norwich defence more resolute as a whole, then I don’t see any reason why he can’t stake a claim for Gareth Southgate’s Euros squad.