Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Sheffield United – tactical analysis

Norwich City's defensive set up in their 4-2-3-1: a back four with a double pivot in front of them. Credit: Wyscout.

This weekend saw a very interesting encounter between two teams that played in the Championship last season. At Carrow Road, Norwich City played hosts to Sheffield United, in what was a game that was vital for both teams in pursuing their goal. This tactical analysis supported by tactics will show how Sheffield United beat Norwich City in the Premier League.

Norwich City needed a win to get away from the bottom three, as their competition is getting stronger as well. They play well, but that is not enough and to get points a fellow promoted side, would sit well with their fans.

Sheffield United is looking at the other end of the table with an excellent season so far for the Blades. They are looking to stay in distance of the European places as long as possible and I win over the Canaries would go a long way.

In this tactical analysis, we will focus on three tactical trends. First, we look at how Norwich City set up their defence with their 4-2-3-1 formation. Then we look at the build-up by Sheffield United and how Norwich City reacted to them defensively. And lastly, we look at the success of the crosses from the right flank from Sheffield United in the second half which saw them get the three points in this Premier League encounter.


Line-ups Norwich City vs Sheffield United. Credit: Wyscout.

Norwich City’s manager Daniel Farke fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation in this home game against Sheffield United. His midfield consisted of a defensive block of Mario Vrančić and Alexander Tettey, while the attacking players consisted of Onel Hernádez-Kenny McLean-Emiliano Buendía. The attacking midfield is something we will talk about more in this analysis.

Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United played in the characteristic 3-5-2 in this game. Oliver Norwood played the more defensive midfield role in the five-man midfield, while Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham played as full-backs in the attacking phase of the game, as we will illustrate later on in this analysis.

Norwich City’s defensive set up

Norwich City needed to stay away from the relegation zone because that is the main objective of newly promoted sides. In contrast to their opponents, Norwich City is facing a long battle against relegation and three points were vital. Farke employed a 4-2-3-1 formation in this game and this shape was maintained when in the attacking phase or transition phase from defence to attack.

Norwich City started with four defenders at the back: the two centre backs Godfrey and Zimmerman, and the two full-backs Byram and Aarons. They formed the defensive line from the back. In front of those, there was a defensive block of Vrančić and Tettey. Together with the back four, they were the six players that were tasked with the defensive side of the plan in the phases mentioned above, as you can see in the image below.

Norwich City’s defensive set up in their 4-2-3-1: a back four with a double pivot in front of them. Credit: Wyscout.

This shape was held in the phases where Norwich City was in possession of the ball, but this particular shape changed when they lost the ball and had to adapt to Sheffield United’s attacking play. Because Sheffield United attacking with numbers, Norwich City needed to bring more numbers in defence and their midfield transitioned.

When Sheffield United entered the Norwich City half, the 4-2-3-1 formation changed into a 4-4-1-1 formation and most importantly, the midfield defended as one defensive line, as opposed to an attacking and a defensive midfield. In the image below you can see how Norwich City positioned themselves when this happened.

When under attack by Sheffield United on their own half, the back four defends deep while the four-man midfield drops down and gets in position to help the defence. Credit: Wyscout.

Because Sheffield United attacked in numbers, the four-man midfield had to go deeper in their own half and assist the defence. In the image below you can see how they were positioned.

Tettey and Buendía go deeper and assist the four-man defence. Buendía eventually recovers the ball. On top, it is Hernandez who trails back in order to give the midfield strength in the defensive phase. Credit: Wyscout.

Norwich City’s defensive set-up in defensive phase was needed to tackle Sheffield United’s attacking 3-5-2 formation. the numbers provided by the four-man midfield assisting the four-man defence made Norwich City strong against the Sheffield United attack.

Sheffield United build-up with their 3-5-2 formation

Sheffield United played with a 3-5-2 formation and their build-up started with their three defenders at the back. Sheffield United is not the only one with a back three, but the movement of the trio is instrumental to their style of building up.

The trio of O’Connell-Egan-Basham were three players that started the build-up. When they were in possession of the ball, the build-up started with Egan in the centre. O’Connell and Basham then would move up the pitch a little bit and go wider. This also can be seen in the image below.

Egan in the centre, is ready to receive the ball and distribute from there. O’Connell and Basham moving up on the pitch when the build-up starts. They move wide and act like full-backs. Credit: Wyscout.

The back three is divided into almost two full-backs and one central defender, and the full-backs Basham and O’Connell make runs toward the middle of the pitch. An important way of the build of Sheffield United is that the full-backs interact with the wing-backs.

The ball is given to the wing-back by the centre back Egan and they get the ball on the middle line. Wing-Backs Stevens and Baldock are interacting with the full-backs – the wing-backs receive the ball and are looking for different options to pass the ball to. On different occasions Lundstram and Fleck also offer themselves.

They drop down in order to collect the ball and they draw Norwich City attackers with them, creating space on the flanks for the wing-back, as well as the full-back to get space. This can be seen in the image below.

Lundstram drops down to collect the ball and distribute it to the left flank. Both Stevens and O’Connell recognise the space and make runs forward. Credit: Wyscout.

This created a great deal of threat, as Sheffield United were dangerous from the flanks. This also can be seen in the data from this game. Sheffield United had 35 positional attacks against Sheffield United, of which 4 ended in a shot (11%). The flanks provided 48% of the xG threat, as you can see in the image below.

Expected goal threat Sheffield United. Credit: Wyscout.

While there were 11 attacks from the left flank, it was the right-flank that really proved to be the most dangerous with Basham and Baldock. The question really was, how did Norwich City frustrate them in this part of the game.

In this part of the tactical analysis, we will talk about the defensive set up by Norwich City, we saw how they lined up in the defensive phase of the game with their 4-4-1-1 with Pukki staying high up on the pitch. The way Norwich City coped with the attacking style of play and build up was with a compact defensive attitude.

Norwich City had a lot of players back around their own box. Bringing numbers against the Sheffield United attack, was the key to defending in this 9v6 situation. Credit: Wyscout.

Sheffield creating chances in the final third from crosses

Sheffield United won this game, but it was not before the changes in crosses, that they utilised that aspect. In the entire match, Sheffield United attempted 15 crosses in the final third, but only five of them reached a teammate. In the first half, they attempted to cross from a lower area. You can see that in the image below.

Crosses in the final third, in the first half by Sheffield United. Credit: Wyscout.

A few of the passes were attempted lower on the pitch, as you can see. In the first half, many crosses were delivered from the left-flank and just two of them from the right flank. Instead of going down the line, full-back and wing-back choose to deliver them earlier. In the image below you can see how this looks on the pitch.

The area where Sheffield frequently crossed the ball, was away from the box. Credit: Wyscout.

The difference in the second half is that there were fewer crosses delivered, but when the ball was crossed – it proved to be more effective and more dangerous, because of the position they were crossed from.

As seen in the xG threat, the danger came from the right flank and if you look at the image below, you can see two successful crosses from that particular flank.

Crosses in the final third, in the second half by Sheffield United. Credit: Wyscout.

The success of those crosses can be seen in the assist with the 1-1. The position where the ball is crossed is closer to the box and closer towards the backline, but that is not the only difference in the situation. If you look closer to this particular image below, you can see that more Sheffield United players are preparing to attack the cross.

The cross from deeper on the Norwich City half, creates more danger and ables Sheffield United players to attack the ball. Credit: Wyscout.

This cross leads to the goal by Stevens, but the area wherein this cross was made, is vital. By pulling the cross a bit back, the Sheffield United players can move forward and attack it. This eventually led to more danger, which resulted in the equaliser of the visitors.


Norwich City against Sheffield United was an exciting match between two promoted sides. Norwich City attacked with their 4-2-3-1 formation and were dangerous on the break and in the transition from defensive to attacking phase, but ultimately it was Sheffield United that went home with the three points. Their attacking style of play with wing-backs proved to be the key to their victory as this tactical analysis showed.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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