Norwich City is often described as a yo-yo club. The Canaries had an amazing season in the championship, prior to returning to the Premier League and after having a one-off amazing performance against a bigger side going straight back down. The trend seems to have followed them into this 2019/20 Premier League season, as they sit at the foot of the table and as every game goes on, they seem doomed for relegation.
When looking at why this has occurred and why they haven’t been as successful as other newly-promoted teams such as Sheffield United, they lack squad depth and the ability to change tactically in order to get the best results. They have often persisted with the same football that got them promoted and have failed to adapt to the increased quality that the Premier League requires. When making this analysis, it is clear that they have suffered majorly in both the boxes, failing to score goals and conceding far too many to be successful at this level of football.
This scout report will attempt to look at why the premier league has proved too much of a challenge to the Norwich City current setup. This tactical analysis will most importantly look at the potential way in which a change of tactics could have huge benefits in scoring more goals and conceding less. It may be too late in the season for them to be able to survive, however, the changes suggested could have a real impact in terms of the points they pick up until the end of the season.
High defensive line
One aspect of Norwich’s game which has proved to be at their expense is the high line in which they operate. Since they like to press higher up the pitch, it means that the defensive line must be high to coincide with this pressing system. This, however, has proved to be hugely problematic from a Norwich perspective as teams with players that can run in behind and have significant pace have been able to exploit the high line to devastating effect.
When making this point it is clear to see that when playing against the better teams of the division with players capable of finding a pass between the lines and in behind, Norwich tend to struggle a lot more. Although it is admirable that Daniel Farke sticks with the same system that saw them walk the EFL Championship, it is naïve of him and the Norwich City setup to not adapt his tactical set up to accommodate the power of the Premier League.
This lack of ability to deal with balls in behind has been evident in many of the games that Norwich have played in this season. Below is a great example of this taken from their 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United. Daniel James has the ball on the right side of the pitch. He is able to find a ball into Marcus Rashford due to Norwich’s high line and Max Aarons being heavily out of position. This leads to a goal which puts United 2-0 up and effectively kills the game from a Norwich perspective. This example highlights the problems they face by sticking with this high line and allowing opposing players with significant pace, such as Marcus Rashford, the opportunity on goal.
Norwich have conceded 47 goals thus far in the Premier League which is the joint highest alongside Aston Villa. This damming statistic highlights the effects of Norwich sticking with the high line and not finding a more pragmatic response to teams attacking them. Teams such as Liverpool and Manchester City use the high line when attempting to win the ball back and in possession of the ball. However, Liverpool has Virgil Van Dijk and Manchester City have an array of defensive talent which allow them to do so.
Norwich undoubtedly have defensive talent with the likes of Ben Godfery and others, however, they lack a huge amount of Premier League experience and therefore Norwich struggle when trying to use such a tactic. This can lead to miscommunication which has often been the case which then leads to goals conceded. The point being that Norwich are conceding goals at an extremely high amount due to them always trying to play a high line when using a different approach would in many cases be more beneficial.
Below is an example of Norwich playing the high line in their first Premier League game of the season away to Liverpool at Anfield. Mohamed Salah, one of the fastest players in the world, is looking to make a run in behind the defensive line. Due to Norwich’s high line, a good pass will likely put him through on goal. This situation occurs far too much and is a strong reason as to why Norwich are conceding so many goals.
A more pragmatic approach
One way in which Norwich could potentially get around the problem of leaking so many goals with the high line is to take a more pragmatic approach in certain games and deny the opposition spaces in key areas. This may seem like they are becoming a more ‘boring’ team. However, with the current situation they face, the only priority should be points.
Usage of the low block against the bigger teams, for example, could really prevent the opposition getting chances in the manner that they do right now. It’s important that they stop conceding goals in the manner that they do or else they are in danger of having no chance of survival. As will be mentioned later, a combination of a low block and effective counter-attacking could really work to their benefit. The players they possess could very easily fit this system.
Many will argue that changing to a more defensive shape will be going against the values that Daniel Farke used to get Norwich into the Premier League. However, during this season there have been a few occasions were a low block has been used to good effect. Below is an example of the defensive shape that Norwich took up in the 2-2 home draw with Arsenal. In this game, Arsenal was only able to score from a penalty and a set-piece, bar these two moments they were ineffective. This highlights once again that a more defensive shape in the bigger games could work to Norwich’s benefit. Denying the opposition space really could help them concede fewer goals.
Space between the midfield and defensive line is obviously key for any team. However, since Norwich like to press so high it means that to prevent huge spaces in front of their back four the defensive line must be extremely high to compensate for this. By pushing the midfield line to a slightly deeper position when they do not possess the ball means that they can prevent opposing teams from playing in behind.
This is another benefit of being slightly deeper as a team and taking a pragmatic approach In bigger games. With matches against Liverpool, Leicester, and Manchester City all to come, using this tactical approach may benefit them a lot more than their usual game. As mentioned previously, many of the newly promoted teams use this approach in the bigger games to give themselves a chance to win. Using this approach would most certainly have its benefits from a defensive perspective.
Below is another example to suggest that Norwich have the capabilities to be more defensive in their approach and as a result more pragmatic. This picture is taken from their 1-1 away draw at Leicester City, which considering Leicester’s performance this season is extremely impressive. We can see Norwich in excellent defensive shape, not allowing Leicester much space to create from. The likes of James Maddison were extremely ineffective during this game due to the low block that Norwich put in place. What this exemplifies is that Norwich can indeed play with the low block and a more defensive structure and pick up points as a result.
Failure to break teams down
Norwich this season have scored 24 goals this season, which places them 18th in the rankings of goals scored. This highlights that when faced with the proposition of coming up against teams who can defend well and use the low block they will struggle. This may come as a surprise to some given the array of high-quality midfield talent they possess. The likes of Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendía are excellent players and have huge futures ahead of them. Teemu Pukki has been prolific in front of goal during his time in England so it is a surprise they are not getting more out of their current attacking setup.
This can be attributed to two main reasons. One being their defensive frailties, which have been described already, have meant that often Norwich are needing to score two or three goals per game in order to win. This puts pressure on the attacking players who are already inexperienced at this level. The second reason can be heavily attributed to their lack of positional discipline, which in turn leads to a lack of creativity.
Since Norwich often operate with a 4-2-3-1 and have three attacking midfielders, they often like to rotate and come more centrally. This, therefore, leaves lots of space unoccupied and teams therefore only have to block out the central areas of the pitch in order to prevent Norwich from playing their usual game.
Teams have most certainly picked up on this and have denied Norwich from playing the interchanging football that we saw them play in the Championship. Below is an example from their 1-2 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Buendía, who is meant to be the right-sided attacking midfielder, picks the ball up in the defensive midfield area. This means the right side has to be occupied by Aarons alone and as a result, no overlaps can be found. In front of him, there is only Cantwell, who is supposed to be the left-sided attacking midfielder. This leaves a huge gap on the left-hand side of midfield, where Cantwell is meant to be operating and is most effective. This once again highlights why the positional weakness Norwich currently posses is causing them huge problems in terms of breaking teams down.
When teams in the lower half of the division, therefore, come up against Norwich, using the low block is something they do almost constantly to deny them the room to play from. The likes of Aston Villa, Sheffield United, Newcastle and Burnley all use a compact defensive shape to prevent Norwich finding key passes in behind. Norwich on average maintains around 50 % of possession per game.
This statistic clearly shows that they are not moving the ball effectively enough into the key areas for their attacking players to get onto. This once again links to the earlier point made about their positional sense being used in the wrong way. The central attacking midfield position is the most important in Norwich’s attacking play. However, if the attacking midfielder is unable to pick up this position Norwich’s game plan is out the window. This highlights why they are unable to score goals on a regular basis.
This example in their 0-0 draw with Newcastle Is perhaps the best example of their lack of positional sense which in turn leads to them not being able to score goals. We can see four Norwich players close together all looking for the ball to be chipped in behind the Newcastle line to run into. However, there is a huge space just in front of this defensive line which should be occupied by one of the attacking midfielders. The ball is forced to go into the box and Norwich loses possession as a result. The alternative would have been a square ball back to the centre-back which once again would not have been the answer to Newcastle’s low block. Norwich needs ways of breaking through this problem if they are to have a chance of picking up points.
In response to the problems Norwich are having with breaking down the opposition, a way in which they could overcome this is through using counter attacks to hurt the opposition defences. This would fit nicely with the other suggestion that they could adopt a more pragmatic style of play means that counter-attacking would be logical. This would yet again mean giving up possession of the ball in order to fast break and get chances on goal. With the players that Norwich possesses this could really suit them.
The likes of Cantwell and Pukki have a really good link-up play and getting into situations whereby it is a three vs two situations could lead to more goals. This is not to suggest that they should abandon all their current principles and simply defend. However, in certain transitions in the game whereby the opposition are dominating the ball at a more regular rate could be exploited by setting up in positions whereby the counter-attack can be used.
As has been the trend with these suggestions, counter-attacking is something that Norwich have often embarked on during many points of the season. Below is an example from their biggest victory of the season, the 3-2 home victory over champions Manchester City. We can see Pukki and Cantwell in a dangerous situation which leads to Norwich going 2-0 up. Both players make excellent runs forward through the midfield line and are able to score as a result.
This example highlights why Norwich should use the counter-attack more as it would suit the players that they possess. Possession is, of course, important in football, but when given a situation such as Norwich’s whereby they need points to survive, switching to a counter-attacking system may get them better results.
Many teams with similar quality players as Norwich, use the counter-attack to great effect. Newcastle, for example, uses the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin’s pace to full effect by sitting back and getting forward on the counter. Although it is deemed as boring, Newcastle sits well above the relegation zone. This example is to once again highlight that Norwich needs to put style as a lesser priority when looking at their tactical setup. Playing with a high line and a possession-based system is always going to cause problems, especially for a newly promoted team. Therefore, looking to get forward in a manner whereby they create numerical advantages in attacking areas of the pitch would really help them score more goals which have been a glaring issue for them thus far.
Below once again is an example of Norwich embarking on this throughout the season. Although they lost this game 5-1 to Aston Villa, the loss was more due to their awful defensive structure. They had some great chances by using the counter-attack and could have scored a number of goals. We can see the Norwich players in a situation whereby they have a numerical advantage as they have caught Villa on the break.
These sorts of examples could be the blueprint to some really clever tactical changes that could have a real effect on Norwich’s slim chances of survival. The pairing of being more defensively pragmatic and using their attacking players in more counter-attacking based situations could, therefore, be a good solution to address their glaring problems at both ends of the pitch.
To conclude, It is clear to see that Norwich need to make major changes to both their attacking and defensive play if they are to have any chance of survival.
The current standings put them bottom of the table on 18 points, 7 points off 18th placed Aston Villa. It would, of course, take a real collapse from the teams around them and a perfect run for them to survive. However, adopting the suggested changes to their current system could give them a much greater chance of doing so.
Many will look at the suggestions and claim that Norwich should stick to their free-flowing attacking style even if it leads the Canaries to relegation. This is one route that could be taken, however, the objective of being a Premier League team is survival and Norwich should really consider making these changes in order to get this objective.
Despite their struggles, it is clear to see that they are running the club the right way and attempting to take it in the right direction. They have a great manager in Daniel Farke and a good, young squad. If the Canaries do go down, you can most certainly put them at the top of the bookie’s favourites to come straight back up.