In the 5th round of the FA Cup, Tottenham Hotspur took on Norwich City. Tottenham have been desperately looking to add a trophy to their cabinet. They haven’t managed to do so since 2008. A home tie in the FA Cup against the bottom side in the Premier League was definitely a good chance to progress. However, it was Norwich’s night as they progressed 3-2 on penalties after the game finished 1-1.
Going into this game Tottenham Hotspur had lost their three previous matches in all competitions, whereas Norwich City were just coming off the back of beating Leicester City. This tactical analysis will break down how initially Tottenham were able to take control of the game. The analysis will then look at Norwich’s tactics that pushed the home side to penalties.
In all of Tottenham’s last three games, they have played three different formations and have lost all of these games. There were always likely to be changes for Spurs as it was a midweek game after a defeat at the weekend. As a result, José Mourinho opted for a 4-2-3-1 system. The two defensive midfielders were Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp. This was so that Tottenham had two technical midfielders that would sit in front of the defence and control the tempo of the game. As Mourinho had two more technical players in midfield, he opted for Eric Dier at centre back. With Vertonghen in for Japhet Tanganga, it meant that Spurs would be narrow at the back, and the width would be provided by Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura.
Norwich kept to their trusted 4-2-3-1 system. However, unlike Spurs, Norwich used this system to be narrow. This is because the two wide players in Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendía tucked in as midfielders. They did this to try to work combinations around the box to get in behind. The width was then provided by the full-backs who had space to go forward as the midfielders had tucked in. For Norwich, it was a fluid system as often one of the two defensive midfielders would push forward to be a passing option in the final third while the other would drop back alongside the centre- backs to be the pivot to get the ball forward.
From the start of the game, it was clear that it was going to be an even contest. This was because of the clash in systems. As Tottenham were playing a narrow 4-2-3-1 it meant that the majority of players on the pitch were in a compact space. As a result, if one team was to come out on top it was likely to be the team that won the duels in the middle of the pitch. Nevertheless, there was a 51/49% split in Tottenham’s favour of defensive duels won, making it was no surprise the game was as even as it was.
This example shows how Tottenham were set up defensively. Notice how all eleven players are in their half and how compact they are. This is to try and reduce the area that Norwich had to operate in. The away sides’ answer to this is to have seven attacking players in Tottenham’s half; this has happened as Tom Trybull drops as the pivot enabling Mario Vrančić to push forward with the ball. In this example because of Tottenham’s set up it forces Norwich wide where they win the ball back.
Tottenham take the early advantage
The way Mourinho has his team set up is to be compact at the back. Then with Bergwijn and Moura, he has two players that can quickly break wide when they win the ball back. The home side had particular success with their attacks on the left with Bergwijn. 66% of Spurs attacks came from the left side and resulted in an expected goals total of 1.01 whereas when they attacked through the middle it only had an expected goals tally of 0.51.
This is how Spurs were able to open the scoring as they broke down the left. The tactic from Mourinho was that when Spurs turnover the ball, the two wide players get out wide as quickly as possible. This makes the breakaway more effective as it stretches the defence. As Bergwijn has space to run down the line he draws the foul from Buendía. Tottenham then score from the resulting free-kick.
Norwich start to control the game
Almost as soon as Tottenham scored, Norwich took the incentive. Overloading the centre meant that Norwich could press the ball when Tottenham looked to play out. This happened as Norwich committed players high to limit Spurs’ chances of playing out, it lead to Norwich having a pressing intensity of 6.1 which was more than Tottenham’s 5.6.
The graphic below proves that at the same time as Norwich pressed higher up the pitch they started to win the majority of the duels. As a result, Norwich started to create chances due to the areas in which they were winning the ball back.
Was the press effective from Norwich?
In the first half, the press was effective as it lead to an average of 0.46 attacks per minute. Tottenham’s was only 0.35 per minute in the first half. As mentioned, they were able to put pressure on Spurs by having numbers in the opposing third. It was then the combination of passes between the midfielders that made it difficult for Spurs.
Looking at the pass maps for Norwich we can see that there were a lot of passes between the forward players, in particular through Vrančić. He would provide the passing options in the gaps between Tottenham’s defensive structure. He was effective at this as he completed 90% of his passes and 100% of his forward passes.
They were not so effective at this in the second half as Tottenham changed to a 4-4-1-1 system. As Tottenham’s pass maps show this made it easier for the home side to play around the Canaries’ narrow formation. The change in formation was effective as it enabled the two midfielders to spread across the pitch more so that Tottenham could play around their visitors.
Tottenham react after the equaliser
Even though possession had been even throughout the game Norwich had been creating the better chances and were good value for their goal. This did, however, seem to spark Spurs at the same time Norwich looked to have run out of steam. Not long after the equaliser, Mouriono put on Tanguy Ndombele for Winks. This meant Spurs switched systems again to a 4-4-2. With Ndombele they now had a player who was good at driving forwards with the ball. This enabled Spurs to move up the pitch.
As Spurs were now able to progress further up the pitch, it meant they could try to exploit Norwich’s narrow formation. This example illustrates this – when Giovani Lo Celso comes short to pick up the ball he has both full-backs in positions to run in behind the visitors’ defence.
However, despite Norwich’s showing signs of fatigue, Tottenham could not capitalise. As the game went into extra time Tottenham pass accuracy of 88% dropped to 76%. In the end, neither team could find the winning goal meaning the game went to penalties where Norwich won 3-2.
This tactical analysis has looked at how Daniel Farke’s team were able to progress in the FA Cup. It may be evident during the weekend’s games if the extra half an hour has made a difference to the squad but it is a good win for Norwich. After beating Leicester in their last fixture there are signs that the Canaries may be starting to find some form at a crucial time in the season. They have a difficult game against Sheffield United next but with the confidence from this win and a quarter-final to look forward to the side may look to build on these performances.
As for Tottenham, it is another setback in a frustrating season. Their next fixture is away to Burnley, which is a game they need to win if they still want to challenge for the 5th spot in the league. The north London side also have the second leg of their Champions League tie coming up, and Mourinho needs to find a way for his side to win games with key players missing.