Sheffield United hosted struggling Norwich City this past Saturday in the 28th game week of the Premier League season. The Blades were looking to continue their fine run of form which seems them surprisingly close to a Champions League place. Even Europa League qualification would be extraordinary for Chris Wilder’s men who were written off by many at the beginning of the season. Their electrifying and different tactics have created problems for so many sides they have faced. The squad is full of hardworking players who stay true to the system Wilder implements.

On the other side of the ball was a team struggling for points. Daniel Farke said that it would be a miracle if Norwich City were to survive this season, and his words seemed to be true. The Canaries have struggled to find the back of the net since Teemu Pukki’s fine run of form dried up. Now, Norwich City sits rock bottom at the lowest point in the relegation zone. Norwich needed three points from today’s match. This tactical analysis will explain exactly how Norwich City failed to attack Sheffield United and failed to win the match.

Lineups

Norwich City lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation which looked to be an attacking one. The presence of Emi Buendia and Pukki was menacing as the pair are high up in the Premier League’s scoring and assist leaders. Buendia is the creative spark in the Norwich City team. Behind the forward three sat two holding midfielders, hoping to link up the play with the midfielders while protecting the center backs. With the presence of Sheffield’s physical strikers, this formation seemed effective.

Sheffield United was in their typical 3-5-2 formation that won them the first fixture at Carrow Road earlier this season. However, this time around there was a different striking partnership that has been heating up recently. Oliver McBurnie and Billy Sharp lead the line in front of the powerful trio of midfielders. The backline which has been incredible all season stayed the same. Dean Henderson starred in goal as he looked to stake his claim on England’s number one kit this summer at the Euro 2020 tournament. The formation stayed true to Wilder’s tactics he has employed all season. The wingbacks and outside center backs could surge forward depending on which side of the pitch the ball was on.

Norwich forced into long balls

Norwich City has been known to try and play out of the back – effectively building up possession and allowing their midfielders to get into creative positions. This belief in their abilities has led them to be victorious over the Premier League champions, Manchester City. However, as the season has continued they have struggled to find the same success.

Sheffield effectively nulled the Canaries style of play by “not” doing instead of doing. Instead of pressing the players in the back and trying to force a mistake, Sheffield United invited the City centre-backs to hold the ball and advance up the pitch. This created an extremely tight midfield battle that Sheffield would win due to their numerical advantage. With the two deep-lying defensive midfielders from Norwich dropping back win the ball, the three Sheffield midfielders could cover the channels effectively.

In the analysis below, you see Grant Hanley and Ben Godfrey extremely far away from each other. The space here is enormous. Norwich was looking to attack and play down the lines where the attacking full-backs were positioned. This incredibly low press from Sheffield forced them to go against their tactical plan. Hanley had to look into Alexander Tettey’s feet in order to try and advance the ball into the midfield. Once this happened, Sheffield would immediately apply immense pressure. If Tettey was not clean in possession, it would cause major problems for Norwich.

In that case, Norwich City had to resort to the long ball more often than not, especially in the first half. Sheffield United was happy to allow Norwich City the ball. They knew they would not be effective with their possession and they could beat them in the air. The graph below shows how much possession Norwich City had. Despite this advantage in possession, Sheffield United consistently averaged more attacks per minute than Norwich, totaling 0.46 attacks per minute compared to 0.35 for Norwich City.

Here, you can see Norwich having to resort to the long ball as explained earlier in the analysis. Sheffield United knows that they can beat Norwich more consistently in the air, hence they are not concerned with the long ball approach Norwich took. With only one striker there to fight for the long ball, it left Sheffield with a numerical advantage when contesting the ball. Furthermore, Sheffield United’s center backs are highly successful in the air. They won 14 out of 22 aerial duels they faced.

Sheffield’s Dangerous Crosses 

Sheffield United hurt Norwich City in the attacking end of the pitch by doing what they do best, creating opportunities to cross the ball where they have dangerous deliveries. They consistently do this by creating triangular patterns on the wing where they include their outside center backs in the attack. Examples of these patterns can be seen in the other Sheffield United tactical analysis when they played Brighton. In this match, they got into crossing positions 26 times. One of those deliveries ended up in the goal Sharp scored with a thunderous header past Tim Krul.

Where Wilder arguably hurt Norwich the most was his ability to create set pieces that were difficult to defend. Corner kicks are valuable in today’s game, especially when you have a bunch of physical players who can win an aerial duel. Sheffield United had 10 corners in the match. 6 of those corners resulted in a shot or chance created. The reason for this was the tactical setup by Wilder.

In the analysis below, the set-piece shows one of the ten corners for Sheffield United. Wilder wanted the ball to be played deep onto the back post of Norwich City. With this plan in the minds of the attackers, it allows for the man on the back post to peel off and get an isolated 1v1 in the air. Most of the time, this strategy was a success and caused major problems for Norwich City. They were perhaps lucky to escape their box without conceding another goal from a header.

Farke’s Tactical Switch

In the second half, Farke realized that Wilder was beating him in a tactical battle. The midfielders from Norwich were ineffective due to the difficulty to get on the ball. Sheffield United nulled Norwich’s creative spark. Farke decided to make some changes which saw them chasing the elusive goal. They knew that while only one goal behind, even the slightest chance would earn them a point. This fact made Wilder extremely nervous and tense as the match continued and Norwich’s attacking threat began to increase.

One of the reasons Norwich City began to have more chances was due to a formational and tactical switch. Cantwell came off and the striker was introduced. Tactically, this meant they had two strikers upfront now instead of the lone striker. This would allow another player to occupy a Sheffield United center back and hopefully make life more difficult for them. Farke was also hoping the extra striker would open up more space for Buendia, their main attack threat because of his position just behind the strikers. If the ball was played up to the strikers, they could settle the ball down to Buendia to launch the attack.

In this analysis below, you can see the togetherness of the Norwich strikers. Farke wanted to create problems for the center-backs of Sheffield United. Again, their positions would mean that the center-backs were more occupied and definitely favored the style of play Norwich City was leaning towards during the match. Norwich City resorted to the long balls and Farke embraced that for this match. This may be due to the desperation Norwich is having at this point in the season. It does not matter how they score anymore, what is important is that they indeed score goals. This tactical positioning helped increase Norwich’s expected goal ratio (xG) tremendously. They went from a 0.59 xG in the first half to a 1.24 xG in the second half. Contrarily, Sheffield United’s xG went from 1.74 to 0.13 in the second half. This statistic shows how much more dangerous Norwich City was after the tactical change made my Farke.

Conclusion

Despite having significantly less possession during the match, the 1-0 victory for Sheffield United showed how effective Wilder’s tactics really are. It is a huge surprise to many that Sheffield is doing so well. They are a team that is perfectly suited for what they need to do tactically. Each player puts in the shift that is required by Wilder. This team is an example that you do not need flashy players or a tiki-taka style of play to win a football match. Wilder’s men deployed the tactics and play which has led them to be successful against Norwich City.

As for Norwich City, there is a huge mountain to climb if they are to stay up in the Premier League. They must start scoring goals as the Premier League run-in continues.