In the summer, Brentford used their extensive international scouting network to sign Christian Norgaard from Serie A side Fiorentina. The former Danish youth international had only spent one season in Florence after signing from Danish Superliga outfit Brondby. He clearly didn’t make an impression, as he featured a paltry six times for the Italian side. But he’s got his career back on track in superb style at Griffin Park.
Brentford’s track record of polishing uncut diamonds is phenomenal, and most players who come into the club have improved considerably by the time they’ve left. Norgaard is and will be no different, and he’s taken to life in a much more physical league like a duck to water. The 26-year-old has played in 33 league games for the club so far – a key part of a Brentford team who are pushing to be a Premier League team next season.
Role in the team
Thomas Frank has started with a 4-3-3 system in 28 of Brentford’s 37 Championship games so far, and Norgaard is usually the deepest of the midfield three. He acts as the link between the defence and the more attacking-minded midfielders, as he’s comfortable at dropping deep to get the ball from the central defenders, before progressing the ball up the pitch with short vertical passes. This works perfectly for Frank’s tactics, as he prefers his team to play out of the back whenever possible.
When his side have possession in the final third, he tends to stay behind the ball. He’ll be the out ball for a simple pass backwards if his team need to recycle possession back to him, and Norgaard’s excellent passing abilities mean that he’s able to switch play with ease.
His positional sense is also vital for helping Brentford sustain attacks. If their attack breaks down, the 26-year—old is in a good position to stop potential counter-attacks, meaning his team are back on the front foot again.
The image above shows him sitting deeper than the two more attacking-minded midfielders when possession has been turned over.
In possession, Norgaard’s role is simple: make quick forward passes. But he does the simple things so well. He’s rarely required to spray forty-yard passes into space for a winger to run onto – Brentford just aren’t set up to play like that. Instead they like to play quick, intricate passes down the centre of the pitch. Said Benrahma, who plays on the left, often drifts infield to operate in the half-spaces. Norgaard’s job is to progress the ball into the likes of Benrahma and Watkins, who can provide those moments of magic in the final third.
The image below shows Brentford’s attacking shape, with Benrahma coming central, encouraging Norgaard to play a vertical, penetrative pass.
Progressive and forward passing
Norgaard averages 49.4 passes per game, and his overall pass completion is a decent 84.84%. But he isn’t a player who can be accused of always picking the safe option and just passing backwards and sideways. He averages a fantastic 9.62 progressive passes per game, which is very much up there with the league’s best in his position.
The former Brondby man attempts an average of 18.71 forward passes per game. Out of all central midfielders who’ve played a minimum of 1000 Championship minutes this term, that’s the fourth highest. 75.79% of those passes have been accurate, and although that’s certainly not in the league’s top four for his position, it’s still a decent return.
Norgaard also averages 8.31 passes into the final third per game, of which 73.12% are accurate. It’s fair to say his all-round passing stats are impressive. He may only average 0.84 through passes per game, but that’s down to his deeper role and the fact that Brentford’s players tend to come towards the ball rather than running in behind.
Not only does Norgaard deliver passes well, but he’s a very quick thinker. Quick wingers and clinical strikers often get the credit for great counter-attacking moves, but it’s often a midfielder who starts these off. Look at the image below from Brentford’s 5-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. Not only does it show Norgaard sniffing out danger to win the loose ball back for his team, but he’s immediately looking forward to start a quick counter-attack.
Under pressure, he delivers a well-weighted first-time ball into Ollie Watkins’ path, which ends up with the striker running one on one against Tom Lees in the final third. He’s got the ability to turn defence into attack in an instant with his vision and one-touch passing accuracy.
The next image is another example of Norgaard’s ability to think quickly. Although it’s not a massively difficult pass, the summer recruit is already shaping his body up to play the ball before it’s even come to him. He may not be able to run quickly, but his brain makes up for that by working half a second quicker than most others.
Norgaard is a cool customer who is able to play simple passes to help his team out of tough areas. He may not get much recognition from fans who don’t see him play much, but his job of keeping things simple is pivotal in keeping Brentford ticking. The Bees average 56.8% possession per game, and their PPDA against (passes per defensive action, a metric that measures on average how many passes they make before a team completes a defensive action against them) is 12.99. In those two areas Brentford are in the league’s top three, and Norgaard is constantly at the heart of that.
A key part of what makes Brentford so hard to play against is their fluidity and positional rotation. This happens in the front line and in the midfield three. Although Norgaard is a holding midfielder, he often makes forward runs to unsettle the opposition and aid the midfield rotation. Below are a few images of Norgaard’s clever movement. In the first example, he sits back at first and waits for the space to develop, before quickly springing into action and making a well-timed run into the space in front of him. Cardiff’s Callum Paterson switches off, and Norgaard carries the ball into the final third before playing a simple ball through to Emiliano Marcondes.
The next example is from the same game, and it also shows the unselfish nature of the positions he takes up. Instead of waiting for a square pass from Bryan Mbuemo, Norgaard runs beyond him. This forces his marker (Joe Ralls) to follow him, which creates space for Mbuemo in possession. Ralls tries to go out to meet him when he realises, but he’s on the back foot as he must quickly change direction.
Finally, the images below show more midfield rotation. Josh Da Silva and Norgaard swap positions from the throw-in, and the Dane loses Sheffield Wednesday’s Josh Windass – receiving the ball further up the pitch. Brentford pull off this move very regularly, and the relationship between the midfield three is almost telepathic. Simple movement, but very, very effective.
The former Danish Under-21 international boasts well-rounded passing stats, but he’s also proven his defensive reliability in his first season on these shores. He’s not the most physically imposing player, but he stands at six foot two tall and is capable of winning headers. When the Bees are defending in wide areas and the defence has been dragged out, Norgaard will often fill the large gaps between the two centre-backs in case a cross comes in.
Again, we go back to his positional awareness. He reads the game so well and is a master at intercepting passes. He averages 5.12 interceptions per game: which is well up there with the best in the division. This is another key component of Brentford’s ability to sustain attacks.
Norgaard’s knack of stopping opposition counter-attacks and then play a quick forward pass into a teammate help Brentford become effective in transition.
All his other defensive numbers are respectable. The ex-Fiorentina man enters an average of 8.46 defensive duels per game, winning 59.04% of them. He’s involved in 2.56 aerial duels per match. Again, he wins over half of them – 55.84% to be exact.
Brentford as a team aren’t known for their aggression, but Norgaard adds a bit of steel into their technically gifted side. He often defends on the front foot and doesn’t let opponents settle on the ball. Below is an image of him executing a superb tackle on one of the league’s best players – Eberechi Eze. His quick thinking and aggression in the tackle stopped a potential counter and put his team back on the front foot.
There aren’t really any glaring deficiencies to Norgaard’s game. However, his tendency to defend on the front foot can sometimes prove risky. Below is an example of him diving in against Sheffield Wednesday.
He’s chosen to dive in to try and win the ball off Dominic Iorfa. But he doesn’t get there quick enough and Iorfa plays the ball into Josh Windass. Norgaard is taken out of the game and Windass now has space to run at the home side’s defence. When he does dive in, he rarely has the mobility and pace to make a recovery.
The reason he probably doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves is because his direct attacking output isn’t hugely impressive. Fans who only watch football highlights may not witness a 25-yard screamer, and it’s rare that’ll he’d need to deliver a raking 50-yard switch into a winger’s path. But if he was able to pull a moment of magic out of the hat, it would take his game to the next level. Norgaard has had 25 shots without scoring, which is up there with the highest number of attempts without success. Curiously, his teammate Sergi Canos has had the most shots without scoring in the entire league.
The Dane would surely like to improve his all-round contribution in the final third. He only averages 0.09 key passes per game, and a total of 1.66 expected assists hardly sets the world alight. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a very effective defensive midfielder who specialises in the simple side of the game.
A lot of imports struggle to handle the physicality of the Championship in their first season, but Christian Norgaard has adapted admirably.
The likes of Said Benrahma, Ollie Watkins and Bryan Mbuemo get most of the credit for Brentford’s success, but a lot of their good attacking moments wouldn’t happen without Norgaard’s ability to sniff out danger and restart attacks in an instant. This analysis has focused on his defensive awareness and his ability to spot and execute a penetrative forward pass. Norgaard is a vital part of the Bees’ all-round play, and his competence in keeping possession for his side often keeps them ticking over.
- Christian Norgaard at Brentford 2019/20 – scout report - April 10, 2020