Welcome to a brand new weekly column here on Overtime Online where I cover Norwich City’s remaining Championship fixtures and analyse the tactics deployed by David Wagner and his coaching staff. Today’s focus is their 3-2 win away to Millwall on Saturday afternoon.
- Score: 2-3
- Possession (%): 46-54
- xG: 1.91 – 0.46
THE MAIN TACTICAL TALKING POINTS:
- NCFC’s intelligence in possession
- NCFC’s shape out of possession
- A better build-up structure
- Set piece routines
Since his arrival at Carrow Road, Wagner typically sets Norwich up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. But with Jacob Sørensen coming into the starting eleven, it became more of a 4-1-4-1 shape.
Gary Rowett set Millwall up in a 4-2-3-1 shape.
The introduction of Sørensen also led to a number of structural changes for David Wagner’s side.
In the build-up, Norwich were set up in a 2-3-2-3 with a staggered midfield three of Kenny McLean, Sørensen and Gabriel Sara.
Millwall applied pressure in their 4-2-3-1 shape with some elements of positional orientation.
George Honeyman and Oliver Burke were ready to press Norwich’s fullbacks, while Zian Flemming and Tom Bradshaw pressed the centre backs and McLean. George Saville stayed tight to Sørensen, while Ryan Leonard marked Sara.Embed from Getty Images
What helped Norwich throughout the game is that a staggered midfield is much harder to press and allowed them to exploit spaces behind the lines.
This relates to a tactical concept called “shadow manipulation”, where players create space by dragging the player marking them away from a teammate. Another player will then occupy the space on the blind side of the opposition player pressing them.
Norwich found this space through bounce passes and third-man runs. Bounce passes, or wall passes, involve passing two steps forward and one step back to find a player in space. A third-man run involves a player moving into space to receive, while two other players exchange passes.
Millwall built up in a 2-4-3-1 which NCFC pressed cautiously in a 4-1-4-1, clearly aware of Millwall’s ability to play over a high press. NCFC also focused on controlling space (the earlier mentioned space orientation) which allowed them to drop into a 4-2-3-1, with Sørensen moving alongside McLean.
By adding Sørensen to the midfield, Wagner significantly improved Norwich’s structure when in possession. To really understand the impact Sørensen had on the structure, it’s important to look at how Norwich had set up in previous fixtures.
Previously, when McLean dropped between the CB’s, it would leave Sara alone in midfield. This would create a 3-1 structure in the build-up; a shape that leaves Norwich vulnerable to counter attacks after turnovers in possession.
Against Millwall, Norwich were often able to create a 3-2 structure in their build-up. This provides more security during defensive transitions, additional passing options between the lines, and better connections into the final third.
Norwich created this 3-2 shape through two primary rotations. The first saw Max Aarons invert from RB to join Sørensen in a midfield two, leaving Onel Hernandez in the wide area on the right. Aarons was able to underlap his runs through the half space when Hernandez received the ball.
The second rotation, which created the 3-2 build-up structure, was now possible due to Norwich’s new 4-1-4-1 formation. With Sørensen and Sara both in central areas, they were in ideal positions to drop in front of Hanley, McLean and Ben Gibson to create the 3-2 shape.
Sørensen’s selection also provided McLean with cover, allowing him to roam forward into the midfield and attacking thirds. When he did, Sørensen dropped between Hanley and Gibson.
There were signs of another variation of the 3-2 shape during the first phase of Norwich’s build-up. This was an asymmetric rotation as Aarons dropped to create a back three while Dimitris Giannoulis stayed higher on the left. McLean and Sørensen became the midfield two.
In the second half, the 3-2 structure became more staggered as Sørensen or Sara pushed higher to provide a passing option into space between the lines.
Saturday’s win was also a day of set piece routines. Both were thanks to Norwich’s clever manipulation of space.
The first set piece goal saw Norwich line the edge of the box with six players.
These six players all sprinted towards goal, taking five Millwall players away from the intended destination of the corner. Sørensen was left free to shoot.
The second routine involved exposing spae close to Millwall’s goal.
Five Norwich players stayed on the far left corner of the box, leaving space at the near post.
The corner was played to this post, where Hernandez was free to play the ball across the face of goal where Tom Bradshaw diverted into his own net.
Saturday’s win was tactically impressive.
Since his appointment, the only criticism of Wagner’s tactics is the build-up structure mentioned earlier. But in the past few games there has been notable improvements; against Millwall, there were significant improvements.
Under Wagner, Sara is one of many players to have shown rapid improvement. He, like many others, is benefitting from having a clear philosophy. He has all the attributes to play at the highest level.
He has physicality, technical ability, vision, positional intelligence, aerial ability, and – as was seen in attendance by those on Saturday – he’s a great finisher.
Wagner’s ability to improve players and make beneficial tactical adjustments between games is incredibly impressive.
It will be interesting to see NCFC’s build-up structure in the coming games, especially if they face a more intense press from the opposition.