Welcome back to my 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 1-0 loss at home to Sunderland on Sunday afternoon.
- Score: 0-1
- Possession (%): 72-28
- xG: 1.10 – 1.11
THE MAIN TACTICAL TALKING POINTS:
- Sunderland’s press vs NCFC’s build-up.
- Ineffective ball progression.
- Suboptimal space occupation and vulnerability during transitions.
- Sunderland preventing overloads.
Norwich made one change to their starting eleven, seeing Marcelino Núñez occupy the number 10 role in a 4-2-3-1 as Jacob Sørenson was dropped.
Sunderland were also set up in a 4-2-3-1, but Abdoullah Ba often moved alongside Joe Gelhardt to form a front two.
Norwich built up in a 2-3-2-3 with a staggered midfield three of Kenny Mclean, Gabriel Sara and Núñez which would occasionally see Sara join McLean to create a 2-4 build-up shape. Núñez usually stayed higher, as more of a number 10, behind Norwich’s front three.
Out of possession, Sunderland transitioned into a 4-4-2 as Ba joined Gelhardt in the first line of pressure. But Ba stayed close to McLean to limit routes for central progression.
NCFC’s fullbacks were pressed by Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke, while Edouard Michut and Dan Neil were tasked with marking Sara and Núñez – typically it was Michut marking Sara and Neil marking Núñez.
This man orientated press made ball progression difficult for Norwich which is something Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray picked up on in his post-match press conference.
When NCFC played out on the left, Ba left McLean to press. Gelhardt would either shift across, or Michut would jump from Sara to McLean. While this often left a free man beyond Sunderland’s press, Norwich found it hard to find the free man fast enough.
Being pressed shouldn’t be a negative. The more opposition players press, the greater the potential reward of breaking through that press. But Norwich struggled to build up effectively.
NCFC may have been able to escape Sunderland’s press by dropping Núñez into a position to receive a pass beyond the first line of pressure. This would have created a 3v2 and a vertical escape route.
But Norwich failed to disrupt Sunderland’s game plan and were left trying to play around rather than through the press.Embed from Getty Images
By dropping Nunez deeper, Norwich would have created an 8v6 numerical advantage in the build-up. This would have disrupted Sunderland’s man orientation. Instead, Norwich’s only accessible free man was Angus Gunn.
When Norwich were building-up higher in their own half, McLean occupied his usual role within a back three.
But with Núñez in a number ten position, Norwich’s midfield structure looked like the 3-1 shape which was common before their win away at Millwall.
This was a regression from the improved 3-2 midfield structure we saw against Millwall.
The 3-2 shape provides central superiority, better connections between the thirds, and security during defensive transitions.
As was the case before the adjustment for the Millwall game, the 3-1 shape left Norwich vulnerable after turnovers. With Sara acting as a single pivot, he was often left alone in the middle of a box created by Neil, Michut, Ba and Gelhardt.
The 3-1 structure made it difficult for Norwich to create superiority and a free man in order to progress centrally. As a result, Norwich found it hard to access the half spaces, which are optimal areas for chance creation.Embed from Getty Images
A significant problem with the 3-1 structure was clear in the moments before Sunderland’s goal. Whenever McLean was drawn into a press, he left Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson totally exposed to Sunderland counter attacks.
The 3-2 structure reduces the need for McLean to press. It also ensures that, should he press, NCFC’s centre backs are protected.
SAFC did well to exploit the space provided by NCFC’s shape. Their fast, vertical counters highlighted the need for additional protection in midfield.
Typically, David Wagner’s teams are good at occupying each of the five vertical corridors; this is a key element of positional play. By doing this, Norwich often create a numerical advantage against a back four in the final third.Embed from Getty Images
But with Clarke and Roberts tracking back, this was difficult to achieve against Sunderland. They were able to create a 6v5 advantage. Even when Núñez moved into the final third, Norwich were only able to create a 6v6 situation.
Ultimately, Norwich allowed Sunderland to press, man for man, exactly how they planned to. Norwich were poor in possession and failed to play through the press. This was, in part, due to their poor occupation of space.
Passing side to side can open gaps between a press, but Norwich were unable to play through these gaps because they rarely had central superiority. As a result, Norwich were unable to progress into dangerous spaces.Embed from Getty Images
Norwich’s few promising moments came when Núñez, Sara and McLean were all involved in the build-up. All three are needed to create central superiority progress between each third, they’re key to central ball progression.
Wagner should consider reverting to the promising 3-2 midfield structure we saw against Millwall. This would make ball progression easier and reduce Norwich’s vulnerability during defensive transitions.