Emiliano Buendia’s excellent strike in the 54th minute ensured that Norwich City’s promotion push continued at Carrow Road on Friday night against Swansea City. Graham Potter’s Swansea dominated the first half against the league leaders but they had nothing to show for their efforts as they lacked a striker’s presence up front with the late withdrawal of Oli McBurnie due to fever.
In this EFL Championship analysis, we’ll look in detail at the key tactical aspects of the game, how both side’s pressing games compared and how Norwich boss Daniel Farke made some much-needed changes to his side’s pressing approach that ensured their 1-0 lead was never under threat.
Teams and setups
Swansea City were forced into a late personnel change when striker Oli McBurnie came down with a fever the night before the game. His absence and the decision not to take a spare player on their travels to Carrow Road meant that manager Graham Potter could only name six players on the substitutes’ bench.
In McBurnie’s absence, Swansea used Dan James’ pace up top as they looked to aim balls through for the pacey youngster to chase in behind Norwich’s defence. Playing as a false nine, his constant movement and diagonal runs made it difficult for the hosts to pick him up and manage his threat.
Bersant Celina’s role was also a flexible one too. Often playing on the left side, the Kosovan also moved from side to side to help support attacking moves through both the left and right half spaces.
Both sides’ high press: one worked, one didn’t
After executing an effective and energetic high press against fellow promotion contenders Leeds United in their recent 3-1 victory, it was surprising to see a poorly executed one here against Swansea City. In recent weeks, Graham Potter’s side have shown their vulnerability against a high press. Most recently, Sheffield Wednesday caused them all sorts of problems with a high, well-structured press. On Friday night at Carrow Road however, Norwich made it far too easy for Swansea to play out from the back.
Early on in the game, Norwich’s top goalscorer Teemu Pukki and Marco Stiepermann were chasing shadows in an effort to press Swansea’s back line as they build from the back. With Matt Grimes also dropping in deep to support the first phase of the play, they had little trouble playing around the opposition duo and this enabled them to get forward and find more space to continue their progression into the host’s half.
The intensity of Norwich’s pressing was also lacking. Below shows an example of how they looked to press Swansea in a tight wide area but they don’t get tight enough. Matt Grimes can easily receive a pass from left-back Kyle Naughton and space opens up to progress the ball forward.
Later in the first half, Norwich City added a third player to their front-two press, but still they couldn’t force errors amongst Swansea’s back line whilst in possession. Goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt was capable of picking out the right short pass from the back as Potter’s side stuck to their principles.
In the screenshot below, you can see that Norwich City have added a third player to their high press. Swansea have split their two centre-backs wide and either side of their penalty area with Matt Grimes dropping deep into the middle. George Byers also drops in to add support and Nordfeldt makes the right pass into him, allowing the team to bypass three opposition players and get the ball into a useful area of open space.
Swansea City have rarely executed an intense, high press this season but they did so at Carrow Road to great effect. Not only did it possess more energy than Norwich’s press, but they committed more players forward and forced the home side into playing aimless long balls from deep positions.
Another key aspect of Swansea’s high press was blocking Norwich into a corner, usually on their left side as we see below. With a 4v4 advantage, Swansea often closed off passing lanes forcing them into relieving the pressure by kicking long.
On the rare occasion that Norwich were able to escape the press in the corner, Swansea were quick to rush across to close the gaps, as shown below.
When Norwich move the ball into the next phase and into midfield, Swansea are well placed to press the receiver of the ball as well as blocking his passing options. The dotted line in the below screenshot shows Nathan Dyer blocking the passing route to the left flank. Former Manchester City attacker Bersant Celina and Dan James are also well positioned to limit passing options backwards into the defensive line.
Dan James and Swansea’s player rotations
After his side’s 1-0 win, Norwich City manager Daniel Farke said that it was a “complicated” game against “by far the best team we’ve played in recent months”. Dan James, in particular, gave the home side plenty to think about. His range of movement across the front line made him very difficult to track and manage.
Swansea City were slow and hesitant in playing vertical passes in behind Bolton Wanderers’ defensive line last weekend but they wasted no time in trying to play passes through for James to chase in behind at Carrow Road.
In the screenshot above, Swansea City regain possession in a wide right position and Nathan Dyer quickly releases Dan James who wins the foot race through the inside channel. Below, just a minute before the screenshot above, another pass is played through for James who manages to get a shot on target from a wide angle.
Given Dan James’ speed, Swansea City’s main problem in the final third was providing him with support in these attacking situations. The screenshot below shows the above move and how it progresses. Right-back Connor Roberts can’t cut inside quickly enough to break into the box and neither can Nathan Dyer through the middle.
It was the same scenario when Nathan Dyer released James down the right inside channel too (below).
Dan James’ movement in advanced positions was excellent however. He was constantly on the move, trying to find pockets of space and to move Norwich’s defence out of position. The below three screenshots are within less than 20 seconds of each other. Starting below, Dan James makes a diagonal forward run into space as he aims to move the Norwich defender covering him out of position.
With a forward pass to him blocked off, Bersant Celina switches the play over to right-back Connor Roberts who then passes inside to Nathan Dyer. Dan James is constantly looking to be involved in the final third and he follows the play over to this side. Again, he makes a diagonal forward run, taking another Norwich player with him as Swansea continue to try and find some space.
Eventually, Swansea find a way through Norwich’s defence when the ball is played to Dan James in a more natural position for the 21-year-old out wide on the right. He’s able to beat his man on the inside but aiming a low cross for Naughton at the far post, Norwich get defenders back to cover and the danger is cleared for a corner.
For the most part, Norwich defended in either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-1-1 shape which you can see below. With James dropping into the space between Norwich’s defensive and midfield lines, a midfielder also drops in to track him.
Swansea City manager Graham Potter likes his team to be flexible with players being versatile and capable of playing in a variety of roles and positions. You will often see players, particularly across the attacking line rotating positions.
In the screenshot above, you can see Bersant Celina providing width near the left touchline. Earlier in the game, below, he’s on the opposite side to assist right-back Connor Roberts. There’s plenty of flexibility amongst the attacking players, ensuring that key positions are taken up, regardless of who those players may be. If Bersant Celina, for example, leaves his position on the left wing, another takes his place.
Despite Swansea’s control in the first half there were moments when they were almost caught in possession. This offered Norwich City opportunities to counter-attack, which they failed to take advantage of. Two of them saw an offside flag raised whilst another ended in an shot that was uncharacteristically dragged wide by Teemu Pukki.
After a loss of possession and playing narrow on the right-hand side of the pitch in the example below, Norwich have an opportunity for a quick counter-attack. There’s plenty of space through the middle that they don’t utilise but the move comes to an end due to a wide player straying offside as the ball is forward for him.
Six minutes later, Norwich have another opportunity to break. With Swansea committing players forward to press and attack, space opens up and they make more use of the space through the central channel. Cameron Carter-Vickers has to move across to track the runner down the left, leaving a huge gap through the middle for the home side to exploit.
With Dan James playing through the centre and Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge tucking inside, Swansea City were often far too narrow in attack, particularly down their left side as Kyle Naughton wasn’t as committed down the left compared to Connor Roberts down the right.
Norwich change their pressing approach
Norwich City manager Daniel Farke also told Sky Sports after the game that they needed to change their “pressing details” in the second half after it proved to be ineffective in the first 45 minutes. The key change was simply asking his front two of Pukki and Stiepermann to sit further back and allow Swansea’s centre backs to have time and space on the ball.
In the first half, they pressed high up the pitch, and as we touched upon earlier in the analysis Swansea City found it easy to play around them and make use of the space that Norwich’s front two left behind. Now refusing to press high, Norwich were able to limit Swansea’s space in the middle third, outnumbering them in key areas.
Unlike in the first half, Norwich, as shown in the screenshot above, can outnumber Swansea in midfield with five players tracking Swansea’s midfield duo. Rather than pressing high and failing to force Swansea’s defenders into forced errors, Norwich’s front two drop off and are now far more of use by blocking the passing lanes into Matt Grimes and George Byers.
Instead of pressing Swansea’s defenders and goalkeeper, Norwich focus their tight pressing on Swansea’s midfield and attacking players, looking to win possession in these areas to start attacking moves.
Sitting deeper, Norwich City also covered wide areas, blocking passing lanes and forcing back passes.
Incidentally, Swansea maintained their high press in the early part of the second half.
Norwich get that crucial goal
Up until this point, Norwich had failed to get a single shot on target but the Championship leaders showed their quality when it mattered and didn’t waste the opportunity when it arrived. Thanks to their re-structure of their press and the ability to outnumber Swansea in the middle third and regain possession in these areas, Norwich were now able to establish some control in the game and play to their strengths.
As they progress the ball down the left channel, Swansea City are initially well positioned and set up to block the danger in two defensive lines of four. Below, George Byers blocks the passing lane to the goalscorer and match-winner Emiliano Buendia. Matt Grimes is also well-positioned to block a sideways pass to Pukki.
But four seconds later, Swansea’s defensive shape breaks down and they leave a clear passing route back to Buendia on the edge of the penalty area. Above, Norwich don’t have a clear inside passing option but one soon becomes available as George Byers drops deeper behind Connor Roberts.
Below, Matt Grimes can’t get out to Buendia quickly enough and the 22-year-old skips past him before firing an unstoppable shot past Kristoffer Nordfeldt.
Swansea City didn’t appear to have learnt their lessons from the goal as 10 minutes later, Norwich find themselves in a similar situation again on the left. This time, a pass is played into a similar area but Stiepermann’s low shot is blocked by a defender.
Swansea City later changed their shape, moving Dan James to a deeper and wider role on the left flank with substitutes Barrie McKay playing through the middle and striker Courtney Baker-Richardson playing on the right as Graham Potter switched to a 4-3-3.
Bringing on Baker-Richardson and playing him on the right of a front three, Swansea City still missed a striker’s presence through the middle. Throughout the second half, they continued to lack attacking support in the penalty area.
Below, Dan James plays a cross to the far post for Connor Roberts to head across the six-yard area but none of his team-mates can get on the end of it. Roberts was offside in this example but the lack of players running through and inside the penalty area remained.
Swansea City controlled the first half with an effective high press and by making use of Dan James’ pace through the channels, but they lacked a cutting edge throughout the match and were only able to create low-scoring chances in terms of xG.
Norwich City struggled to begin with but they made some key changes in the second half. Their goal might have been the only shot on target they registered in the game but they were clinical when it mattered.
Graham Potter and his players can take positives from their performance while Norwich maintained their momentum at the top of the EFL Championship without being on top of their game.
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