Norwich City and Manchester United haven’t had such an amazing period in between September and October in the Premier League. The Manchester-based side enjoyed a better form in their last five matches with one win against Leicester City and two draws against Arsenal and Liverpool. A more conservative approach in scoring goals (they only registered ten goals before this match) was one of the reasons that contributed to Man United’s inconsistent form up to now.
Meanwhile, Norwich were also going through an average spell as they managed to win a very hard-fought match against Manchester City while recently drawing against Bournemouth. Similar to their opponent, converting their chances into goals was a major problem as the home side had just a single goal after their match against the blue side of Manchester. With that in mind, there was no doubt that both teams would want to secure a positive result to improve their form.
At the end of the day, only one team were able to do so. Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford’s goals inside the first-half quickly sealed the game for the visitors, with Anthony Martial put the icing on the cake. This tactical analysis will provide an analysis on Man United’s 3-1 win over Norwich City. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will point out what went wrong for Daniel Farke’s tactics against Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s tactics.
Norwich entered this match with a hefty injury list, especially at the back-four. Their key defenders in Grant Hanley, Christoph Zimmermann and Timm Klose were out until December, January and June respectively due to different injuries. It left Farke with no choice but to play Ibrahim Amadou as a centre-back, pairing alongside Ben Godfrey.
Meanwhile, another significant absence in Mario Vrančić also left a man short in Norwich’s midfield. Former Borussia Dortmund player Moritz Leitner stepped up to replace him as he joined central midfielder Kenny McLean and the winger duo Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendía to complete the midfield four. Onel Hernández and Patrick Roberts remained doubtful before this match, but the former was given the nod to be on the bench.
On the other hand, Man United had no doubtful players but still missed the service of several of their key players. One of them was centre-back Eric Bailly, who missed out until December through a knee injury. His position was replaced by Sweden centre-back Victor Lindelöf as he paired up alongside Harry Maguire at the heart of Man United’s defensive line.
Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw were another two key players that remained on the sideline until November. Stepping up to fill in their positions were Fred and Ashley Young, who also wore the captain badge. On the bench, Solskjær included three youngsters in Mason Greenwood, James Garner, and Brandon Williams and were willing to give them a few first-team minutes.
Norwich’s style of play
It’s quite easy to notice that Norwich entered this match with a more conservative approach compared to what they used to play at the start of the season. Defensively, the home side didn’t press very high up the pitch and instead allowed the opposition to have more time on the ball when they played out from the back. They also put an emphasis on regrouping into the 4-1-4-1 formation and positioned themselves inside their half.
Furthermore, Norwich players usually focused on shifting their defensive shape towards one side of the pitch in order to create an overload and it allowed them to recover possession. With the full-back and winger on that flank becoming the focal point of the team, they were able to create a 2 v 2 situations while waiting for their teammates. When the shifting process was done, the home side would have more players to form a cage along with the sideline, therefore isolating the ball carrier and eliminating most of his passing options.
Still, they adopted a man-oriented press and tried to recover possession in an aggressive attitude. But they also stayed away from unnecessary fouls which led to them losing the defending situations. When the ball carrier had the ball, there would be two players coming close to him and narrow the spaces that he had. At the same time, two other players followed the nearest passing options and eliminated his short pass choices. It forced the ball carrier to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper or he himself would clear it out of that area, hoping to find a teammate up front.
But this left a major problem that Man United constantly capitalised during the match. In case the visitors managed to circulate the ball out of it, they could use long passes to change their attacking direction. The shot below demonstrated a situation where Norwich players were still caught inside their shifting process and leave a huge gap on the left-hand side.
Andreas Pereira immediately noticed Young’s overlapping run and found him through a long pass. With no significant pressure, the team’s captain was free to enter the final third and continue Man United’s attack.
Another noticeable point in their defensive style of play was Norwich usually swarmed their defensive third. Whenever the opposition progressed the ball into their third, the players would maintain their 4-1-4-1 formation and focused on defending zone 14. To do so, it was important that they kept their shape narrow and compact to occupy most of the gaps inside the central area.
Moreover, with more than nine players joining the defending situation, it was easy for Norwich to win numerical superiority. This prevented Man United from creating short combinations in between their defensive line and entering the 16-yard box in a more easy way.
In regards to the positioning of the players, defensive midfielder Alexander Tettey had the tendency of dropping in between Godfrey and Amadou. He played in a role similar to a half-back to create a back-five in dealing with Man United’s attacking threat. Meanwhile, both full-backs Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis stayed a bit wider to occupy the half-space and tracked the runs of the inside forwards.
Being compact during most of the time invited the opposition to distribute the ball on more occasions. Although we have analysed how Norwich’s defensive shape tended to shift horizontally across the pitch, they still allowed the likes of Daniel James or Marcus Rashford to capitalise the flanks. As mentioned, both mentioned names played in the role of inside forwards and their job was to make the most out of the half-spaces and attack the gap behind Norwich’s defensive line.
In the shot below, notice James’ positioning as he found himself in between the opposition’s defenders. His movement dragged along Lewis as he tucked inside to receive Martial’s through ball while escaping the sight of Godfrey. Using his pace, he was able to beat both of them and force the English centre-back to commit a foul, which led to a penalty later on. This was the attacking method that Man United made the most out of during the match as their attacking players usually capitalised the gap out wide and in between Norwich’s defenders.
When in possession, though, they tended to build attacks from the back. They had Godfrey, who was comfortable on the ball and could able to dribble up the pitch, to lead the build-up. Although Amadou wasn’t a natural ball-playing defender, he was involved a lot by dropping slightly deeper and supported Godfrey if they lost possession.
Furthermore, when the build-up occurred on one side of the pitch, the wing-back from that side stuck to his position and provided a passing option. The position on the other side of the pitch would be occupied by the nearest central midfielder. He moved into the half-space of that area and stayed close to the centre-back. The other one moved flexibly in the central space while creating passing triangles with his teammates.
Against Man United’s pressing, their build-up strategy was even more crucial as they attempted to circulate the ball out of the overloaded area. It was important for the players as they aimed to maintain at least a passing triangle surrounding them. This helped Norwich progress the ball up the pitch in a more efficient way and made it hard for their opponent to tackle the ball away from them.
Inside the final third, Norwich found it was hard to approach David de Gea’s goal in open play. With Man United usually defending deep inside their half, they blocked most of the possible gaps that Norwich attackers could progress the ball into. But on some occasions, individual efforts helped the team to create more space.
In the shot below, the away side attempted to recover possession from either Cantwell and Buendía by creating an overload. Instead, their movement left a huge gap behind their back and Pereira wasn’t retreated back to cover that up. When the young English midfielder picked up the ball, he was free to dribble into that space and had two options for his next move. One was laying a through ball towards McLean for him to enter the box, the other one was to take a shot immediately, which he went for and caused some problems for De Gea himself.
Man United’s style of play
It’s fair to say that Man United had a very efficient day in front of goal. They created several highly xG-rated chances which contributed to their overall rating (3.78 xG). In their shots map below, we can notice how Man United attackers constantly created dangerous chances inside the first half, especially Rashford and Martial.
While there was a possibility of them scoring a bit more than what the xG predicted them, the down rate of dangerous chances during the second period was one of the reasons that their tally only ended at three goals. In total, there were only three chances that were rated over 0.1 xG after the half-time and one of them were Martial’s decisive goal.
While all of their goals came from the left-hand side of the 16-yard box, most of their chances were divided equally to both sides and the central area. Another point that could be seen was: once again, most of their shots took place inside or on the edge of the box. This showed how dangerous Man United’s attacking threat were as they were able to find many ways to approach Norwich’s goal.
To understand why the visitors were able to threaten Tim Krul’s goal on many occasions, it is worth looking at how they created their chances. Firstly, we have mentioned about Man United being a wing-oriented team and made the most out of their inside forwards. James and Rashford tended to attack the space behind Norwich’s defensive line from both wings while usually turning up at the end of through balls.
Dealing with Norwich’s strategy of defending deep and swarming their defensive third, Man United players also used more long balls to find the attackers up front. Besides from the usual targets such as James and Rashford, the midfielders also aimed several of their passes towards Martial. The French striker was usually found making runs inside the half-spaces and caused confusion for the opposition’s defenders.
Another method that Man United used to create chances was from counter-attacks. It seemed like it was the only way that the visitors could attack the space behind Norwich’s defensive line as they allowed the attackers to be in a free state when they received the ball. With the home side keeping to their principles during transitioning processes, Norwich players would aim to create overloads even when retreating back to their half.
This strategy, though, hit back at them through one significant error, and it also showed in the shot below. Notice how there were four players inside the right-hand side and three of them already followed James. Meanwhile, on the opposite wing, only Aarons was aware of how big a gap was created centrally and this invited Rashford to move in. The former Swansea winger spotted that and sent a cross towards Rashford’s run, which helped him continue sprinting towards the 16-yard box for Man United’s second goal of the game.
One of Man United’s main sources for chances were from Rashford and Martial. They linked up well with each other and usually switched positions to create short combinations among them. Their flexible movements left Norwich defenders an exhausting day in terms of tracking their runs.
When one had the ball at their feet, the other would find a pocket of space to move in and offer to pick up the through pass. The situation below which led to Martial’s goal in the second half was the perfect example of how well they linked up during the match.
When Martial had the ball, he attracted the attention of all three Norwich defenders. As Rashford started to make a run towards the 16-yard box, the former Monaco player understood his intention and sent him a through ball. Immediately after the pass, he rounded the overloaded area by making a run into Aarons’ blindside. With no player following him, he was able to pick up the ball from Rashford and score the third goal for Man United.
Defensively, Man United tended to press high up the pitch. Using their man-oriented strategy, they aimed to disrupt Norwich’s build-up by eliminating every possible passing option that the ball carrier had. At the same time, the player carried the ball himself would also be suffocated as one of Man United players would approach him and attempt to tackle the ball away.
While their press was proved quite efficient, Norwich didn’t face many troubles in circulating the ball into the opposite half. As mentioned, it was important for the players to create at least one passing triangle among them. This helped the home side to recycle possession and get the ball away from the overloaded area.
Without the ball, they defended with a clear 4-2-3-1 formation. Rashford usually stayed high and closed down the ball-carrier as he attempted to win the ball back. Below him, three attacking midfielders formed the second line of their structure and their responsibility was to support Rashford in marking Norwich’s defenders. They would close down possible passing options surrounding the ball-carrier and tackle the ball if it came towards them.
The defenders and two central midfielders stayed compact in front of their box and formed the last line of defence. Fred and McTominay tried to limit spaces in between and prevented Norwich’s attacking midfielders from working inside of it. Meanwhile, four defenders screened the box and alerted to any possible passes to drag the whole structure down.
The shot above demonstrated one setback in Man United’s style of play, which was positioning discipline. With several of the visitors’ defenders followed Norwich players, they created gaps behind their back and allowed the likes of Puuki, Cantwell, and Buendía to take advantage of.
Man United haven’t been on a good goal-scoring run since the first round of the Premier League, where they beat Chelsea 4-0. But this trip to Norfolk saw their fortune turned upside down as three goals were enough to secure three points against Daniel Farke’s Norwich. In a match where they showed many positive signs, their fans hope that this will build confidence among the squad as Solskjær and his players aim to secure a European spot at the end of the season.
Norwich, meanwhile, clearly need to shake up their confidence. Being one of the teams who are expected to avoid the drop when the season ends, Farke’s side need to acknowledge why his tactics go wrong during the recent matches. They still have time on their side in their journey of turning the season around, and when they do, the Norfolk-based team will again be one of the most fascinating teams to watch.
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