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Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves – tactical analysis

On last Sunday, Wolves agonizingly lost to Tottenham as the goal from Jan Vertonghen in stoppage time. Nonetheless, this would not stop this ambitious team to keep going. In this round of Premier League, they travelled to the Carrow Road.

Norwich City has been struggling with their performances. Their only three victories in the season came from Newcastle United, Manchester City and Everton. Despite securing a point on Arsenal and Leicester, they were still in the relegation zone. Therefore, they had to fight for any point they could get.

This tactical analysis will show you how Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves came back from behind, it is an analysis that focuses on tactics.


Daniel Farke played his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They had serious injury issues at the centre of defence, as Ben Godfrey and Timm Klose were unable for a long time. Jamal Lewis was knocked, their left-back in this match was Sam Byram. Fortunately, their key attacking players, Kenny McLean, Todd Cantwell, Emiliano Buendía and Temmu Pukki were all available.

Just as the recent games, Wolves played in a 3-4-3 formation. Willy Boly was getting better but still yet to fully recover, Ryan Bennett was on the bench, hence, Leander Dendoncker continued to play as the right centre back. Nuno seldom rotates his squad, they were playing with their strongest team.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Lineups of both teams.

Norwich played out from the back

Despite the unsatisfactory results, Norwich still insisted to play in their own style. Farke’s team liked to play out from the back. In the first half, they dealt with the press of Wolves well, with several approaches to move the ball forward. They managed to create some good quality chances in the first half, which their xG in the first 45 was 1.18.

To briefly outlined the defence of Wolves, they could separate into two segments, five players each in the defence. The front five were the players pressing high or forming the midblock. Both wingbacks joint the central defenders to form the defensive line.

In hopes of coping the five-man block of Wolves, Norwich committed numbers in their build-up. Apart from the pivots, their attacking midfielders also dropped to add an extra-man. This allowed Norwich to secure a numerical advantage in the first phase of the attack. As the below image is shown, Cantwell dropped, and Norwich formed a six v five on the ball side. The 21-year-old English was the free player and drew the attention of Rúben Neves. Tom Trybull positioned himself within the Wolves’ block and he was unmarked, as Diogo Jota and João Moutinho were marking Christoph Zimmermann and Grant Hanley.

Norwich managed to break the press with quick first-time passes, as  Byram passed the ball to Cantwell, then he exchanged a pass with the free player, Trybull, got behind Neves.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
In fact, Wolves could do slightly better, if Jota and Moutinho came closer to make the ball side more compressed.

Apart from breaking the press through quick passes, Norwich also utilized their width to start their attacks. As explained, the block of Wolves was separated into two segments, when Norwich got rid of the first wave of pressure, they found themselves comfortable behind the Wolves midfielders.

Their full-backs provided the width, as Max Aarons did below. A simple pass from the Zimmermann could find the right-back, as well as eliminating the block of Wolves. In that instant, it was a beneficial moment for the attack of Norwich as only four Wolves player were behind the ball. Four Norwich players were making forward runs. Aarons also had a wide corridor to carry the ball forward, and he entered the final third easily.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
When Norwich broke the press, Wolves midfielders could not trackback.

Norwich overloaded the midfield

If Norwich were not going wide, then, they penetrated through the centre. Quick passes remained the same element in their attack. In order to increase the effectiveness of Norwich’s attack, Farke’s man overloaded the midfield.

Since Dendoncker played as a defender, Wolves played two in the midfield, Moutinho and Neves. Norwich’s goal was to maintain a numerical advantage on these two. With the free movements of players, Cantwell and Buendía could come inside to overload the midfield, they gave two passing options to the ball carrier.

Usually, between the two Portugal midfielders, Moutinho was the one to press the ball. Norwich utilized this defensive pattern of Moutinho and placed two players behind him. On the below occasion, Trybull was pressed by Moutinho, but it was not a problem as he got options to pass. Aarons, the right-back, was providing the width. Meanwhile, McLean was behind of Moutinho, Trybull passed the ball to him easily.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Norwich overloaded the midfield. Farke allows his players to move freely on the pitch.

Defensive issues of Dendoncker

Nuno insisted to play Dendoncker as the right centre back, it seemed the Belgian was not fully adapted to the changes. In previous matches, he had some spacing issues as sometimes he was too far away from Conor Coady. At the Carrow Road, his insufficient defensive awareness let Wolves exposed at the back.

Since Wolves had the need to press the ball, their defensive line was high, it required the defenders to read the game, make a correct decision as there were more spaces were behind them. This had become a problem as on several occasions, Dendoncker merely focused on the ball, he forgot to pay attention to oppositions’ movements.

Despite the gap between Coady and Dendoncker was not large, since the casualness of the Belgian, Pukki ran behind him for a pass. This image showed the differences between the skipper and the Belgian.

Pukki read the space behind the defenders. When the Finland striker was readied to accelerate, Dendoncker was totally unaware of this, his body shape reflected it as he was standing straight. By contrast, his captain was aware of the run of Pukki, he was readied to turn and run. Therefore, Dedoncker was outpaced by Pukki, and Coady was getting near the striker as Pukki entered the box. Rui Patrício made a great save to keep Wolves in the game.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Dendoncker was not fully adapted to be a centre back.

Pressing of Norwich

When mentioning a pressing team in the Premier League, many of us would think of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Actually, Farke’s team also pressed a lot, rather than merely maintaining their defensive shape in their own half. In our previous analysis, we explained Wolves had strong combinations on the left in their attack. Norwich managed to disrupt the first phase of the Wolves’ attack by their pressing.

There were some focuses on the defence of Norwich. First, they kept giving pressure on the ball to force the oppositions to make quick decisions. Another focus was to control both pivots of Wolves.

In the previous games, left players of Wolves had the strongest passing links. Norwich committed numbers to defend on this side. As in this situation, Wolves looked to play the ball out from the left. Jonny Otto provided the width, Jota dropped slightly deeper. When Romain Saïss was on the ball, he did not have a ground passing option. It was because Buendía covered the passing lanes to Jota and closed off the Moroccan; Aarons stepped out to mark Jonny; Moutinho was controlled by McLean. Therefore, Saïss went long. Since seldom a Wolves player made runs behind the defenders, Wolves did not create huge chances through playing long.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Norwich pressed well to prevent Wolves from progressing the ball smoothly.

On the other hand, Norwich set a pressing trap for Wolves. They were keen on winning the ball at the centre of the pitch. Below is the first half challenges map of Wolves. Norwich controlled the pivots of Wolves, hence, prevented penetrations. The highlighted area was where the home team won possessions most frequently. When Wolves players such as Raúl Jiménez dropped to the midfield, they were pressed instantly by Norwich defenders from their back. The Mexican kept losing the ball in the highlighted area.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Challenges map in the first half (Cr. Wyscout).

Wolves struggled in the attack in the first half

The xG of Wolves in the first half was merely 0.34, they were struggling to cope with the press of Norwich. Apart from the Jiménez case explained above, other players also faced difficulties when receiving the balls. Norwich players followed the dropping players tightly, they do not let the ball receiver to turn.

This is the first half passing graph of Matt Doherty. There were some points to note. The Irish made eight unsuccessful passes in the match, six of them were made in the first half. Also, if we investigated the direction of his passes, there were patterns. For those unsuccessful passes in the first half, all of them were forward passes. And the majority of successful passes were back passed. It reflected the press of Norwich allowed Wolves players to pass back only.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Pass map of Doherty in the first half (Cr. Wyscout).

This was an image from a game situation, further illustrated how Wolves struggled to create chances in the first half. Wolves did okay to stretch the defence of Norwich, by positioning Adama Traoré and Jonny wide. But, their problem was the miss of layers in this phase. We could roughly draw two straight lines to connect the Wolves players, this was their only two lines in the attack.

On this occasion, Doherty received the ball with closed body orientation, his only option remained Dendoncker, as the positionings of his teammate were not good enough. When Norwich players were around, hardly could the dropping Wolves player pass to players around him easily.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
The attack of Wolves lacked layers, hence, the ball receiver lacked options.

Traoré shined again

In the second half, Wolves improved. Their xG increased to 1.40. Again, if we tried to pick out a phenomenal attacker of Wolves, Traoré must on the list. In the first half, usually, he was trapped by two Norwich players. After the break, Norwich players were tired, the Spaniard got more room to play with. The statistics showed as all four failed dribbles from Traoré occurred in the first half.

The 23-year-old Spaniard has been improving. Before, he was merely influential to beat the wide players at the right flank. In this match, he showed something more. He was more unpredictable now, as he also managed to dribble at the centre of the pitch. Many teams and players were aware of the body strength and pace of Traoré, they used more than one player to deal with him. When Traoré was at the centre of the pitch, he drew many oppositions around him. As in the below case, Norwich left-back Byram came to the centre, alongside with the defensive midfielders. As a result, the flank left opened, also, the Norwich lost their defensive shape.

In these situations, the Spaniard did not show off his physical superiority by taking on multiple players, that was unnecessary. Instead, he was calm, to find Jiménez or other players who were free with space, it helped Wolves to progress their attack and create their chances in transitions or quick plays.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Traoré was influential as he took four players with him, hence, created spaces for Jiménez.

Norwich lost focuses

Wolves showed an improvement, but they were not really that sharp. However, the standard and performance of Norwich players dropped drastically, they gave Wolves an easier second half.

First, in the attack, Norwich missed their quick plays in the second half as their players were sloppy. We chose this example since it reflected the problems of Norwich players. The defensive structure and pressing pattern of Wolves did not change hugely. However, in this example, all the Norwich players were merely the audience. They all watched, hence, with poor body orientations. This became a problem when Hanley received the ball. Though he might have noticed Jiménez was coming. However, his closed body shape only allowed him to take the ball back to Mexican’s side. With the relentless efforts of Jiménez, Wolves managed to win the ball in the box of Norwich.

Therefore, the attack of Norwich was not as promising in the first half, their xG dropped drastically, as the obtained figure was merely 0.15. They missed the quick plays that put Wolves’ block behind them.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Norwich were sloppy.

The tiredness became a larger problem when Norwich were defending. As reflected by the PPDA, the figure increased from  9.19 in the first half, to 17.71 in the second half. They prevented Wolves from coming forward. Also, they lost focus to mark players. This was how they conceded the second goal.

In the first image, Pedro Neto and Jonny were in a two v two situation against Aarons and Zimmermann. It was okay for Norwich to let them cross if they could deal with them. On the far side, even with we don’t count Trybull, still, Norwich were defending two oppositions by Hanley, Bryam and Cantwell.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
Before the cross, Norwich had enough numbers to defend.

However, when we observe the situation when Jiménez shoots, it reflected the Norwich players were not defending. First, Cantwell, he was just slowly joggling back to the box, he let Byram and Hanley handle two attackers. He could have done more by tracking the runs of Wolves players deeper. The same applied to Trybull as well, as the defensive midfielder should have come deeper to defend. He has no oppositions to be aware of at the edge of the box. Their sloppy defence gave Jiménez the winner.

Premier League 2019/20: Norwich City vs Wolves - tactical analysis tactics
When Jiménez picked the ball and shoots, no one was around him.


Once again, Norwich unable to secure any point. They were in trouble now, as they only have 12 points after 18 games, remained at the 19th on the table. It seemed Farke’s tactics were too demanding to their players for a 90 minutes game in the Premier League, maybe he should find alternatives instead of instructing his players to keep pressing throughout the match. Also, they should have converted more chances than they did in this game.

For Wolves, Nuno said his team was lucky to win; maybe he was right, as Wolves was really fortunate to concede only one in the first half. They showed improvement after the break, Traoré was impressive. However, as our previous analysis concluded, the use of Dendoncker remained an issue to be solved. Maybe, Wolves should look for a quality centre back in January and let the Belgian return to the midfield.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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