The group stage of FIFA Women’s World Cup is now finally behind us as we step into the do or die scenario and the beauty of the knockout rounds. Australia and Norway both advanced as second-best teams from their perspective groups – Australia behind Italy and Norway falling to the hosts, France.
This tactical preview analysis will look at both sides and how they can possibly beat each other in tonight’s great showdown.
If we can learn anything from Norway’s past games, it’s that they can often be the ones to surprise us when it matters the most. Usually, this team prefers their usual 4-4-2 setup that transforms into a 4-2-2-2 when in possession but against teams that can tango with them or even dominate the match, they don’t shy away from a change or two.
In this instance, we’ll mostly use the game against France as a reference point since a) France use an aggressive style akin to that of the Matildas and b) Australia are likely to dominate the possession and push Norway back into their own half.
For those two reasons, we can presume Norway to shape up in a 4-5-1 defensive formation that will look to condense the middle of the park and send Matildas out wide.
This does transition to a 4-4-2 of sorts depending on how well positioned their team is to press the opposition. Usually, they will resort to a high press only if the ball can be retained in dangerous positions and will do it quite efficiently too. But this is also something Australia usually have a fix for.
As opposed to Australia’s almost constant high tempo pressing system, Norway are more inclined towards a man-marking and passing lane oriented strategy. Notice below how they are well-organised in their approach: all players have different assignments as some sit tight on their players and others block the passing lanes.
Once they see an optimal moment to strike, they take the ball away in the danger zones, turning defence into attack within seconds.
However, if the press is bypassed or avoided by the Matildas, Norway will look to sit back and soak up the attacks. This will likely be what makes or breaks the game for either of the teams. Australia love to progress through the flanks and via their mobile full-backs but Norway will be more than happy to actually let them do that.
Against Brazil and Italy, Australia looked to release Ellie Carpenter into open space and the young right-back would then get into good positions to cross the ball into the box. But doing that against Norway might be useless as they are extremely efficient in the air and are mostly immune to crosses in general. Notice below how this usually plays out for Australia.
The midfield and the wingers cut inside and stay narrow to attract the opposition and the full-backs can then use that free space to burst into the final third. An accurate through ball in behind the defence suddenly puts them into a promising scenario, as can be seen in the next example.
They use their wingers as connections to set up the overlaps and progress into the danger zones. And this should, looking ahead to the game against Norway, be what we see the most from Australia but partly because Norway might actually let them do it.
So if their usual approach won’t work, how can the Matildas breach this well-organised Norway defence? Sam Kerr, of course. This lethal striker is extremely prolific and her four goals in the last game can attest to that but one big aspect of her game, which will be crucial against Norway, is her ability to drop deeper, manipulate the backline of the opposition and create the necessary space.
Australia are sometimes easily shut down if their midfield is successfully cut off. This, in turn, forces the full-backs to stay deep to assist the build-up and blunts their attacks in general. But Kerr is often used to add some bodies into the centre of the park, evening the odds or shifting it towards Australia.
Notice above how Kerr drops into the midfield to create additional passing channels and also, more importantly, pulls multiple markers out of their default positions. This creates space behind their backs and gives Australia, in theory, one way to breach Norway’s compact mid-block that we presume they will deploy.
Still, if Norway can stay organised and compact enough, Matildas could struggle to work their way through them and seeing how we can’t really expect them to beat Norway in the air via crosses, this is definitely something to watch out for.
Similar strengths and similar weaknesses
Wing play is a pattern that, interestingly enough, most of the competitors here at this FIFA Women’s World Cup have in common and Australia and Norway are no exceptions to that rule. Both teams base their attacks on swift transitions through their flanks and exploiting the opposition’s disrupted shapes.
We’ve already seen how Australia tend to progress the ball but Norway follow a similar approach. It’s either a slower type of build-up from the back or a quick long ball to catch the opposition off guard but either way – it ends on the flanks.
One thing they do, however, struggle against, is a well-coordinated press. If their options towards the wings are well blocked and their double pivot neutralised by a forward duo, they struggle to build their attacks. Notice below how France do this remarkably well.
Both of Norway’s midfielders are blocked and cannot receive the ball and the hosts use this to press the wide players and force out a blind clearance. Australia will most definitely try and press as well and how well Norway play around it will be of extreme importance.
But they are not the only ones with build-up problems as the Matildas sometimes face the very same thing but in a slightly different form. Just as Norway, they don’t mind taking things slow when needed but breaching a well-organised block is what was giving them headaches thus far.
Since both teams like to play through their wingers and full-backs, they tend to leave themselves vulnerable in turnovers and transitions. Australia are pretty much expected to dominate possession and keep both wide players constantly in their opposition’s half.
In those scenarios, Norway could look to exploit it but it would, granted, take a slightly different approach since they are generally not a counterattacking team. But then again, their coach is extremely adaptable and this option should not be disregarded, especially considering that both Brazil and Italy managed to hurt Australia directly through those tactics.
This will definitely be a clash of the titans as Norway have already proved to the world that they can dance with the best of them. On their day, Australia are definitely one of those considered the best but their next opponent has all the right weapons to counter them properly.
Matildas are expected to dominate possession and Norway will let them do it while they guard the middle of the park and clear crosses as they arrive into the box. Hitting them hard in transitions and surviving the high press will be crucial for Norway while finding holes in the compact block will play a key role for the other side.
If you are following the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 then you will find our FREE tactical preview magazine the perfect compliment to the tournament. You can download it HERE – each nation is previewed and we also profile their key player and young player to watch. Enjoy!