No excuses, and not good enough for Norwich City boss David Wagner in a 1-0 home defeat to the Black Cats. Ben Lee breaks down the tactical analysis.

Ben is a City season ticket holder and author of the NCFC Analysis twitter account, which unpicks every Canaries' game with an analytical report highlighting tactical strengths and weaknesses.

This is what Ben made of a sobering setback.

Norwich Vs Sunderland: What went wrong?

Score: 0 - 1

Possession (%): 72 - 28

xG: 1.10 - 1.11

  • Sunderland's press against Norwich's build-up.
  • Ineffective ball progression.
  • Suboptimal space occupation and vulnerability during transitions.
  • How Sunderland prevented overloads in the final third.

Base formations:

David Wagner made one change to the team that beat Millwall at the Den. Replacing Sorensen, Nunez occupied a number ten role in a 4-2-3-1. Sunderland were also set up in a 4-2-3-1, but Abdoullah Ba often moved alongside Gelhardt to create a front two.

The Pink Un:

Norwich built-up in a 2-3-2-3 with a staggered midfield three of McLean, Sara and Nunez. Sara occasionally joined McLean to create a 2-4 build-up shape. Nunez 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 Abdoullah Ba (17) joined Joe Gelhardt (28) in the first line of pressure. But Ba stayed close to McLean to limit routes for central progression.

Norwich's full backs were pressed by Roberts (10) and Clarke (20), while Michut (25) and Neil (24) were tasked with marking Sara and Nunez. Typically, it was Michut marking Sara, and Neil marking Nunez. This well set up, man orientated press made ball progression difficult for Norwich.


When Norwich played out towards Gibson and Giannoulis, Abdoullah Ba (17) left McLean to press Gibson. When this happened, Gelhardt (28) would either shift across, or Michut (25) 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 should not 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.

Norwich may have been able to escape Sunderland's press by dropping Nunez 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.


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.

The Pink Un:


When Norwich were building-up higher in their own half, McLean occupied his usual role within a back three. But with Nunez in a number ten position, Norwich's midfield structure looked like the 3-1 shape which was common before their victory away at Millwall.

The Pink Un:


This was a regression from the improved 3-2 midfield structure we saw against Millwall. The 3-2 shape provided central superiority, better connections between the thirds, and security during defensive transitions.

The Pink Un:


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 (24), Michut (25), Ba (17) and Gelhardt (28).

The Pink Un:


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 also found it hard to access the half spaces, which are optimal areas for chance creation.

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 Hanley and Gibson totally exposed to Sunderland counter attacks.


The 3-2 structure, which Norwich used more often in the Millwall game, reduces the need for McLean to press. It also ensures that, should he press, Norwich's centre backs are still protected.

Sunderland did well to exploit the gaps provided by Norwich's poor occupation of space. Their fast, vertical counter attacks highlighted the need for additional protection in central midfield.

Typically, Wagner's teams are good at occupying each of the five vertical corridors; this is a key element of positional play. By doing this, Wagner’s Norwich create a numerical advantage against a back four in the final third.

The Pink Un:


However, with Clarke (20) and Roberts (10) tracking back, this was difficult to achieve against Sunderland. Even when Nunez 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 had planned. Norwich were poor in possession and failed to play through the press. This was, in part, due to their poor occupation of space.

Passing from side to side can open gaps between a press, as opposition players shift horizontally at different speeds, 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.

Norwich's few promising moments came when Nunez, Sara and McLean were all involved in the build-up. All three are needed to create central superiority and to 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 it would reduce Norwich's vulnerability during defensive transitions.

You can read all Ben's previous analysis of Norwich City games via his social media accounts.

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