A game of contrasts from Norwich City. Ben Lee breaks down a tactically intriguing 1-0 Championship win against Stoke City at Carrow Road.

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

This is what Ben made of Norwich getting back to winning ways.

Norwich versus Stoke: A positive first half and a second half regression

Score: 1 – 0

Possession (%): 44 – 56

Passes: 405 – 512

Shots: 13 – 13

xG: 1.29 – 1.20

  • Stoke’s flawed first-half pressing structure
  • How Norwich exploited wide overloads
  • Stoke’s pressing improvements
  • Why Norwich lost control in the second half

Base formations:

Returning from the first international break of the 2023/24 season, Norwich set up in their usual 4-4-2 base shape. Former Canaries' boss Alex Neil set up his Stoke side in a 4-1-4-1 base formation, with Pearson acting as a single pivot behind the Potters’ captain Laurent and summer signing Burger.

The Pink Un:

As has become the norm for David Wagner’s Norwich, the hosts transitioned into a 4-2-4 shape in their deep build-up, with Barnes and Idah often dropping to create a midfield box.

In response, Stoke moved into a 4-1-3-2 pressing structure, as Burger (6) joined Wesley (18) in a front two. Campbell (10), Laurent (28), and Jun-Ho (22) were left to create the second line of pressure.

It soon became clear that each line of the visitor’s first-half press was flawed. In the first line, Burger (6) and Wesley (18) were caught in a 3v2 when applying pressure to Duffy, Gunn, and Gibson. As a result, Sara and McLean were easily accessible in a 2v1 against Laurent (28).

The third line of pressure is crucial when facing Norwich’s double false nine. Stoke failed to prevent an overload in this line, with Rose (5) frequently late to join Pearson (4) in midfield; this left Idah free when Pearson tracked Barnes.

The Pink Un:

Despite these numerical advantages appearing centrally, Norwich found more success exploiting Stoke’s press by utilising wide overloads.

When playing out towards Stacey, for example, Jun-Ho (22) was forced to jump onto the Norwich right back, leaving Sara free. With Laurent (28) forced to track both Norwich pivots, the Stoke captain was often late to jump onto Sara when the Brazilian moved into space behind Jun-Ho (22). This fault left Pearson (4) with a tough decision to make: should he jump onto Sara or stay with Barnes?

With Norwich advancing into periods of settled play, McLean and Sara occasionally remained in midfield as a double pivot. This ensured Laurent (28) remained in a 2v1 when Burger (6) pressed Duffy, and that the hosts were still able to create wide overloads.

When McLean dropped into a back three, Norwich’s central overload was maintained as Rowe (27) dropped alongside Sara.

Alex Neil’s side dropped into a 4-3-2-1 shape in their own half, but with Burger (6) joining Wesley in a front two, this often became a 4-3-1-2.

The Potters’ defensive structure aimed to minimise the overloads Norwich’s full-backs and inverting wingers attempted to create. The roles of Campbell (10) and Jun-Ho (22) were crucial in this system, with the Stoke wingers dropping close to the full-backs to prevent the concession of wide overloads.

The wingers marked Norwich’s wide full-backs, while the Stoke full-backs tracked City’s inverted wingers.

The Pink Un:

Sara and McLean played key roles in counteracting this defensive structure, with the midfield duo frequently drifting into the half spaces.

While Stoke were able to track Norwich’s wingers and full-backs, the movement from Sara and McLean allowed the hosts to create dangerous overloads in the final third. With Barnes dropping behind Idah, the Canaries’ number ten was perfectly placed to play bounce passes towards third-man runs into the half spaces.

In their deep build-up phases, the visitors created an asymmetric 4-4-2-1 shape as Ben Pearson (4) dropped alongside the centre-backs. Laurent (28) and Burger (6) became a double pivot between two wide full backs, while Campbell (10) and Jun-Ho (22) inverted into the half spaces.

Wagner’s Norwich transitioned into their usual 4-1-3-2 pressing structure. Idah and Barnes were tasked with pressing the goalkeeper and ball-side centre-back, while Rowe jumped onto Pearson (4). Sara tracked the deepest Stoke pivot as McLean joined the press to mark the free midfielder.

Stoke’s build-up structure created similar numerical advantages to Norwich’s shape in possession, but unlike their hosts, Neil’s side were predictable and careless in their build-up. They failed to play into the right areas and made it too easy for Norwich to trap them man-to-man against the touchline.

The Pink Un:

The visitors’ sloppiness continued in their latter build-up phases when Pearson created the tip of a diamond in the Potters’ 4-4-2-1. In settled play, Stoke transitioned into a 3-2-4-1 shape as Pearson (4) dropped into a back three. In these situations, Norwich’s 4-1-3-2 press became a 4-4-2 mid-block.

Structurally, Neil’s side were well organised; they created multiple overloads against Norwich’s press. They had a numerical advantage against Idah and Barnes; Campbell (10) and Jun-Ho (22) were often in space between the lines, and their attacking five created last-line superiority against Norwich’s back four.

But with Norwich forcing them wide, they failed to play into the right spaces and frequently made unforced errors. As a result, they created very few chances from settled play in the first half.

In the second half, Stoke’s press became a 3-2-3-2 with centre-back Rose (5) immediately joining Pearson (4) to prevent the creation of a free false nine.

The Pink Un:

While the initial lines of pressure were still flawed, the third and fourth lines of Stoke’s press were much more effective than in the first half.

Burger (6) and Wesley (18) continued to leave Laurent (28) in a 2v1, but Barnes (10) and Idah (11) were no longer free, with the visitors going man-to-man plus one against Norwich’s front four.

The Pink Un:

Despite the visitors’ front two still being easily bypassed in Norwich’s deep build-up, Stoke’s second-half press was much more effective.

Laurent (28) was much quicker to jump onto the ball-side Norwich pivot, and the host’s front four were given very little time in possession. This left Wagner’s men with no easy out-ball in the Stoke half.

However, it is also important to recognise Norwich’s drop-off in the second half. In an attempt to prevent high turnovers, they were far too quick to go long in their first build-up phases. Given Stoke’s numerical advantage against Norwich’s front four, such a direct approach was destined to fail.

In possession, Norwich failed to exploit the overloads they utilised in the first half. Out of possession, the hosts often sat far too deep to force turnovers. Together, these failings created periods of sustained Stoke pressure.

Top teams are brave both in and out of possession; Wagner’s men will need to be exactly that if they are to deny Leicester the superiorities they seek to create in possession, while playing into the right spaces will be the key to escaping the Foxes' press.

After another positive result on Saturday, Wednesday is undoubtedly the biggest test of Wagner’s 2023/24 Norwich side thus far.

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

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