A calamitous collapse from Norwich City. Ben Lee pinpoints where the Canaries got it so wrong in a Plymouth thrashing.

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

This is what Ben made of the carnage at Home Park.

Plymouth versuss Norwich: An ironic capitulation

Score: 6 – 2

Possession (%): 31 – 69

Passes: 295 – 656

Shots: 16 – 11

xG: 3.31 – 1.97

  • Plymouth’s tactical changes.
  • Sloppy mistakes exposing tactical inferiorities.
  • Exposed in transitions.
  • Second half changes and a new midfield dynamic?

Base formations:

With Barnes and Sargent injured, David Wagner was forced to turn to a new forward duo of Idah and summer loan signing Hwang Ui-jo.

Plymouth boss Steven Schumacher reverted to the 3-4-2-1 shape that got the hosts promoted from League One last season. Mumba and Edwards occupied both wing-back roles, with Azaz and Whittaker either side of Hardie up front.

The Pink Un:

Norwich’s deep build-up phases included their usual 4-2-4 midfield box shape, as Hwang (31) and Idah (11) dropped ahead of McLean (23) and Sara (17).

In response, Plymouth transitioned into a 3-2-4-1 shape as Mumba (2) and Randell (20) joined Azaz (18) and Whittaker (10) to create the line of pressure behind Hardie (9). Edwards (8) stayed back, while Pleguezuelo (5) temporarily left the back line to follow Idah.

These asymmetric movements created a ‘man-to-man plus one’ system behind Hardie (9), with every Norwich player occupied ahead of Duffy and Gibson to create what is becoming a common pressing structure for teams facing Wagner’s Norwich.

Mumba (2) and Whittaker (10) were ready to press Stacey (3) and Giannoulis (30), respectively, while Gibson (17) followed Fassnacht (16), and Edwards (8) tracked Rowe (27).

The Pink Un:

Plymouth’s press was designed to deny Norwich of the usual central overloads created by their midfield box, while also ensuring the visitor’s attacking full-backs were pinned back. As a result, Plymouth were able to restrict central ball progression and limit the creation of wide overloads.

The Pink Un:

Norwich struggled to adapt to this structure, with the visitors frequently failing to find a free man. Instead, Wagner’s men were often caught passing to players without the time or space to receive on the half turn.

As a result, Norwich found ball progression difficult and, without an effective alternative, began to make the same mistakes repeatedly.

At the point of defensive transitions, the visitors were vulnerable. Plymouth were able to create an immediate 3v2 overload as Whittaker (10) and Azaz (18) joined Hardie (9) in a narrow front three.

The Pink Un:

Norwich’s defensive vulnerability was not helped by a careless error in the build-up to Plymouth’s second goal, as Giannoulis (30) left Rowe (27) in a wide 2v1 against Azaz (18) and Whittaker (10).

The Pink Un:

In settled play, Kenny McLean (23) frequently dropped into a back three alongside Duffy (24), leaving Sara (17) as a single pivot. Hwang (31) often occupied the space behind Idah (11), while Fassnacht (16) and Rowe (27) inverted and the full-backs overlapped.

In such situations, Plymouth transitioned into a 5-1-3-1 shape, allowing the hosts to maintain man-orientation even with Norwich in settled possession.

When McLean (23) remained in midfield, however, Plymouth created a midfield box to prevent Norwich’s central overloads. Whittaker (10) and Azaz (18) inverted to apply pressure to Norwich’s double pivot, while Houghton (4) and Randell (20) stayed tight to Norwich’s narrow wingers.

The Pink Un:

When dropping into their defensive third, the hosts created a 5-4-1 shape, as Whittaker (10) and Azaz (18) dropped alongside the centre midfielders to support the wing-backs. Schumacher’s men continued to stay tight to the visitors, making it difficult for Norwich to find space.

With Plymouth two goals to the good, Norwich attempted to create last-line overloads against the host’s back five, as McLean (23) or Sara (17) often joined Hwang (31) in moving into the space between the lines.

But as Norwich chased the game, they became increasingly vulnerable to counter-attacks, with the visitors frequently creating a weak 2-1 rest defence in possession.

By focusing on creating last-line overloads, the centre-backs were given far too much space to defend in transitions. This, combined with Plymouth’s vertical speed and clinical finishing, proved to be lethal.

The Pink Un:

At this point, a certain Johan Cruyff quote comes to mind: “Defending is a matter of: how much space must I defend? If I have to defend this whole garden, I am the worst. If I have to defend this small space, I am the best. Everything is about metres.”

Once Wagner’s men were chasing the game, Norwich’s structure gave Duffy and Gibson far too much space to defend on Saturday.

With Plymouth going long from goal kicks, Norwich were given very few chances to force high turnovers. But in settled possession, the hosts were more patient. In these phases, Plymouth set up in a 3-4-2-1 with a double pivot and two number tens creating a midfield box behind Hardie (9).

Out of possession, Norwich pressed from a 4-4-2. Hwang (31) and Idah (11) created the front two in the first half.

Norwich’s wingers alternately joined the front line to apply pressure to Plymouth’s wide ball-side centre-backs, while the full-backs backed up the press on Plymouth’s wing-backs. This prevented the creation of a 3v2 overload against Norwich’s front two.

At the same time, McLean (23) and Sara (17) applied pressure to Houghton (4) and Randell (20).

The Pink Un:

However, there was a clear weakness in Norwich’s structure out of possession; with McLean (23) and Sara (17) drawn to press the host’s double pivot, while Azaz (18) and Whittaker (10) occupied the space between the lines, Duffy (24) and Gibson (6) were left in a 3v2.

Hardie (9) and one number ten were able to pin both Norwich centre-backs, leaving the other number ten free.

The Pink Un:

Therein lies a crucial difference between the two sides’ pressing structures. While Plymouth’s pressing wing-backs often left their centre-backs with a 3v2 advantage at the back, the visitor’s pressing full-backs exposed Duffy (24) and Gibson (6) to a 2v3 disadvantage.

Wagner’s second-half changes saw Forshaw (29) and Placheta (20) replace Hwang and Fassnacht. This created a new midfield dynamic, as Norwich created a 4-2-3-1 base shape with Forshaw and McLean behind Sara.

While Norwich conceded two goals from further counter-attacks, with the visitors leaving a virtually non-existent rest defence, the balance of the side in possession looked better with Forshaw added.

It could become a regular occurrence for Wagner’s Norwich to set up with a double pivot of McLean and Forshaw, thereby freeing Sara to progress between the lines. This was exactly the structure in the build-up to Norwich’s first goal.

But aside from any positive hint of a new midfield combination, there can be no doubts about the nature of Saturday’s defeat. It was a capitulation from Wagner’s men, and an ironic one at that.

The irony of the Plymouth defeat is twofold. For one, this was a team rebuilt with experience to prevent such an implosion. But perhaps most significantly, this is a head coach associated with proficiency in transitions, and this is not the first time in his tenure that Norwich have struggled in such situations.

Despite the improvements we have seen from Wagner’s side, no team should collapse in such a calamitous fashion. Norwich need to find a way to cope with conceding goals; chasing the game so early in the first half was a dangerous strategy, and ultimately Norwich were punished. Repeatedly.

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

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