Dec 8, 2011

Norwich vs Newcastle: Tactical Preview

10.12.2011 – Saturday 3:00pm

Location: Carrow Road

Early prospects:  Last man standing.

Newcastle United take their injury ridden squad to Premier League returnees Norwich this Saturday, looking for a first win in four games to maintain an unexpected lofty position.

Naturally, there have been many falling over themselves to shout about how Newcastle’s ‘bubble has finally burst’, but the performance against Chelsea, and indeed those of the previous two games only served to provide great encouragement all round, and notify the potential of this current squad should it be built upon intelligently.  Adversely, the critical injuries suffered during this recent period (more on this later) have only highlighted the thin line between prosperity and potential stagnation – the very clear warnings have to be heeded by those in power…

Team Line-ups:
Despite some erratic form, the Canaries come into this game looking to build upon their steady 16 points gained so far.

For the first time this season NUFC are feeling the effects of a very serious injury crisis – the brutal news of Steven Taylor’s injury being likely to keep him out for the rest of this season, combined with the less lengthy spells out faced by fellow centre backs Coloccini and Williamson mean NUFC travel to Carrow Road without a recognised senior central defender.  Both Pardew and Coloccini have down played the seriousness of his injury, and have stated that the Argentine has an ‘outside chance’ of making the game – although a more realistic proposition is for him to return a week later against Swansea.  Cheick Tiote remains side-lined and Danny Guthrie has since picked up a groin problem (popular in the squad these days…) and will be out until Christmas at least – just when he was staking a very serious claim for a regular first team place.  Gosling should come in to replace Guthrie, however big questions remain over who will deputise in central defence – having an array of full-backs to choose from along with untested centre back Tamas Kadar.  Your guess is as good as mine…

Our opponents Norwich, on the other hand, have no fresh injury concerns for this game and in fact have Daniel Ayala and Zak Whitbread available after injury.  Talented young manager Paul Lambert has rotated his squad fairly freely this season and has recently adopted a 451 formation for a number of games, however with NUFC’s defensive looking very frail it’s expected that Lambert will look to attack aggressively and choose a line-up and formation to suit that.

Opposition strengths and notable dangers:
Given our obvious defensive frailties, the notable dangers to NUFC pretty much write themselves.

•    Aggressive attackers:  Far from being a team who look to grind out points and ride out their first season in the top tier, Norwich have taken the game to all opponents – showing no respect for reputation, and rightly so in my opinion.  Their 13 shots on goal per game average may not be as gung-ho as Blackpool last season, but is nontheless impressive for a side that was in League One very recently.  Norwich attack using plenty of width (as the diagram right shows) and look to provide plenty service to the front line.

•    Muscle up front:  Combined with the previous, Norwich have adopted a style very familiar to that of NUFC’s early last season by using physical dominance in up front both attack and build pressure.  A 57% win rate in aerial duals at home this season gives a decent indication of their presence – 19% of passes being long balls give a clear indication of their direct nature.  Encompassing both points is the Canaries’ set piece threat, with eight of their 20 goals so far having come from set pieces.

Tactical suggestions:
Again, with NUFC’s defensive weakness in mind, this game will be one in which tactics will have to play a huge part to produce an effective performance.

•    Attack…:  Norwich coming out to attack is a given, and with our first choice defence I would have felt quite confident in repelling them.  However, lacking physical presence, familiarity and (crucially) leadership our prospects of keeping the home side out for the full 90 are unconvincing, even with the superhuman Krul in goal.  This game may be better suited to the archetypical ‘Kevin Keegan style’ of football – outscore your opposition.  And with the attacking talents of Ba, Ben Arfa and Cabaye we have enough in our own locker to trouble a defence that has already conceded 26 goals in 14 games.

•    Battle for midfield:  Key to the previous point is involving our better players – Cabaye arguably the key man.  If our talented Frenchman, alongside the ever improving Dan Gosling, can provide battle energy and style in midfield (which both are more than capable of doing on their day) then we stand a far better chance of returning with a share of the spoils than if we allow our opposition to dictate the midfield.  Norwich’s average possession of 42% and average pass completion of 74% highlights a very palpable weakness which NUFC should look to exploit in a key area of the field.

•    Keep a fairly high line:  Easier said than done with the lack of a natural leader in the defence (working on the premise Coloccini doesn’t make the start XI this week), keeping a fairly advanced line could go some way to minimising Norwich’s aerial presence – inviting the home side to play more through the middle and on the floor, or attempt more precise and difficult balls over the top.

Final thought and gut feeling:
Even with a first choice XI there would be a feeling of apprehension with this game – Norwich being the very typical kind of place that NUFC tend to slip up / under perform.  With the well documented frailties to pile on top of this that feeling of apprehension gets no better, but with our attacking options relatively unscathed we still hold enough to take a share of the spoils: score draw.

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  • I thought Perch did alright against Chelsea, so am more concerned with whoever partners him.

  • I haven’t got as much against Perch as a lot of other people, but he does struggle in the air, not being a centre-back, like when he lost Drogba for the first goal last week. Paul Lambert’s obviously no mug, so I’d expect them to chuck the ball in the middle all day long which means a nervous afternoon for me. Come on Tim!

  • Damn. Sometimes I hate being right. Four goals from crosses and headers. I hope Mike Ashley’s door gets kicked off its hinges by Alan Pardew pointing out that he was forced to play four right backs in defence because the squad is too thin and reinforcements are desperately needed.

    No doubt the self-appointed experts will work themselves into a frenzy that we are now dropping like a stone and were completely deluded when we were in the top 4. Plus ca change…

    I don’t think Swansea have the big lads up front – Graham/Lita/Moore? – so maybe it won’t be such a car crash next week, and maybe Colo will be back. Encouraging that we kept at it for 90 minutes despite being down to 10 men, so there are positives.


  • NUFC blog varying from inane rantings to precision statistical analysis. Alternative match previews & reports plus a broader based (and heavily biased) footballing opinion on anything worthy of annoyance.

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