Dec 11, 2011

Tactical analysis: Norwich 4 Newcastle 2 in 5 key points

10.12.11 – Saturday 3pm
Carrow Road
Barclays Premier League

Steve Morison scores vs NewcastleNorwich 4
Hoolahan 39
Holt 59, 82
Morison 63 

Newcastle 2
Ba 45, 71
Gosling sent off 66 

A depleted Newcastle side suffered their 3rd defeat of the season in a 4-2 defeat to Premier League new boys Norwich City at Carrow Road.

The game’s opening goal came 6 minutes before the half time interval. A debatable corner was awarded to the home side – when Tim Krul was adjudged to have carried the ball over the line – who profited from the decision when Andrew Crofts’ header ricocheted in off Wes Hoolahan. However, Newcastle were level on the stroke of half time. Yohan Cabaye’s perfectly weighted chipped through ball was well controlled by Demba Ba who side footed past John Ruddy to make the score 1-1 at the break.

Newcastle started the second half brightly and had good chances to take the lead, but were behind again when a Norwich corner was headed home by Grant Holt – the striker quickest to the rebound after his initial header was stopped by Krul. And it was 3-1 only 4 minutes later, Steve Morison powerfully heading Crofts’ cross past the helpless Krul. Newcastle were reduced to 10 men in the 66th minute when Dan Gosling, having already been booked, was shown a red card by referee Martin Atkinson for a slightly rash challenge on Russell Martin. Yet, refusing to give up, Newcastle reduced the deficit 5 minutes later when Ba hit a left footed effort past Ruddy following good work from Shola Ameobi. But the game was ended as a contest 8 minutes from time when Holt was found in the penalty area by Bradley Johnson’s free kick to head his 2nd and Norwich’s 4th of the afternoon.

1. Team selection and tactics

norwich newcastle formations

Newcastle, hampered by injuries, made 5 changes to the side that had lost 3-0 at home to Chelsea last weekend. With no fit senior central defenders available – first choice pairing Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor joining Mike Williamson on the sidelines – Newcastle were forced into a defensive reshuffle. James Perch came into the side to partner Danny Simpson in central defence, while Ryan Taylor moved to right back with Davide Santon making his full Premier League debut at left back. Jonas Gutierrez returned from suspension to replace Peter Lovenkrands on the left wing, Dan Gosling took up the place of the injured Danny Guthrie in central midfield and Shola Ameobi was preferred to Hatem Ben Arfa to complete Newcastle’s changes. Norwich manager Paul Lambert made 4 changes to the side that had lost 5-1 at Man City the weekend previous with Zak Whitbread, Wesley Hoolahan, David Fox and Grant Holt replacing Leon Barnett, Elliott Bennett, Bradley Johnson and Anthony Pilkington in the starting line up.

Having used a 4-4-1-1 formation in their last 3 games, to accommodate Hatem Ben Arfa in the ‘number 10’ role, Newcastle returned to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation as Alan Pardew looked for his 2 front men – Shola Ameobi and Demba Ba – to hold the ball up in the opposition half and reduce pressure on the makeshift defence. Norwich, after adopting a more cautious 4-5-1 formation at City, also used a 4-4-2 formation; Lambert sensing an opportunity to profit from Newcastle’s defensive frailties. With both sides adopting similar styles and attacking intent it made for an open and entertaining game of football.

2. Newcastle switch off at set pieces

Perch Simpson headers

Headers: Perch and Simpson

A common feature of the game which ultimately proved to be Newcastle’s undoing was their inability to defend set-pieces. The makeshift central defensive pairing of Simpson and Perch simply struggled to deal with the aerial power and movement of Norwich strikers Holt and Morison, and it’s telling that neither Newcastle defender won a header in their own penalty area.

Up until this fixture Newcastle had started with the same back 5, including Krul, for every other league game this season and had built a reputation as one of the league’s meanest defences. However, the absence of Coloccini and Steven Taylor proved to be a major disruption and setback for Newcastle against Norwich. Playing with 2 full backs at centre back, the understanding and organisation was naturally missing and proved to be Newcastle’s downfall. Not surprising then that 3 of Norwich’s 4 goals came from set piece situations, with the other a header from open play.

3. Newcastle defend deep and narrow

Unable to rely on their formidable central defensive partnership Newcastle instead attempted to deal with Norwich’s attacking threat by defending deep, to restrict the space centrally for their opposition to play into and to provide additional support for stand-in centre backs Perch and Simpson. Perhaps wary of the danger of giving away set pieces Newcastle also looked to win the ball back by anticipating the ‘next pass’,  highlighted by the fact that they made 22 interceptions compared to only 6 tackles.

By defending so deep and narrow, however, only played to Norwich’s strengths, encouraging the Canaries to play down the wings to exploit the space and to play crosses into the box for the forwards to attack, which they did on no less than 21 times. In hindsight, a better defensive strategy may have been to adopt a high line so as to not allow Holt and Morison space and opportunities to attack the ball in the penalty area, although this is easier said than done with no natural leader in Coloccini’s absence to co-ordinate the defence.

Norwich Newcastle average positions

Average positions - Newcastle defend compact and narrow. Left: Norwich, Right: Newcastle


4. Norwich nullify Newcastle wingers

Norwich tackles

Norwich tackles, almost all in wide areas

It was a fairly unproductive afternoon for Newcastle’s wingers – Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan – who were unable to getter the better of their respective full backs – Kyle Naughton and Marc Tierney. Gutierrez, as has been the case of late, generally took up a more defensive position, while Obertan tended to cut inside rather than to take on his marker. As such, neither managed to put in a single completed cross to a team-mate with wide play quality generally lacking for the Magpies.

Newcastle instead looked to Ryan Taylor and Davide Santon to provide attacking support from full back, which they did well. Taylor was Newcastle’s most involved player with 81 touches, while he also put in 8 crosses from normal play – more than any other Newcastle player. Santon, meanwhile, showed a willingness to get forward, run with the ball and had the 2nd highest amount of touches for Newcastle, behind Taylor, with 77. The high involvement of both players adding weight to the suggestion that full back has became the most important position in the modern game.

5. The Magpies retain attacking intention with 10 men

Newcastle switch to 4-3-2

Newcastle switch to 4-3-2

In the space of 7 second half minutes to forget for Newcastle – from the 59th to the 66th – they conceded 2 goals and were reduced to 10 men. Following Gosling’s dismissal, and with heads possibly dropping and discipline starting to waver, the thought may have crossed Alan Pardew’s mind to take a damage limitation approach by withdrawing a striker for a midfielder and settling for not conceding any more goals rather than chasing the game. Former Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce has spoken of employing these tactics when his sides have been 2 or 3 goals behind, thankfully Pardew is not of the same school of thought.

Pardew, instead, retained faith that his side could get back into the game and kept his 2 strikers – Ba and Shola Ameobi – on the pitch and switched to almost a 4-3-2 formation with either striker expected to drop back into the midfield when required, still giving Newcastle 2 options to aim for up front. Pardew’s belief in his side appeared to give the Newcastle players a lift and only 5 minutes after going down to 10 men they were back in the game at 3-2. The admirable effort and work-rate of Newcastle’s 10 men was unfortunately unable to yield an equalising goal, yet, surely better to go down fighting than without a fight at all.

At the end of the day…

Those who have been uncomfortable with Newcastle’s presence near the top of the table, reserved by Sky Sports for ‘the big 6, will no doubt take joy in their points return of 1 from the last 4 games. However, much like against Chelsea last week, Newcastle could well have taken something from this game and can take some solace in their determined performance, particularly Demba Ba who impressed again up front.

Any Premier League side would arguably struggle without their 3 first choice centre backs and had one or even two of Coloccini, Taylor or Williamson been fit it’s not inconceivable that Newcastle could have taken 3 points home from the trip to East Anglia.

As it was, even with Newcastle down to 10 men for the remaining 24 or so minutes, it was a fairly even game with Newcastle just edging Norwich for shots on target; 6 to 5, and Norwich narrowly leading Newcastle for passes completed; 315 to 301. Most importantly, though, it was Norwich who were more clinical in front of goal and who are therefore deserved of the 3 points.

The defeat saw Newcastle drop down to 7th place in the Premier League table, however still with a healthy 5 point lead ahead of 8th placed Stoke. Not quite the ‘crash to earth’ or ‘bubble bursting’ that some would like to claim…

Next up for Newcastle is a home fixture against another Premier League newcomer – 11th placed Swansea – on Saturday 17 December, 3pm kick off. It is hoped that at least one of Coloccini or Williamson will be fit to return, while better news is hoped for on the prolonged injury of Cheick Tiote as Newcastle look to get back to winning ways on home turf.

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  • Newcastle were overly cautious in this encounter, with the outlet man Obertan reluctant to take the ball to the Norwich corner to give the attack time to catch up with him and set up some control. One wonders if AP has ordered him to run to the middle or if he is unable to hear his instructions, unwilling to carry them out, or lacks confidence that he can play the entire length of the pitch. Some answer is needed to this question.

  • I think Pardew played two upfront hoping Norwich would defend. But without a leader at the every time they launched a ball into the box we looked like conceding. Colo is back next game so everythings rosie.

  • Norwich fan here – Thought Newcastle played some great footaball and should be commended for their attacking style and more especially the way they always tried to “go for it” regardless of the score. I thought Demba Ba had a great game, and will be a threat against any side – an inspired signing. One slight disagrrement is the excuse about your defence. Bottom line is that they were “bossed” off the park by two big strikers (who have scored against Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Man. City in recent weeks). Injuries are no excuse- end of. We have been playing without three first choice centre backs for so long that people have actually forgotten who our first choice centre backs are!!! We have had a right back playing at centre back since 17th. September and no one has commented on the fact let alone used it as a reason for our (pretty poor) defensive record. You were beaten by the better team on the day. I am sure you will go onto have a great season but let us enjoy our day!!

  • One more comment. On reading your report you refer to “the debatable corner” – (it wasn’t a corner by the way) but seem to gloss over the absolute cast iron handball which should have been a penalty. Secondly you talk about Dan Gosling’s “slightly rash challenge” being given given a red card, having received a previous yellow card. The tackle was a reckless studs up tackle and received a straight red (the previous yellow was an irrelevance), so please do not try and excuse such a shocking tackle in this way.

  • It shocks me to see a Norwich fan on the internet, having been there myself I thought it was a bit like Beamish, an open air museum of a dark age gone by. Live and learn, I guess.

  • RD I agree with much of what you say but Pardwho’s obsession with 4-4-2, when we have no consistent quality crossers of the ball, is somewhat baffling. 4-4-2 generally demands you feed the front two as quickly and as often as possible. As the Chalkboard images show, we failed to do that consistently on Saturday with either winger or full back and IMO Pardwho has to ask whether he should continue with that formation (when we clearly need to get good service to the front two) or change to suit the players he currently has at his disposal ?

    I also agree with Beeguy (about Obertan) who is presumably employed for his pace and delivery of the ball ? However yesterday showed a classic example of a player who maybe has quick feet but a very slow brain. I refer of course to the opening phase in the second half when Shola was free on the left and Obertan, just beyond the half way line, simply had to deliver a quick ball into space but he dithered and eventually lost possession. Later Shola had the presence of mind, having won the ball in almost the same position as Obertan, to slip the pass to Ba who did the rest.

    I also felt sorry for Perch and Simmo who weren’t given much in the way of protection from the formation that Pardwho played yesterday which IMO was wrong. Yes Norwich are a promoted team but they are clearly capable of beating sides at home who let them play to their strengths. IMO we played right into their hands on Saturday.

    One year on and Pardwho doesnt seem to have moved on that much in reality.

  • Cheers for the comments, all.

    William – I’m not sure it was an excuse that I made about the defence. I did say that Perch and Simpson couldn’t deal with the power and movement of Morison and Holt, which they couldn’t. Also I wasn’t using injuries as an excuse, I realise that all teams have them and that was one of my pet hates about Souness when he was manager here. But, I don’t think anyone can disagree that Newcastle would have fared better with Coloccini and Taylor. It was the first game they’ve missed in the league this season so only natural that there’d be a comparison to be made of how Newcastle performed with and without them. Won’t be something that I say every week. Also I did say that Norwich deserved the 3 points as they were more clinical in front of goal. More than happy for you to have your day, you won’t catch any bitterness from these parts if that’s the way it came across!

    As for glossing over the handball, I was simply describing the goal scoring incidents, of which there were many and space was limited (!), and that wasn’t one of them. I thought it was a daft tackle by Gosling and he deserved a second yellow, but a straight red and resulting 3 match ban was a bit harsh I thought for what looked like a mistimed tackle rather than a malicious one. Was he not just going to block the ball and Martin came into contact with the bottom of his boot when clearing the ball? Just my opinion, as is yours..

  • Cheers, Andy.

    I agree about the lack of quality delivery to the forwards and also that if two forwards are going to be used then they need good service, something which has been lacking of late. I can’t help think back to another former Man Utd winger – Keith Gillespie – as someone that Obertan should be shown videos of to improve his game. Gillespie’s style was a simple one, attack the full back, hit the line and whip a cross in. Obertan has the pace to do the same but he seems to be lacking in either understanding, confidence or possibly overthinking things at times. Still early days though, yes he’s been frustrating, but he’s still a young lad and hopefully with a bit of focused coaching he can become the player that he was bought to be.

    As for the formation, it seems to be a favourite of Pardew doesn’t it? And maybe he thought that in matching Norwich’s formation that his players would win the individual battles and his team would prevail? Will be intriguing to find out how Ben Arfa is incorporated on a permanent basis and whether Pardew sticks with his 4-4-2 or goes to a 4-2-3-1…

  • Yup RD I agree Gillespie was the classic “run down the wing and cross the ball” player as Tino will testify 🙂 He, Ginola or Robert would be ideal role models but I fear SAF doesnt sell too many players who still have what it takes.

    BTW 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 would do for me and probably for HBA too.

  • Sorry if I came over a bit defensive, and fully agree that Gosling’s tackle had no malice in it. Still feel their should be “degree” of red card. Gosling does not deserve a three match ban. likewise when a keeper does a last man tackle (as per Ruddy at Chelsea) you get a penalty given against you, the keeper sent off and a one match ban which seems a triple whammy and almost always costs you the match. Agree you would have fared better with Taylor and Coloccini will be interesting how you fare without Taylor. Good luck with the rest of your season and keep on upsetting the “big boys”!!

  • No worries William. Likewise, hope you have a good season and stay up which I’m sure you will

  • there’s few that Fergie sells that turn out to be mistakes – off the top of my head I can think of Pique and Rossi but he generally knows when to let a player go. Just have to hope that it proves that he was wrong to sell Obertan..

    I think either of those formations would accommodate Ben Arfa well, will be interesting to see how the team is set up next week against Swansea who play 5 in midfield if I’m not mistaken


  • 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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