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Rotherham 2-1 Norwich City: Ben Lee tactical analysis

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 the Canaries’ first defeat of the Championship campaign. 

Rotherham Vs Norwich: Costly Turnovers

Score: 2 – 1

Possession (%): 37 – 63

Passes: 290 – 477

Shots: 9 – 17

xG: 0.57 – 1.51

· Rotherham’s well organised press

· Norwich’s costly turnovers

· Playing with more verticality

· The battle for last line superiority

Base Formations

Matt Taylor’s Rotherham lined up in a 4-3-3 base formation, with Christ Junior Tiehi occupying the space behind two number eights in Rathbone and Cafu. David Wagner’s Norwich created their usual 4-4-2 base shape, with Idah replacing the injured Josh Sargent.

Norwich Evening News:

In their deep build-up, Norwich transitioned into a 4-2-4 shape, with Barnes and Idah dropping into the space behind Sara and McLean. Ahead of this midfield box, Rowe and Fassnacht provided the width on the left and right, respectively.

In response, Rotherham initially pressed in a 4-1-3-2/3-2-3-2 shape, with Norwich playing out from goal kicks. The hosts primarily created a front two with Rathbone (18) and Hugill (10) while Onyedinma (14), Cafu (7), and Green (11) created the second line of pressure; Rathbone and Cafu’s positions were interchangeable. Tiehi (27) followed one deep centre-forward, while the nearest centre-back stayed tight to the other.

In this pressing phase, Rotherham blocked central ball progression and waited for Norwich to commit to building up down one side before attempting to press man-for-man against the touchline. This was most effective on Norwich’s left side, where Hugill (10) pressed Gibson, Cafu (7) jumped onto McLean, Green (11) pressed Giannoulis, and Tiehi (27) tracked Barnes.

But there was a weakness in the hosts press on Norwich’s right side, with Sara frequently finding space behind Rathbone (18) and Onyedinma (14) while the former pressed Duffy and the latter pressed Stacey. Instead of relying on Rathbone tracking back to engage Sara, Cafu (7) should have been quicker to jump onto the Brazilian when Norwich committed to playing out on the right.

After their highest pressing phase, Rotherham transitioned into a 4-1-4-1/3-2-4-1 shape as the midfielder, temporarily creating a front two, dropped back into midfield. This was the hosts primary pressing structure, designed to limit central access to Norwich’s double pivot and centre-forwards.

Cafu (7) and Rathbone (18) man-marked McLean and Sara to limit central ball progression, while other pressing players were required to occupy pre-determined spaces before jumping to press when necessary.

Norwich Evening News:

While Barnes and Idah were accessible in the half spaces, they were given very little time to receive and pick a pass on the half turn. Tiehi (27) intensely pressed whichever Norwich centre-forward was about to receive the ball.

If the Rotherham midfielder was closer to the wrong centre-forward, the nearest centre-back would jump into midfield to back up the press and prevent the creation of a free man. This was a key method of forcing high turnovers for the hosts.

Rotherham’s pressing structure combined elements of man and zone orientation, as players were prepared to adjust who they were marking depending on the situation. If Barnes and McLean swapped positions, for example, Tiehi (27) tracked McLean while Cafu (7) marked Barnes.

Norwich Evening News:

This is unlike the complete man-to-man marking system we saw from Neil Warnock’s Huddersfield, where players are required to follow their designated player wherever they move. While this creates chaos against a positionally fluid team like Norwich, Rotherham’s press remained structured despite positional interchanges and was, therefore, much harder to manipulate.

When building up against highly structured presses, the aim should be to create superiorities and find space in the opponent’s system. But Rotherham’s narrow shape meant Norwich were unable to create numerical advantages to progress in central areas, and the hosts’ intensity behind the second line of pressure meant Idah and Barnes were rarely free.

Rotherham’s organised press, combined with frequent Norwich mistakes in possession, made it difficult to play out centrally. Build-up play should always be dependent on the opponent’s press; if an opponent presses high, the space will be behind the lines of pressure, and build-up play should be more vertical.

Norwich Evening News:

In the first half, Norwich often failed to play into the right spaces; instead, they made sloppy mistakes playing into compact areas.

Wagner’s men were more of a threat utilising wide connections before attacking the space created by a centre-back jumping into midfield. Passes played from central areas into wide areas were more effective than those played into areas of inferiority.

Norwich Evening News:

Moving into the final third, with the wingers inverting and the full-backs overlapping, Norwich often had a last-line 5v4 numerical advantage. This meant they were able to isolate the Rotherham full-backs in 2v1 situations.

Despite frequent misplaced passes into the final third, the visitors created and missed numerous chances from these last-line overloads. It was only in the second half that one of these situations resulted in a goal for Wagner’s side.

In possession, Rotherham avoided playing out from the back and, as a result, gave Norwich very few opportunities to force high turnovers. Instead, the hosts set up in a 2-3-2-3 shape and played directly towards Hugill (10).

The former Norwich striker tended to move towards one side to engage a full-back rather than Gibson or Duffy. By engaging a full-back, Hugill was able to knock the ball towards the ball-side winger out wide.

There were very few moments of settled play with Rotherham in possession; instead, the hosts primarily created their chances from counter-attacking situations, crosses, and subsequent second balls.

In the second half, Norwich began to build-up with more verticality; the visitors spent less time in deep build-up phases, instead trying to play into areas of last-line superiority with pace.

Sara often dropped deep to receive the ball earlier in Norwich’s build-up before targeting the wide full-backs with long diagonal passes. With the wingers inverting to provide underlapping runs, Norwich were able to manipulate Rotherham’s back four and attack the space in behind.

Norwich Evening News:

Soon after Swiss international Christian Fassnacht made it 2-1, Rotherham manager Matt Taylor replaced Andre Green (11) with Sam Nombe (29) who joined Hugill (10) in a front two. Fred Onyedinma (14) then switched sides and became a right wing-back, with Lembikisa (2) becoming a left-sided centre-back out of possession.

This move to a 5-3-2 was designed to prevent the last-line overloads that Norwich were beginning to exploit via Gabriel Sara, in an attempt to mitigate Norwich’s threat in the final third. But Wagner’s men were still able to create a 6v5 numerical advantage, with Barnes joining Idah in a front two.

Norwich Evening News:

Changing to a back five also meant sacrificing their high press; the hosts were no longer able to apply pressure to Norwich’s build-up, instead focusing on bolstering their back line. It was this defensive change that saw Matt Taylor’s side through to their first league win of the season.

Saturday’s loss represented a disappointing end to what has been an impressive start to Wagner’s first full season in charge at Norwich. It was a reminder of the Championship’s unpredictable nature.

Ultimately, it was a game decided by a well-organised Rotherham press and, most frustratingly, by Norwich’s uncharacteristic mistakes in possession. But it is the fact that it was a surprise that should provide Norwich fans with some comfort that this was nothing more than a bad day at the office.

Last season, losses became the expectation; it is now up to Wagner’s men to prove how far they have come since then.

Read the full article here

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