Norwich City v Chelsea – Why Chelsea’s Wingers will be Key
Norwich take on Chelsea in the early kick off on BT on Saturday, and they will be full of confidence having picked up their first win on their return to the Premier League last weekend against an underwhelming Newcastle side. However, I can see their first half struggles against Liverpool coming back to haunt them as they take on a transitioning Chelsea side this weekend.
Looking at the influence maps from Norwich’s first two games, it can be seen just how narrow Norwich are in midfield, whilst the full backs are asked to play high and wide.
Liverpool 4-1 Norwich Norwich 3-1 Newcastle
The idea is to dominate the possession and crowd out the opposition in the middle, whilst the full backs push high and offer the width. The wider two attacking midfielders are afforded relative freedom when they have the ball, however when they lose it, they are expected to drop in and help the full backs defend. This does leave them open to the counter, and against Liverpool it was worrying how many chances Liverpool were able to create through overloads on the wings. In particular, Buendia struggled often being caught too narrow and high up the pitch, subsequently being exposed by the energy of Robertson. Youngster Max Aarons was then left 2v1 multiple times, and this meant Liverpool could get in behind easily. Buendia’s lack of defensive involvement is shown below, and it is notable how little he was able to do high up the pitch, as well as how little support he able to give Aarons further back. If this trend is to follow against Chelsea, it could be a long afternoon for Aarons.
The first goal for Liverpool showed how much space they were being afforded out wide, and the lack of protection for the full backs. Although the goal came about fortunately, the images below show when Origi receives the ball and when he crosses. Although it was Buendia who was often guilty of leaving Aarons exposed, on this occasion it was the space at the front post that the open nature of Norwich’s midfield allowed Liverpool and led to the goal. Although Hanley was unlucky, the ball shouldn’t be allowed to travel that far across the box, and this is where a CM should’ve been looking to cover the space.
It is worth noting that this did improve against Newcastle, however Norwich’s system allowed them to dominate as the full backs were only 1v1 against Newcastle’s wing backs. It was their turn to create overloads and control the ball, as Newcastle’s tactics played perfectly into their hands. Newcastle lined up 3-5-2, and the Newcastle midfield struggled to get string any sort of consistent passes together due to being overloaded. Hayden and Ki were forced to drift out wide to try hold onto the ball and create attacking moves, opening up the space for the narrower attacking forwards to move into and create chances. This was particularly evident for Norwich’s second goal, where they won the ball back in midfield and broke quickly. The run of full back Jamal Lewis (far left) was key to the goal, and the image below shows how his position outside the wing back created the space for Pukki to score. This also highlights how fundamental they are to being high up the pitch, increasing the chances of being caught out against a much quicker and talented Chelsea attack.
Moving onto Chelsea, it will be expected they line up 4-2-3-1, and once again their wide men should be able to strongly influence the game. In their opening games, they have looked to press the opposition high in games, not allowing them to play out from the back. This reaped its rewards against Leicester, and against United they dominated the first 20 minutes before Zouma’s rash challenge on Rashford gave United a penalty. They went on to dominate both first halves, before tiring and being picked off in the second.
When they have possession, key to their attacks is moving the ball quickly and making the pitch as wide as possible. The striker acts as a focal point, whilst the three behind are fluid, with Pulisic and Pedro looking to drift inside the full backs off the wings. These runs are where the issues will stem for Norwich if they are to line up tactically similar to the last two, as they will be reliant upon their narrow attacking midfielders to help cope with the positioning of Chelsea’s full backs.
Manchester United 4-0 Chelsea Chelsea 1-1 Leicester City
As shown, in both games the two full backs have played very high and wide. This is with the intention of occupying the midfielders or defenders of the opposition out wide, allowing Pedro and Pulisic to drift inside. If the opposition full back moves inside with Pedro or Pulisic, it creates a lot of space for Chelsea’s full backs. This was particularly the case for Chelsea against United, highlighted by Emerson’s positioning above. He was a dangerous attacking threat throughout, hitting the bar in the first half, and had the most shots for Chelsea behind Pedro. He was also fundamental in building attacks, and where he completed passes below shows how key he was to keeping the ball high up the pitch.
What this shows is that if Chelsea can utilise their wide men once again against Norwich, they should be able to exploit the gaps left by their narrow formation. Expect to see Chelsea start quickly and press Norwich early on, and with their lack of a target man up front to help relieve some of the pressure, it may be hard to see them getting hold of the ball for long periods. This means they will have to try and break quickly, which ironically will leave them also open to being countered. This will lead to an open game once again suiting Chelsea’s wide men, so I expect to see them being the difference.