Norwich City have made a quietly efficient start to the Premier League season on their return to the top flight. Stability and consistency have been the two keywords for manager Alex Neil and the club. After drawing at Anfield at the weekend, we take a look at the energetic side in the Canary colours.
Ever since Alex Neil was appointed in January 2015, Norwich have been impressively consistent. They finished third in the Championship last year and beat local rivals Ipswich Town in the semi-final before winning the play-off final against Middlesbrough. After an encouraging start to life in the Premier League too, it’s fair to say that Neil is doing a splendid job as manager of the Norfolk club.
So far the team selections have been consistent, as they were last year, with the same back-four fielded in the opening six league games, apart from Steven Whittaker who missed the win over Bournemouth because of suspension. The others Russell Martin, Sebastien Bassong and new signing Robbie Brady have played all six, and if they can keep themselves fit throughout the season it will be massively important for Norwich’s survival hopes. After all, a settled back-four is the foundation of what the teams fighting at the bottom need. In front of the defence, Alex Tettey has also played all six games along with Jonny Howson and Nathan Redmond. Wes Hoolahan has started five while Graham Dorrans and Matt Jarvis has shared the fifth midfield position. Up front, Cameron Jerome has five starts and one sub-appearance.
Tactically, the side is set-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Tettey acting as a shield in front of the defence. With Jarvis signing, Neil now have two genuine wingers with pace and trickery in abundance with the former England international on the left and Nathan Redmond on the right. Hoolahan’s creativity and playmaking ability in the middle mixes well with Tettey’s physicality and positioning and Howson’s all-round contribution. It makes for a very energetic and well-balanced team, and the good start to the season shows the benefits of a settled team and squad. Below, we take a look at two key players contributions to this interesting side, Tettey and Hoolahan.
The role of Tettey
Tettey has probably been one of the most impressive midfielders of the the opening Premier League fixtures, He is absolutely integral for Neil’s Norwich, shielding the back four and making sure Martin and Bassong isn’t run at from opposition players.
Here we see the midfield shape with Tettey (circled in yellow) sitting in front of the defence and the four of Redmond, Howson, Hoolahan and Dorrans providing pressure on the ball.
Here is a great example of Tettey’s intelligence and awareness. The ball has gone out of play and every single player in the frame is looking at the ball. Except for the Norwegian holding midfielder who is looking where the danger might come from centrally. He does this all the time, constantly checking his shoulders in order to position himself in the best possible way.
Here, Tettey takes responsibility to fill in at the heart of defence when Martin is forced wide. Seamlessly he slots in alongside Bassong, ensuring Norwich can remain reasonably solid. He is a key player for the team, and is showing why every week right now. Tettey had another great game at Anfield against Liverpool, and will hopefully get the plaudits he deserves as the season goes on.
Wes Hoolahan – the creative hub
Previously in his career, Hoolahan has mainly played as the number 10 or even wide in certain games. In Neil’s system however, he plays in central midfield and provides energetic pressing in the centre of the pitch. It’s with the ball though where he has his biggest strengths. While Howson drops deeper in the build-up phase, Hoolahan stays higher to try and get in behind the opposition midfield in something akin to a number 10 role really. From there, he now has lots of runners to pick up with Jerome, Redmond, Jarvis and Brady all looking to get forward and in behind the defence. Even if these players won’t get the ball every time, it also creates space for Hoolahan to then drive into and pick passes. The Irishman is very creative and progressing with his passing, and is always looking for a pass forward.
Howson (in white) on the ball with Hoolahan finding space behind Bournemouth’s midfield. A great example of Hoolahan’s intelligent movement.
He makes runs in behind too, as was the case for the opening goal against Bournemouth. Redmond plays it in behind for Hoolahan who makes a great run into the channel.
This run in-between centre-back and full-back forces Cook wide, which isolates Jerome with Elphick. It could be noted, that this is a similar scenario to the one earlier when Tettey filled in for Martin. No one fills in for Cook here, and Hoolahan beats him before setting Jerome up for the opener.
This is the second goal with Hoolahan picking up the ball again in behind the midfield and has lots of space to run into.
Hoolahan finds himself just outside the box, and has the possibility to play in both Jarvis and Jerome, but chooses to have a shot himself and scored Norwich’s second goal in their 3-1 win. This performance summed up the quality of Hoolahan when finding space between the lines, and he will be very important in order to make sure Norwich can pose a threat to teams.
The big question with all of the promoted teams is; can they stay up? While Bournemouth and Watford are lacking in Premier League experience, Norwich have this in the entire team. Almost the entire squad was with the club when they were relegated in 2014, and the new signings Brady and Jarvis in particular has lots of experience of both Premier League football and relegation battles. If they can just minimize the individual mistakes, Neil’s well-worked system could well be the key in keeping the Canaries in the top flight. It remains to be seen, but make sure you tune in to some of Norwich’s performances over the coming months, as they are a really good team to watch.