A poor away performance saw us drop three vital Premier League points, as it finished Norwich 1 Spurs 0 at Carrow Road.
Both teams played similar formations and cancelled each other out for large parts, as the centre of the pitch was congested due to the sheer number of bodies.
Similar set ups, central congestion
Tim Sherwood set up with a similar system to our away trip to Newcastle. Once again he went with Moussa Dembele drifting inside from the right in order to get three box-to-box midfielders on the pitch and often in to central areas.
The issue for Sherwood was that at Newcastle, Dembele had the pace and energy of Kyle Walker, who loves to get forward and overlap. Here he had Kyle Naughton, who is much less inclined to bomb on in support of the attack.
This didn’t remain a concern for long, as the early injury to Etienne Capoue meant that Dembele was moved in to the centre and Nacer Chadli came on. Naughton now had Aaron Lennon in front of him, but he still needed to support his winger more.
The main problem for Tim Sherwood was Capoue going off and this was two-fold.
First of all, he had lost a player who takes away the space between the lines. This has been a real issue for us without a holding player and moving Nabil Bentaleb back saw this space open up once again. This wasn’t a massive problem with Norwich playing quite conservatively, but was crucial on their goal.
Secondly, he introduced another inverted player who likes to move inside. This continued to congest the middle of the pitch due to Norwich’s set up with three in central midfield and inverted wide players of their own.
Chris Hughton sent his team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Bradley Johnson and Alexander Tettey screening the back four.
The Norwich manager has been under increasing pressure this season and set his side up extremely solidly to deny space in midfield.
Without the ball, they dropped off and tried to stop us moving possession through this zone. Ricky van Wolfswinkel or Leroy Fer would pick up Nabil Bentaleb, whilst Tettey and Johnson would then get close to Moussa Dembele and Paulinho.
As a result, everything became rather congested in the middle of the park with the central players on both sides plus the wide men moving in.
Spurs were often forced to go over the top of this zone or pass the ball sideways. When we did look long, the target was Emmanuel Adebayor, but he was often out jumped by Sebastien Bassong or Joseph Yobo.
Norwich exposes our lack of DM
There really wasn’t anything in the game until Norwich took the lead. The Canaries had been very structured and disciplined without the ball and looked to move it into wide areas to cross when in possession.
The goal itself came from an attack down Norwich’s favoured right flank, but came about due to an error from Bentaleb and the lack of a holding player on the cover.
The passage of play started pretty harmlessly enough, as Norwich had dropped inside their own half to defend. Paulinho brought it forward, but with the route in front of him blocked by several Norwich players, he went back to Bentaleb.
Being pressured by van Wolfswinkel, Bentaleb tried to take the Dutchman on and was dispossessed.
Norwich now had the ball behind our midfield and had space to work in front of the defence.
This space between the lines has been there without a natural holding player for much of the season, but we weren’t in bad shape until a number of errors occurred.
Firstly, Bentaleb compounded his original mistake by following the ball and chased back in to the centre. This wouldn’t have been a problem if Danny Rose had been back in position, but having been up field to support the attack, he was on the back shoulder of Robert Snodgrass.
Secondly, Paulinho should have filled in at left back but didn’t and was caught in no man’s land.
Thirdly, Michael Dawson got attracted to the run of Nathan Redmond and ended up playing Snodgrass on side, then couldn’t get across to block his shot.
Norwich were in front from a swift counter attack due to their defensive organisation and quickly getting players behind our midfield where we had no one holding.
Spurs create through the centre
With the centre of the pitch so congested, and Norwich often pinching in to be narrow, the space for Spurs was in the wide areas. Unfortunately, except for Aaron Lennon, we didn’t have natural players who move out in order to stretch a defence.
Despite the number of bodies in the middle, we continued to huff and puff and created our best chances by going through this zone despite it’s congestion.
Moussa Dembele had an early chance as Aaron Lennon cut infield and delivered a through ball, but the Belgian couldn’t bring it under his control.
Opportunities were pretty barren until Emmanuel Adebayor raced through after the interval. Sebastien Bassong was caught pondering on the ball, but Ade couldn’t get it to settle and his bad touch sent it too close to the keeper.
A few minutes later and he combined well with Paulinho amongst four defenders, but again the Togolese striker had a heavy first touch that took it through to John Ruddy.
Roberto Soldado was then introduced to get two up top and the move almost instantly worked.
Aaron Lennon moved the ball through another crowd in the centre to Adebayor, who again had Bassong on his back. He played it off to Soldado who rashly sliced his shot wide, but it was another chance through the middle.
As the clock neared 90, Nacer Chadli was the next to have a guilt-edged chance. A whole host of Norwich defenders were caught around Soldado and Adebayor, leaving Chadli to ghost in through the inside left channel.
His shot was straight at the keeper though, highlighting our lack of clinical finishing.
We created some decent chances, which were curiously where the space shouldn’t have been with Norwich playing so deep and compact.
Spurs fouling = free kicks
Norwich were looking to get forward in to crossing situations, but had several good efforts from free kicks after fouls around our box. This allowed them to either put a high ball in to the area, which gave Hugo Lloris trouble to punch clear, or they could take a direct shot at goal.
Bradley Johnson’s arrow of an effort cannoned down off the bar and Robert Snodgrass also saw one curl just past the post to name but two. The Scottish international had put several dangerous balls in from wide, one that Lloris almost pushed in to his own net at the end of the first half.
Norwich 1 Spurs 0 overall
Tim Sherwood couldn’t really put a brave face on it afterwards, as this performance was undeserving of anything.
Their seemed to be a real lack of a game plan, especially when it was clear that Norwich were going to get bodies in the centre and congest this area.
If the tactics were to expose the Norwich centre backs’ lack of mobility, then a creative passer like Christian Eriksen should’ve been introduced in to the game.
If we were going to attack the flanks, where Norwich were pinching their full backs in and often leaving them 1v1. Then a natural-footed wide player on each side should’ve been the plan and Andros Townsend in the game sooner instead of Nacer Chadli.
As it was, the tactics were neither here nor there.
We did create our best opportunities through their centre back pairing, many of which came after Roberto Soldado was introduced. This seemed purely because Bassong and Yobo were both now occupied and couldn’t just focus on Emmanuel Adebayor. However, a creative passer was still missing to really open up this area given the lion’s share of possession that we had.
Tim Sherwood may have changed his views on holding players with Etienne Capoue working his way in to the side recently. But with Lewis Holtby loaned out and Christian Eriksen not in favour, it seems as if he is now giving playmakers the heave-ho.
Final score: Norwich 1 Spurs 0.