Norwich have adapted well to life in the Premier League. They have now taken eight points from their opening six games and are up to ninth in the table. They have found particular success in the last two games by beating Bolton away and Sunderland at home. They have done so with a new look 4-5-1 formation.
Therefore, I decided it was a good time to review why the system works and the reasons Norwich should stick with it.
The system is not defensive
Whenever people think about 4-5-1 systems, they immediately believe them to be defensive in nature. It is an understandable assumption because in general, this system only includes one striker. However, a big part of what makes this system attacking or defensive is the personnel used.
In Norwich’s case there are three attacking midfield players in Anthony Pilkington, Elliott Bennett and Wes Hoolahan. Steve Morison plays the lone man up front and David Fox and Bradley Johnson gives the midfield that much-needed defensive stability and balance.
The system is not designed to contain teams, but is an attacking formation that suits Norwich’s strengths. When Norwich loses the ball enough bodies can get back quickly into that crucial midfield area to prevent the team becoming exposed.
The vast majority of Norwich fans will agree that Wes Hoolahan is club’s best player. However, in the early games of the season, the Irishman found himself in and out of the side. Hoolahan though has now started both of Norwich’s last two games and the new formation seems to get the best out of him.
Last season Norwich played a narrow 4-4-2 Diamond formation with Wes Hoolahan being the main attacking threat. In the Championship, it worked because opposing players were not good enough defensively to stop Hoolahan. Furthermore, the opposing wide players were not good enough to exploit the weaknesses in the system.
The Premier League though features some of the best players in the world. Therefore, the opposition would be both capable of marking Hoolahan out of the game and also exploiting Norwich’s weaknesses. The adapted system offers more stability and also more attacking threat.
The opposition now also have to worry about Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington in the wide midfield positions, and also the attacking runs of full-backs Marc Tierney and Kyle Naughton. The problem for opposing teams is they can’t afford to man mark Hoolahan, because this may in turn create space for Norwich’s other attacking players.
Goals from all areas
Most formations are overly reliant on strikers scoring the majority of the goals. However, the new system has the created two wins from as many games and four different goal-scorers so far. Lone striker Steve Morison is now also off the mark following his winning goal against Sunderland.
The success of using such a formation depends on attacking players getting into forward areas and supporting Steve Morison. Norwich has managed to do that superbly so far. The majority of the Norwich squad is unproven at Premier League level, so Norwich may well need to share out the goals amongst the team, rather than relying on one or two individuals; if this formation allows them to do this then so much the better.
Versatile system that can be changed late on in games
The system can be changed late on in games in order to suit Norwich City. Hoolahan can be substituted for a second striker if the manager feels he needs it and/or a more defensive midfield player could come on for one of the wide players. However, Norwich has fewer options if one of the wide players is ineffective in the game, but one of the pacy strikers could probably occupy in a wide position if necessary.
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