Newcastle visited Carrow Road on Saturday with an injury ridden squad and without a recognised centre back playing in the heart of defence – which Norwich City took advantage of. For the majority of this season, Norwich City have lined up playing with a 4-5-1 formation. However, sensing a weakness in Newcastle’s makeshift defence, Paul Lambert opted to play both Grant Holt and Steve Morison to give Norwich more threat upfront and with great success, as they scored three goals between them.
Norwich targeting Newcastle’s soft centre
As you can see above from the chalkboards, Norwich’s plan was to create their chances from the wings and to take advantage of Newcastle’s shuffled centre back partnership of Danny Simpson and James Perch, both full backs by trade.
Norwich attempted 29 crosses against Newcastle, 6 more than their season average and although only 7 of those crosses were successful, 4 of those successful resulted in goals – three from set plays. Before this game, Norwich had scored over half of their goals from set pieces (11/20) and also scored the most goals from set pieces in the Premier League and unfortunately for Newcastle, they continued to extend this run.
Despite playing in an unfamiliar role, Danny Simpson played a decent game in the middle of defence, making over a third (18) of Newcastle’s total of 49 clearances (denoted by blue dots on chalkboard) and making more than half (4) of Newcastle’s 7 blocks (yellow). James Perch also made 9 interceptions in the match – however their lack of height and aerial prowess would prove to be their downfall.
It was a game to forget for Dan Gosling, as his misplaced pass on the edge of his own penalty area lead to Norwich’s third goal. Later in the second half, Gosling received a straight red card for a late challenge on Russell Martin, all contributing to a poor game for the young midfielder.
Adding to that, Gosling had the poorest pass completion rate from Newcastle’s outfield players (66%) and also had lost out on the most ground duel challenges, winning only 1 out of 7 (14%).
As a result, Norwich gained more possession in midfield, with David Fox impressing in central midfield for the Canaries. Fox was on the ball more often than any other player on the pitch and completed more passes than anyone else as well, nearly making as many passes as Cabaye and Gosling combined (Fox 65 v Cabaye 42, Gosling 24).
Danny Guthrie has played well in recent games – in Newcastle’s last game against Chelsea, he had the best pass completion rate (92%) – and Newcastle missed his ability to keep the ball. Along with injured Tiote, both players can retain the ball well in midfield and pass it well, allowing some respite for the defence, whilst being able to build attacks.
Time up for Obertan?
It was another frustrating afternoon from Gabriel Obertan, as he continued to produce little in the final third of the pitch.
From the chalkboards below, you can see that the other three midfielders attempted to provide service into the strikers at various opportunities – albeit with little success other than Cabaye’s assist for Ba – but nevertheless, passes are being played into dangerous areas where the strikers can attempt to latch onto them.
Even though Obertan possesses enough pace and trickery, he seldom uses it effectively to beat opponents, usually opting to come inside and passing it centrally, as seen as above. During the second half, he had the opportunity to play the ball into space for the oncoming Ameobi who was unmarked, but Obertan failed to look up and notice this and was eventually disposed by the Norwich defenders.
The image on the right also shows the lack of defensive cover that he provides as well. Ryan Taylor was left 2 v 1, as Obertan (circled) was caught too far forward. Norwich’s left back Marc Tierney overlapped Wes Hoolahan and provided the cross that Krul was wrongly adjudged to have carried over the line. The resulting corner led to Norwich’s opening goal.
Newcastle aren’t blessed with options on the right hand side; Sylvain Marveaux has been ruled out for the season, but other options are to play Ben Arfa as inverted winger – more attacking and awareness around him, Sammy Ameobi – against Chelsea, he got into the box on occasions and nearly scored, whilst his debut against Man City, showed he had the ability and skill to trouble Clichy at times.
After 12 starts into his Newcastle career, it is too soon to right him off – however, other than his assist versus Stoke, there has been little quality from the Frenchman. It’s obvious that he lacks the confidence to beat players – an area that former Bordeaux manager, Laurent Blanc commented on during Obertan’s time there. Blanc was also surprised that Alex Ferguson wanted to sign Obertan. In order to bring out the best out of Obertan, Alan Pardew will have to instill confidence into the player – something that Ferguson and Blanc have failed to achieve.
Perhaps a disappointing defeat, as the manner of the goals that were conceded was very cheap. Three goals from set pieces, whilst the other Norwich goal resulted from a poor, misplaced pass from Dan Gosling. However, the lack of cover in central defence was an accident waiting to happen and an element of blame should be directed at management for going into the season with only three recognised central defenders.
In the end, Norwich had more possession (52% v 48%), but attempted less shots on goal (7 v 8), however Norwich scored with 4 out of their 5 shots on target.
One plus point that can be taken away from the match is the impressive form of Demba Ba. Ba scored his 11 goal of the Premier League campaign with two very well taken goals with either foot. Only Robin van Persie has scored more goals than Ba in the calendar year of 2011 and Ba has the best minutes per goal ratio in the Premier League since it’s inception in 1992 (via Opta).
The loss sees Newcastle fall to 7th place in the Premier League, although a 5 point gap between Newcastle and 8th place Stoke emphasises how successful the season has been, despite the recent set of poor results.
Next up is a home game Swansea and Newcastle will be looking for their first win since beating Everton over a month ago. Hopefully, it will see the return of Coloccini and Tiote into the starting line up. Swansea, who have struggled away from Liberty Stadium, shouldn’t be taken lightly. A team who keep possession and pass the ball well could provide problems at St James’ Park.