Liverpool – Norwich: Liverpool Punish Poor Norwich Defending (4-1)

Norwich showed some attacking promise against Liverpool with strong combination play going forward. However, through a mixture of bad fortune and bad defending, they quickly found themselves falling behind, as Liverpool were 4-0 up at half-time. Norwich were able to get a consolation goal in the second half which was nonetheless well deserved, and got more shots off than any side had managed away at Anfield last season.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley

Liverpool kicked off the 2019/20 Premier League season by hosting newly promoted Norwich City at Anfield. Jürgen Klopp named the same starting line-up in this game as he did in last weekend’s Community Shield penalties defeat against Manchester City

The line-up features familiar faces from last season’s campaign, as Liverpool have been relatively quiet in the summer transfer window. Klopp and his technical staff must feel complete trust in the versatility of Joe Gomez, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho to cover all options in case of a serious injury in midfield or at the back, while Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri are still the main options if something might happen to the attacking super trio. 

In Liverpool’s season opener, Klopp went with a familiar 4-3-3 shape, with a midfield selection of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum. Origi started in the forward line, with Sadio Mané not yet deemed ready to start after his involvement in international football over the summer. 

Considering their style of play, Championship winners Norwich could hardly have picked a tougher fixture for their return to the Premier League. They like to play out from the back up and for this match, set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Just like Liverpool, their starting eleven included no new summer signings.

General positioning and movements of all outfield players when Liverpool had the ball.

Norwich show ambition from the start 

It was clear from the early moments of the game that Norwich are a team that, for better or worse, wanted to pursue an ambitious playing style, willing to take risks with the structures they set up and without the ball. 

They attempted to play out from the back with structures that have become common in modern football. The center-backs in their 4-2-3-1 would split with the fullbacks pushing up early. Tom Trybull was usually the deeper midfielder in front of the center-backs, while his midfield partner Kenny McLean could play slightly higher, as well as dropping in alongside Trybull.

Liverpool’s vintage way of pressing in a zonal 4-3-3 formation.

Liverpool’s usual narrow first line in their 4-3-3 pressing system immediately made it difficult for Trybull and McLean to be reached in these deep buildup situations. The small horizontal distances between the forwards made them difficult to play through, and the proximity of the wide forwards to Norwich’s center-backs made short passes in the backline risky. 

The wide forwards of Liverpool were also able to direct Norwich’s buildup to one side of the pitch with relative ease when Norwich’s center-backs played passes back to their goalkeeper, in which case the Liverpool wide forward would follow the pass and force the goalkeeper to play out the other side. 

Due to these factors, Norwich’s goalkeeper Tim Krul found himself using chipped passes to the attacking midfielders to progress the play. The front four in their 4-2-3-1 often played relatively close together with the wingers drifting inside, and on the occasions where they could get the ball on the ground higher up the pitch, they actually showed some impressive combination play. 

This resulted in Norwich creating some decent shooting opportunities in the opening stages, which they were unable to capitalize on. One of the more eye-catching performers in their attack was Tod Cantwell, who showed some impressive ability in turning with the ball and in combination play. 

Also interesting was that Liverpool were seemingly struggling sometimes to control the space behind the defensive line, resulting in a couple of breakthroughs for Norwich. This was a feature against Manchester City in the Community Shield last week, where City were able to catch Liverpool’s defense too high up the pitch on a few occasions. 

Liverpool exploit weak Norwich defending

Despite promising moments in attack, Norwich found themselves increasingly on the back foot. This was partly a result of the gap in individual quality between the two teams, but also partly due to Norwich’s defensive set-up. In particular, their man-oriented defending and the weak control of space ensuring as a result. 

Liverpool’s attacking system featured rotations between the fullback, midfielder and winger on each side of their 4-3-3 shape, which then created the structures from which they built attacks. They often built with three at the back or something closely resembling it, as two of the central midfielders or fullbacks would form a diamond shape with the center-backs, creating 3-5-2 like structures at times. 

These could be formed either by one of the fullbacks remaining deep, or through midfielders dropping alongside the center-backs. The wingers would then stay wide or move inside depending on their teammates’ movements. Very variable stuff, meaning it is hard to point out what their exact shape was when building up from the back. 

One of Liverpool’s ways of building up.

Norwich defended against this in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 starting shape. Within this they were quite man-oriented, especially with the way in which the midfield tracked runs. This would firstly cause central midfielders to sometimes push up at awkward moments in pressing against Liverpool midfielder dropping deep, meaning that Norwich sometimes ended up in 4-1-4-1 type structures with large gaps behind the two more advanced central midfielders.

Norwich’s midfielders would also track forward runs from the likes of Henderson and Wijnaldum. These runs often led Norwich’s central midfielders into their own defensive line or into wide areas, and vacated the space in front of the Norwich defense for the likes of Firmino to drop into and receive to link up Liverpool’s attack. 

This made Norwich’s control of the halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. fairly weak, as their central midfielders could be dragged out of these zones fairly easily. The wingers for Norwich would usually try to stay level with their opposing fullback if they moved forward, and there were often slightly too large distance between the Norwich wingers and their central midfielders, further weakening their control of the halfspaces. 

Despite these problems, Norwich were nevertheless a bit unfortunate to find themselves going behind early on to an own goal, which was then quickly followed by Mo Salah’s first goal of the season. The flow of the game was basically always in Liverpool’s favour, but Norwich actually were out-shooting Liverpool at the thirty minute mark despite the score being 3-0 to Liverpool. Norwich at that point had six shots to Liverpool’s three.  

Liverpool comfortable despite Norwich goal

Liverpool went inside 4-0 up at half-time, thanks to further goals from Virgil van Dijk and Origi. Liverpool continued to be the dominant side in the second half, not always creating huge amounts of chances but nevertheless very much on top. 

Liverpool’s strong counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. made it hard for Norwich to break out at various points in the game. This was especially the case when Norwich’s wingers were pushed further back by Liverpool’s fullbacks, in which case Marco Stiepermann and Teemu Pukki could appear quite isolated at times, with Liverpool’s center-backs defending well on the front foot. 

Nevertheless, Norwich were able to find themselves a goal just after the hour mark from Pukki, who finished from close range after Norwich again broke the Liverpool offside trap, courtesy of a through ball from Emil Buendía. 

After this point Liverpool were still fairly comfortable in the game, however Norwich for the most part were able to slow Liverpool’s chance creation down, and the away side seemingly ended the game with more defensive assuredness than when they started it.


Overall it was a fairly routine game for Liverpool, who showed strong enough off the ball rotations to disorganize the Norwich defense as well as being able to profit from some Norwich mistakes. On the other hand, no team managed to get thirteen shots at Anfield last year, yet Norwich did. Does that mean anything? Let’s watch for a couple of weeks to find out. 

Norwich were beaten convincingly and there should be questions to answer about their defensive stability and man-oriented pressing after this game. However, there were also clear positives in their combination play in attack, from which they will surely enjoy some success against other teams this season.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.

Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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