Norwich City – Chelsea: Chelsea Edges Past Norwich In An Even Contest (2-3)

Arguably the two most offensive sides of the opening Premier League weeks produced a feisty affair at Carrow Road, with four goals scored in the first thirty minutes. Both teams impressed going forward, but the defensive woes continued. Tammy Abraham’s second of the day punished Norwich’s poor defensive transition and proved to be the winner.

Tactical analysis and match report by Cem Soylu

Hiding behind the Liverpool – Arsenal spectacle later in the day, Norwich City against Chelsea offered plenty of promise for the neutrals considering the football they played in the first two weeks. Chelsea did not win any of their first three competitive games this season, but impressed in parts of all of them, even in the 4-0 thrashing in Old Trafford. Same can be said about Norwich City’s 4-1 loss at Anfield, and the ones that were impressed that night were not surprised when they demolished Newcastle United at Carrow Road a week later.

Daniel Farke did not make any changes to the starting lineup that beat Newcastle last weekend, with Moritz Leitner preferred to Kenny McLean, who started against Liverpool. Todd Cantwell, who has been a revelation in the first two games, kept his spot over last season’s regulars once again. Frank Lampard had to change his starting lineup minutes before the game, with Ross Barkley replacing Pedro, who got injured during the warm-up. N’Golo Kanté was also out injured, and he was replaced by Mateo Kovačić.

Similar approaches, common problem

It is fair to say Norwich and Chelsea have similar approaches – both intend to build out from the back, play a free-flowing attacking 4-2-3-1 system with plenty of movement from the three attackers behind the main striker, and press high. Norwich’s system naturally feels more cohesive, since it is pretty much the same side that won the Championship last season, while Chelsea is largely a new side under Frank Lampard, but undoubtedly possesses superior individuals. However, both sides are largely suffering from a vulnerable defense, mostly as a consequence of their approaches.

Norwich have a very offensive approach in possession. Tom Trybull acts as the holding midfielder closest to the center-backs, with Leitner roaming in front of him as one of the main ball progressors of the team. The fullbacks, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis, position themselves very high and wide, into the space opened by the three offensive midfielders. Emiliano Buendia’s role reminds of Santi Cazorla’s first season at Arsenal, roaming inside from his wide position in a completely free role to become his team’s main creative outlet. The team almost always looks to launch their attacks in the middle third using his ball progression skills, with help from Buendia’s excellent awareness of space to receive on the ball side. 

Marco Stiepermann is the least technical player in the offensive area, and is used as a number ten; a functional outlet, usually to occupy a defender around Pukki and hold the ball up. Todd Cantwell roams around between the lines and proved to be an excellent link-up player in the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. and combines well with Buendia and Pukki, mostly through one-touch passes and flicks with impressive accuracy. Pukki is usually the one that reaps the rewards as the best finisher among the bunch but also effective in link-up play.

Problems in defensive transition

Norwich’s free-roaming trio behind Pukki naturally creates defensive issues, with the far side fullback almost always having an open space to burst into. This can be seen in the data, as Emerson proved to be the best progressive carrier during the game. Norwich, as many modern offensive sides do today, aim to counterpress 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. after losing possession and narrow down the pitch towards the ball side. 

They also pick their moments to press high during opposition buildup, and one of these very early in the game resulted in Chelsea’s opener. Zouma’s long ball bypassed Norwich’s high pressure, Abraham held the ball up to find Mount, Mount switched to Pulisic, Cantwell was too far infield to track Azpilicueta who crossed on the overlap, and Abraham converted. Norwich almost immediately replied doing what they do best – they counterpressed, Buendia won the rebound all the way on the left, linked up with Leitner, burst through the middle and ran at the defense, played Cantwell, who played Pukki, who played Cantwell again for a tap-in. 

Chelsea also continued their impressive attacking movement we have seen in the previous games. Kovačić particularly impressed with his ball progression and dribbling, and the trio of Mount – Barkley – Pulisic mostly combined well with Abraham and their fullbacks to create dangerous situations. Chelsea’s high pressure also caused Norwich issues at times during buildup, and when Aarons misplaced a pass in one of these, Jorginho and Pulisic quickly created a good chance for Mount, who finished brilliantly. 

Mount has been largely impressive for Chelsea in his few outings – he looks like the versatile, hard-working offensive minded midfielder profile who’s excellent at link-up play, positions himself intelligently to get into dangerous positions and also proving to be a really good finisher. Although he played as a number eight in Derby last season, Lampard has used him in the number ten position against Manchester United, and then on the left against Liverpool, Leicester and Norwich. Norwich replied in the thirtieth minute with another brilliantly set up goal, described below.

30th Minute – Norwich’s equalizer. Hanley receives back from Trybull during build-up. Cantwell drifted all the way to the right towards ball-side, and received between the lines from Hanley. His backheel flick finds Buendia, who has space because Emerson has to contain Aarons’ overlap. Buendia slips the ball in for Pukki, who finished coolly.

Second half

Norwich, likely influenced by the second half of the Chelsea – Leicester encounter, decided to let Chelsea have the ball early in the second half, aiming to hit on transitions. This decision could easily be spotted by Tim Krul’s decisions to send long searching balls instead of playing his center-backs, contrary to the first half. Chelsea is relatively easy to expose in transitions, but Norwich neither possesses the quality Leicester’s players do in transitions, nor possesses the defenders to prevent Chelsea from scoring deep into their half. 

Norwich did not play to their strengths in this period of the game. They started playing proactively again around sixtieth minute, committing players forward, but after a dreadful transition defense after Kepa quickly started play following a weak shot on goal, Kovačić found Abraham who received near two Norwich center-backs who once again looked unable to cope with him and finished brilliantly.

Farke brought on a triple substitution in the 81st minute, for the only meaningful tactical change throughout the game. He changed all of his German midfield trio, brought on a target man, Srbeny, and two midfielders, McLean and Vrančić. It was an interesting tactical change – Norwich turned into a 3-5-2 shape, with Lewis tucking inside as a left center-back, Aarons moving to left wingback, Cantwell to the right wingback, McLean – Vrancic – Buendia forming the midfield three, Pukki – Srbeny up top. However, Norwich looked significantly worse after the drastic changes. Cantwell is not the player to hug the touchline and they didn’t possess the passing options they previously did between the lines.


Frank Lampard’s Chelsea once again produced a display that impressed offensively. The shift from Sarri’s 4-3-3 shape into Lampard’s 4-2-3-1 looks like a right choice considering Hazard’s departure and the profiles of his remaining players. Kovačić looks to have especially benefited from the change in system, as he is perfectly suited to a deep-lying playmaker role in a double pivot, and his potential partnership there with Kanté looks very promising. Mount and Pulisic also look like guaranteed starters in the coming weeks and they both looked consistently dangerous in the final third. Considering Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi will also be available in the rotation, attacking options do not seem like a problem right now for Chelsea. They need to sort out their defensive problems, which will no doubt improve when Kanté rejoins the team, but if this is considered a project to integrate their youth players as regular starters, then the underlying performance of their starting fixtures seem pretty impressive.

Daniel Farke’s Norwich City continued to impress the neutrals and will definitely be one of the most entertaining sides throughout the season, while also being an excellent example of an organically growing team under an innovative coach. They deserve a lot of praise for showcasing all the beautiful modern principles of the game regardless of their opponent, playing an Ajax-esque style that allows their creative players a lot of freedom of movement and relies on intelligence and technique to create chances, as seen in both of their goals in this encounter. The individual quality of their center-backs, though, might create the lion’s share of their problems in the Premier League.

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