Dean Smith – Norwich City – Tactical Analysis

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At the time that Dean Smith took over from Daniel Farke at Norwich, the Canaries were rooted bottom of the table with just 1 win. They looked destined for relegation without any hope of survival, regardless of how Smith might do in charge. But now, after two back to back wins against Everton and Watford, Norwich suddenly have a real chance of survival. Here is a quick tactical analysis of Dean Smith’s 4-2-3-1 with Norwich City.


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Norwich defend in a 4-4-2 shape, with Adam Idah joining Teemu Pukki in defending from the front. They don’t press with much intensity or electricity, but will shape up to be very compact between the lines regardless of the phase of the game. Occasionally, their high-block may look like more a 4-2-4, with Josh Sargent and Milot Rashica stepping out from the midfield line to press higher. Sargent is a willing and energetic presser, and has accumulated the highest volume of pressures in the opposition’s attacking third other than Teemu Pukki, who leads the line decently well. The red-haired American has also won more tackles in the attacking third than any of his teammates, making him an important member of the front-line press.

Lower on the pitch, the Canaries hold their compactness and shape, narrowing the field in their two banks of four. One winger may occasionally step out to press when the ball reaches their side, but otherwise the shape is fairly rigid and structured, with an emphasis on zonal marking.

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Among the back-four, Grant Hanley is the organizer and the one in charge of steadying the ship. As opposition teams break down the wide areas and work the ball into the box, Hanley’s needed to be strong in the air. He’s been up to the task in winning 79% of his aerial duels, which makes him a potent threat from set-pieces going the other way too.

Norwich still have a lot to sort out defensively, with 45 goals against in just 22 matches, but the signs under Smith show some positive improvement in defensive solidity, shape and structure to keep out the goals.


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In possession, Norwich look to play quickly through the thirds, breaking lines both through vertical passing and intelligent ball carrying. Adam Idah for example is an excellent ball carrier, and will look to drive through the centre of the pitch quickly on counter attacks. Teemu Pukki meanwhile is a powerful runner who constantly wants to seek out space and venture beyond the opposition’s back-line. Having players who are good on the break is particularly key for Norwich this season, as they’ve only accumulated 44% of the possession this season.

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The one key facet to their game in possession is in the role of the attack-minded fullbacks – Max Aarons and Brandon Williams. On loan from Manchester United, Brandon Williams might be the most capable defender Norwich have on their roster, while Aarons is critical to the way the Canaries attack, as susceptible as he’s been this season in defense. He’s completed more carries, dribbles, passes into the penalty area, and been the target of the most passes for his team. All of this points to an important role for his team, to which Norwich have been slightly reserved in taking full advantage of. Only one fullback is allowed to go at a time, giving the shape somewhat of a 3-3-4 look in attack as Aarons overlaps. Given that Williams is also energetic and plays well in give and go situations down the wide areas, Norwich could consider getting both of their fullbacks up the pitch at once.

Finally, in their quest for survival, Norwich also need to take greater advantage of the attacking presence of Teemu Pukki and his powerful running in behind. The wingers narrowing in attack and fullbacks overlapping means he can get into the box to get on the end of crosses, but they could get the ball to him quicker in their attacks, allowing him to sprint in behind and take control of the situation.


Norwich remain in serious trouble this 2021-22 Premier League season, but Dean Smith’s side deserve some credit for their recent form, and their surprising escape off not only the bottom of the table, but the bottom three altogether. Smith has some work to do in getting a tune out of his best players, but Norwich are showing clear signs of form as he finds his footing at his new club.

To see how Dean Smith compares to Daniel Farke’s Norwich, see our 2020-21 Daniel Farke – Norwich – Tactical Analysis.

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