1. Selection and Formations
Both sides opened up in 4-4-1-1 systems with the Blues making 3 changes to last weeks win over WBA with Osman, Heitinga and Fellaini dropping out and Gueye, Neville and Distin coming in. Norwich started with Howson playing off Holt with wide support coming from Bennett on the right and Hoolahan on the left.
The Blues began in the first half playing more down the right side than the left as the heatmaps show. The maps are based on average position and touches off the ball…as you can see Hibbert was our most prominent player in the opening 45mins however the fullback isn’t particularly comfortable on the ball which limits our options in the final third; his average pass completion was 59% yesterday which is poor at this level.
One aspect of our play which wasn’t fluid yesterday was Howard’s kicking which was both poor and excessive. The American usually makes 11 long kick outs per game but made 31 yesterday, with an accuracy of just 22%. Granted, Holt and Howson played high up and worked hard to press angles but often the long kick was chosen when a shorter pass was available.
3. Jelavic and the Cutting Edge
Our new forward Nikica Jelavic now has four goals from just eight shots on target in the league and looks like another shrewd Moyes purchase. His first goal yesterday was from signature Bainaar movement down the left flank which released Jagielka in the box whose cross was deliciously flicked home by the Croatian. His ability to hold up the ball up makes him ideal for the role of the lone forward and he won 4 aerial duels yesterday which combined with his chest control enabled us to get midfielders forward and build attacks.
In total yesterday Jelavic had 3 shots, all 3 of which were on target and his second goal was another tidy finish after more good work from the tireless Pienaar. The South African weaved his way through the Norwich defence before teeing up Jelavic who again found space and finished effortlessly first time. We worked the ball more fluidly into the box than our hosts with 71% of our shots from inside Norwich’s 18 yard box compared to our hosts 43% in our area. The Croat provides a great target for the naturally unselfish Pienaar who yesterday provided 5 successful through balls, 4 of which went to Jelavic. Put in context, we average 1 successful through ball per game this season.
4. Lambert’s Diamond
Norwich were also looking to attack down the flanks and get balls in and around our box for their talisman Grant Holt .Whether you love or hate the big forward you couldn’t doubt his impact – yesterday he was the most fouled player on the pitch and also committed the most fouls and his knack of winning free kicks in and around opponent’s 18 yard boxes is a strength Norwich exploit to the max.
After being second best in the first half Lambert decided to make changes when we went 2-1 up early in the second half. As noted in Friday’s preview, Lambert’s substitutions have won Norwich 10 extra points this season and he has arguably the fittest side in the top flight if you judge it by distance covered. Both factors were crucial to Norwich storming the last 30 minutes and leaving us quite happy to hear the final whistle. The crucial change was to abandon 4-4-1-1 and add an additional striker in Aaron Wilbraham and re-shape the midfield into a narrow diamond and play through the middle.
Above shows Norwich’s opening 4-4-1-1 shape with the 5 midfields circled as a flat 4 and then Howson in front. Lambert’s switch to a diamond enabled Hoolahan the space between our midfield and defensive lines (below) in the build up to Norwich’s second equaliser with Felli & Gibson (blue lines) quite flat shape wise.
Lambert’s switch was to instigate more options going forward and to reign in Pienaar’s darts from the left into the hole between Norwich’s defensive and midfield lines. Howson moved back to anchor the diamond with Hoolahan at the sharp end behind the substitute Wilbraham who formed a strike duo with Holt. The move was to pay dividends as Hoolahan – who also assisted the first goal – had acres of space to play a nice through pass to Wilbraham whose shot was initially saved but when the ball broke free he managed to hold off Jags a bit too easily and find Holt who finished nicely. It should be noted that the goal came from a poor long kick out from Tim Howard.
Moyes response was to bring on Anichebe for Cahill with the Nigerian moving out to the left wing with Pienaar moving inside to provide a compact midfield 3 with Gibson sitting a bit deeper to keep tabs on the dangerous Hoolahan.
This was an entertaining draw and certainly a point gained rather than two lost against an impressive Norwich side. There were impressive displays from Pienaar and Jelavic in particular, whilst Gibson’s long range passing was again superb. Fair play to Lambert whose tactical change got Norwich back into the game in the second half when it looked like we were going to take the 3 points rather than 1. With no new injuries or suspensions incurred the only nagging issue is who takes up the only real space still up for grabs in the semi next week on the wing. Magaye’s display asked more questions than it provided answers and Coleman hasn’t really fired all season. Anichebe also featured on the flank and it could be the Nigerian’s extra physical presence that sees him start at Wembley next week.