Analysis of the goals conceded against Norwich (9/4) plus my post-mortem
Pilkington’s goal – Pilkington comes off the left flank to receive the ball in a more central area, as he and Bennett did all game. He lays off to Johnson, who tries to slide a pass through to Holt. Kaboul’s interception is blocked by Pilkington, who slips in Wilbraham as King dallies. Walker challenges, but his clearance rebounds off King into Pilkington’s path, and he finishes well.
Pilkington receives the ball in the centre circle, and starts to break forward. Coming inside untracked, he has created a two vs one situation.
He lays the ball back to Johnson, as Holt looks to make a run in behind Kaboul (far right of image).
Kaboul reads the slide rule pass from Johnson…
…but as he tries to clear, Pilkington closes the ball and keeps the move alive. King is left to cover two players in dangerous positions.
Assou-Ekotto and Walker both begin to cover round as Pilkington takes possession and looks to play in Wilbraham, who is unmarked and has his arm raised. It is unacceptable that Norwich have a three against three from such a basic move.
King makes a move towards Pilkington, but doesn’t actually make a challenge – he dallies and lets Pilkington get his pass away.
The pass is under-hit, and Walker does well to cover round and make a challenge.
Unfortunately as Walker clears, the ball strikes King.
It drops kindly for Pilkington, who finishes very well – low beyond Friedel.
Bennett’s goal – Russell Martin chips a ball into Wilbraham; his touch is poor, but he is not closed down quickly enough, and is easily able to find Bennett. Unchallenged, Bennett drives forward before firing an unstoppable shot into the far corner.
Ryan Bennett has unchallenged possession at the back.
He clips a pass into Wilbraham, who was willing to receive long balls all match. This time, his touch is a little sloppy, but with Livermore the nearest to him and still yards away, he has time to chase the loose ball down.
He keeps the ball and finds Russell Martin in a wide area. The eventual scorer, Bennett, has come off the line and is between King and Assou-Ekotto.
Martin immediately finds Bennett, who has dropped deeper and has plenty of space with Lennon and Modric well up-field.
Bennett carries the ball forward largely unchallenged.
Livermore and King show Bennett down the channel, and he gladly takes the opportunity.
From there he fires an unbelievable shot into Friedel’s far corner.
Norwich’s midfield were narrow when they didn’t have the ball to keep them nice and compact, but also narrow when they did (moving more often from “in” to “out” – whereas Bale and Lennon did the opposite). Their full backs were often asked to keep the width and it is noticeable from the average position how much wider Drury (3) is than Pilkington (12) – likewise Martin (2) and E Bennett (17), who virtually made their midfield into a constant three. Both of their goals came from the wide players starting in narrow positions and helping to outnumber Livermore and Modric.
Redknapp said after the game:
“It’s alright playing a 4-4-2 if it’s a tight 4-4-2 and when you lose possession, you get back into a four (in midfield).
We play 4-4-2 and we’re very open because we’ve got players who want to go forward and want to attack. That was a problem for us.”
I don’t know how to feel about this quote. In one way, it’s reassuring that he recognises what the key problem was. On the other hand, I am left wondering why he didn’t change the team shape at half time (or earlier!).
Redknapp also recognised in his post-match interview that our strikers do not work hard enough to maintain defensive shape in a 4-4-2, saying “we haven’t got forwards, really, that get back into position and play the system well enough”. This, I feel, is one of our other main failings when playing 4-4-2.
Our strikers were totally uninvolved – partly because we didn’t find them often enough, but primarily because their movement was appalling; none of them were willing to drift into wide areas regularly, and none of them were willing to drop off and receive the ball in the number 10 position. Saha had just 19 touches in the first half, and was totally abject. But his replacement, Adebayor, who Redknapp would surely have wanted to be the focal point in the second half, actually managed three touches fewer.
Defoe scored an excellent goal, but was largely a peripheral figure. He played the full 90 but only had 27 touches – fewer than any other player on the pitch who completed the 90; in fact, he only had 5 more touches than van der Vaart who played just 19 minutes. That alone illustrates why, in my opinion, van der Vaart should nearly always start ahead of Defoe (and if he’s not there, we should play Kranjcar as the number 10 to maintain the shape with five across midfield).
A tactical nightmare from Redknapp, but the lack of motivation was also critical. Norwich were hungrier, more aggressive, and Redknapp called it right when he said that their forwards “bullied” our defenders; King in particular simply could not cope with Holt, and it was very sad to see him have one of his worst matches for years.