In this article series I will provide match analysis/reports for all of the pre-season games I attend live. Some of the detail documented will be directly beneficial for Fantasy Premier League and some will be more tactical based information or anecdotes.
Match 6 – Norwich City 1-4 Atalanta (30/07/19)
Norwich: Fahrmann, Byram (Aarons 76), Godfrey, Klose, Lewis (Heise 84), Trybull (McLean 64), Leitner (Vrancic 76), Buendia (Idah 84), Cantwell (Roberts 64), Hernandez (Srbeny 67), Pukki (Drmic 64).
In their penultimate pre-season match, just ten days away from the start of their Premier League opener at Anfield, Norwich faced off against Serie A outfit Atalanta and Daniel Farke’s lineup was close to full strength. New signing Sam Byram is expected to be behind the impressive teenager Max Aarons in the hierarchy at right-back, while attacking midfielders Marco Stiepermann and Mario Vrancic are more likely to be on the teamsheet against Liverpool than Aarons’ fellow academy graduate Todd Cantwell. But other than that, this was very much a direct preparation for that first game and the upcoming Premier League season as a whole.
Atalanta offered threats to Norwich that they wouldn’t have been too used to in their 46 championship matches last season, both tactically and in terms of personnel. Argentinian maestro Alejandro Gómez, WhoScored’s second highest rated player in Serie A last season behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, offered glimpses of the technicality that Norwich will have to deal with during this step up in quality of opposition. Gomez’s nutmeg on Tom Trybull was a highlight but he was mostly picked up by the German, who’s positioning as the deep ‘1’ in Norwich’s 4-1-4-1 off-the-ball allowed him to cover the Atalanta man’s movement in between the lines.
When Norwich were in possession, they often looked to drop midfielders deep to help out Trybull in build-up. Primarily this was Leitner, but Buendia and Cantwell also looked to get on the ball from deep. Norwich’s fluidity in this sense caused the zonal defences of the Championship a lot of trouble, because it would allow them to gain a free man in the midfield and dominate on the ball before eventually finding a cutback or cross to create a scoring chance. However Atalanta looked to deal with Norwich’s deep movement from source; their three centre-back setup allowing for one to leave the defensive line to track a run while still leaving 2v1 on the dangerous Pukki. High pressing is something that Norwich will have to deal with a lot more in the Premier League, and that means distribution from the defenders and deep midfielders needs to be precise.
Norwich struck the opener in this match through Cantwell, after a great long switch to the left wing from Leitner and then a clever disguised assist from that same man to slot through the goalscorer. But Atalanta equalised with the last kick of the first half, as Timm Klose found himself heavily pressured by Gomez and, instead of clearing into touch, he played the ball back into the middle towards Luis Muriel who fired home. In truth this was somewhat undeserved as Norwich had been the better side in the first half, but it served as a reminder that, when playing a technically demanding style of football, the quality has to be there at all times.
Klose looked sloppy on the night but his centre back partner Ben Godfrey was immaculate. It can be argued that Norwich are taking a big risk in not investing in that position this summer, but the scoreline in no way reflected Godfrey’s performance on the night, as he dealt with the different strikers Atalanta threw at him exceptionally well. On one occasion, Muriel found himself 1v1 with the young Englishman, but Godfrey’s body shape was perfect and he forced the Colombian to take a lacklustre shot on his weaker left foot. In the second half Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini introduced the 2018/19 Serie A second top goalscorer Duvan Zapata, but Godfrey was able to match his physicality and prevent runs in behind against Norwich’s high-line, something that the 28-year old striker utilised so well last season.
While the Canaries were eventually toppled 4-1, none of the goals can be in any way blamed on Godfrey. The first was a poor pass from Klose. The second was a nice move by Atalanta that ended in Muriel finishing through the legs of Fahrmann, after positioning himself on the outside of Jamal Lewis. The third goal was scored by Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic after a giveaway from substitute left back Phillip Heise allowed Atalanta to counter attack. A defensive mistake from Klose gave Timothy Castagne the chance to cut the ball back to Pasalic, who’s shot was almost blocked by Godfrey before ending up in the net. And finally, Atalanta finished the job with another goal right at the end of a half, as young striker Musa Barrow ran in behind Heise and struck home.
Another player that impressed for Norwich, albeit not scoring, was Teemu Pukki. His off-the-ball movement often created spaces to attack inside the box but he didn’t quite manage to apply the finish on the night. He has a good relationship with the two starting full-backs Aarons and Lewis, who know where to put the ball based on his movement. On one occasion Lewis had space down the left and played a low ball towards the near post, anticipating that Pukki would make the run there. This telepathy between the Norwich players can often lead to embarrassing missed passes, however it works in their favour more often than not because defenders are left guessing and have less time to react.
1-4 wouldn’t have been the result that Daniel Farke was looking for, especially considering Atalanta began their tour of the UK with a 2-1 loss to Swansea, however there is a lot that he’ll be able to take out of the match. A runout against a side playing with three centre backs and wing-backs will have been good for them, because that’s a setup they’ll run into a lot more in the Premier League. And Atalanta as a whole provided a threat that will be highly transferable to Norwich’s upcoming season, with their progressive approach that looked to directly combat the Canaries’ possession football rather than sit back and soak it up.
Farke will know that his side cannot afford to give away too many cheap goals by playing out at this level so, in a way, it’s good that Timm Klose got one out of his system. He’ll be especially pleased with how Ben Godfrey performed against such quality opposition because in truth this season relies heavily on players with high upside coming to the fore. Godfrey, Aarons and Buendia all look to have very high ceilings and if Norwich are going to survive in the Premier League playing how they did in the Championship then the quality needs to shine through.
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Nick_FootballPA
Follow @AnonoFootball on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnonoFootball