Can the Canaries change their stripes?

After signing Gillingham striker Simeon Jackson this week for a significant fee, Norwich City have seemingly made their intentions clear ahead of their return to the Championship. Paul Lambert will pair Jackson with last season’s top goalscorer Grant Holt and can reasonably expect a total of at least 30 league goals from the duo.

But the days of signing little to go with large or quick to go with strong are slowly dying out. They may still dominate the lower leagues to a certain extent but strike partnerships are largely a thing of the past at the top level and the second tier of English football is gradually following suit.

Cardiff fail to capitalise

Ultimately, the failure of another City acts as a warning to Lambert and his desire to maintain the momentum gained by Norwich’s League One title success. Cardiff City held all the aces last season but still came up short in the end-of-season scramble for promotion and their major weakness was tactical naivety.

Dave Jones put Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd together up front, assembling an impressive midfield to supply them with opportunities. With Peter Whittingham and Chris Burke out wide and Joe Ledley in the middle of the park, Cardiff fans rightly expected promotion.

In the end, they missed out after going down 3-2 to Blackpool at Wembley in May. Ian Holloway’s side were an object lesson last season in how to get the best out of a limited playing squad, but Jones failed to match the outspoken Bristolian in tactical manipulation.

The death of 4-4-2

Cardiff stuck rigidly to a 4-4-2 setup for the majority of the campaign, in a league that was dominated by teams packing the midfield and relying on a lone striker.

This season, Jones may be forced to adapt. The World Cup has plainly demonstrated that 4-4-2 is a dying art and that old-school strike partnerships are finding it increasingly difficult to strike gold.

Emile Heskey, Jermain Defoe and Wayne Rooney’s struggles should be foremost in most managers’ minds at the moment, particularly when contrasted with the deadliness of Miroslav Klose. The Bayern Munich striker had endured a miserable season at club level but shone at the World Cup due to his nation’s tactical acumen.

In this country, more and more managers are switching away from 4-4-2. Last season, Arsene Wenger abandoned it after years of successful usage and Arsenal benefited, only coming up short due to injuries and a lack of squad depth in one or two key positions.

Lessons for Lambert

One of the enduring images of last season was the sight of Holloway’s Blackpool tearing Nottingham Forest apart in the second half of their play-off semi-final, playing on the counter-attack to devastating effect. It was a style that Germany adopted so effectively in the World Cup and will be copied this season across Europe.

Lambert’s Norwich will need to be able to adapt their approach in order to succeed in this division. Their return to the Championship mirrors Leicester City’s revival a year earlier and Nigel Pearson’s successful switch to a 4-3-3 formation halfway through last season should have rung bells with their successors as League One champions.

Holt and Jackson should work. They should score goals, like Chopra and Bothroyd did for Cardiff. Dave Jones’ side were so close to success, but they could have been challenging West Bromwich Albion for second place with the players at the Liverpudlian’s disposal.

To truly make the most of a Championship squad lacking in genuine Premiership class, the ability to adapt will be vital and Norwich will have one eye on the top six if they can master that art.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

11 Comments

  1. Mike Smith
    July 16, 2010

    Norwich did not play 442 last season, they played a diamond formation with Russell at the base and Hoolihan behind the strikers.

    Reply
    • The 72
      July 16, 2010

      Cheers for the clarification. I still think the point about being able to adapt between two strikers and one stands – and a diamond/standard 4-4-2 both have four midfielders including two wide players and two central players with two strikers up front too.

      Reply
      • Mike Smith
        July 16, 2010

        I don’t really disagree with you, but I think the idea of 2 up front in a Toshack and Keegan style ( if you are old enough to remember that) is not the model for today. Today you can play 2 up front with far greater flexibility, with front men pulling wide and creating space for attacking midfielders.

        Reply
  2. Stephen Frost
    July 16, 2010

    As a previous reader pointed out, Lambert prefers a diamond formation with the full backs and Hoolahan’s free role to provide the width. We only went 442 (more 424) when we were chasing the game. Also, there is nothing to suggest Chris Martin (more of a Teddy Sheringham type) will be dropped in favour of Jackson yet.

    Lambert has also shown he’s willing to fo 443 with a winger (likely Surman or Macnamee) on the left and Chris Martin cutting in on the right.

    Reply
    • The 72
      July 16, 2010

      Thanks for the comment and the insight on Norwich last season. I’m no expert on them but I think it will be interesting to see whether Lambert sticks with the diamond or plays that 4-3-3 you mention far more often this season.

      What would you prefer this season? Losing in the play-offs or lower mid-table but beating Ipswich twice?

      Reply
  3. Little Norwich
    July 16, 2010

    I think in an ideal world Lambert would like to play with two forwards, he is though smart enough to realise that adaptability will be key this year. The signings he has made have guaranteed that across the pitch we now have fierce competition for places and a lot of the players fighting are versatile.

    The signing of Simeon Jackson is a positive one, but it’s not our most impressive one. I’m not as sure as you are that he will walk into our starting eleven, Chris Martin will have a lot to say about that. Martin although not as prolific as Holt, is a very good striker and one of the most natural finisher’s available at City’s level. He has shown adaptability when moved out wide, even if it hasn’t suited him entirely.

    I’ve been consistently impressed with Lambert since he took over and I believe he is preparing the team brilliantly for the return to the championship. The comparison with Leicester is obvious and I struggle to find reasons why we couldn’t repeat their successes. A driven young manager, a crop of talented hungry players and a bit of luck could be all it takes to be successful in what is the most open Championship in recent years.

    Reply
    • The 72
      July 16, 2010

      Thanks, I agree I must have underappreciated Martin judging by responses so far.

      Signing prolific strikers from the lower divisions can go one of two ways but I’d back him to be more like Nicky Maynard than Izale McLeod, especially as I agree with you that there’s no reason why Norwich can’t be pushing for the top six this season.

      Reply
      • Little Norwich
        July 16, 2010

        His goals online do suggest he has what it takes to step up, he’ll have to do very well to upset our frontline though, very much looking forwad to seeing how it pans out.

        I’m very excited about this years Championship, I think it’s very open. Of the teams that came down I don’t think anyone will fear Burnley, whilst Hull and Portsmouth will struggle to adapt with crippled finances. There is no big team like Newcastle or WBA to fear, and the teams that did well below them are also failing to take a next step. Cardiff have sold their best player, Forest are having players sold before the manager even knows they’re for sale, lots of teams are going into the season unsettled. I’m not saying we will dominate, far from it. I think it will be a division that nobody dominates, very open and close with lots of different contenders. Who wouldn’t be excited.

        Reply
  4. Ken
    July 16, 2010

    A bit under researched for me given that Norwich played 442 for less than two games last season but an interesting general point nonetheless.

    Reply
  5. Stanley
    July 20, 2010

    Interesting general point, though I’m not sure I agree with you on the demise of 4-4-2. (Jonathan Wilson has an in-depth analysis on the Guardian Sportsblog at the moment.) My team, Millwall, played what should be described as a 4-4-2 formation, with two defensive midfielders and wide midfielders on either flank, last season. The thing that made it work, though, was the movement of the front four. Steve Morison was encouraged to drift to the right flank, while the indomitable Neil Harris would often take up deep-lying positions to allow Danny Schofield and Chris Hackett to run into space from midfield. With two strong ballwinners in the middle, it proved quite effective (as our place in this season’s Championship would indicate).

    As for Norwich, I’d expect Simeon Jackson to be effective. His pace and movement have impressed me whenever I’ve seen him up close. The other recruits suggest that they are building a competitive squad. On tactics, the diamond clearly was tailored for the Norwich players, freeing Hoolahan to roam between the defensive and midfield lines. But I’m sure Paul Lambert will remember his team’s 2-1 defeat at the Den in February, when Millwall nullified the threat of Hoolahan simply by positioning midfield anchor `Jimmy’ Abdou in front of the defenders. Lambert will need alternative strategies if Norwich are to prosper at the higher level.

    Reply
    • The 72
      July 20, 2010

      Cheers Stanley. I will check out Jonathan Wilson’s article. He’s always worth reading.

      4-4-2, whether with a diamond midfield or a flat four, seems to work well enough in League One. It worked last season for Leicester, Peterborough and Scunthorpe and this season for Norwich, Leeds and Millwall. It’s tougher to succeed with that formation in the Championship though and this piece was aimed along the same lines as your closing comment. The ability to adapt is priceless.

      Reply

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