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Norwich City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Tactics: How did Tony Mowbray’s game-plan work to perfection against Norwich?

What was Tony Mowbray’s game-plan at Norwich, and how did the Sunderland players carry it out? RR’s resident analyst Coel Young dissects the performance

Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Lineups (4-2-3-1 vs 4-2-3-1)


When Norwich looked to build from deep, we looked to press high and force turnovers. We resembled a diamond shape when pressing, with Gelhardt and Ba pressing as a two, Michut stepping onto their deepest midfielder, and Clarke and Roberts looking to force the long ball when it went into the Norwich full-backs.

Aarons receiving the trigger for Clarke to close down
Gelhardt forces wide, Neil shifts across

We pressed really effectively in the first 30 minutes especially, forcing a number of turnovers in the Norwich half and long balls. We also constantly looked to get pressure on Norwich’s primary distributor in Sara (McLean drops in to create a back three), with one of Neil or Michut stepping in to get pressure on the ball, which in turn enabled Ba and Gelhardt to close down their centre-backs (in the below example forcing a turnover).

Neil jumps out to Sara, allows Gelhardt to press Hanley (Aarons miles out of position on the right)


When Norwich were in settled possession, we had a clear plan to nullify their patterns of attack. In possession Norwich move a lot of players inside and between the lines (typically a 3-1 shape), with both full-backs essentially playing as wingers. They do this with the intention of creating overloads centrally or narrowing off the opposition backline to find long diagonals into their full-backs.

One of the rare instances Aarons was able to receive a long diagonal on the right

However, Clarke and Roberts were given the tasks of following the forward movement of Aarons and Giannoulis, which allowed our back four to stay central and deal with their narrowly positioned forward players.

Obviously, this ran the risk of Neil and Michut being overloaded in central areas...

Neil and Michut drawn into man-marking and don’t screen centrally: Pukki drops in
Michut goes man-man and Neil doesn’t screen central area: Idah able to receive on half-turn

... however, generally we were able to restrict Norwich from finding players between our midfield and defensive line, with Ba also dropping in towards the end of the half to further congest central areas.

Back four narrow, Neil and Michut supporting near-side and Ba dropping in on left

Both Clarke and Roberts were also outstanding in relieving pressure, often carrying the ball from deeper areas when we were able to regain, drawing fouls and breaking the game up:

In Possession

Norwich played with a diamond out of possession, which was incredibly disorganised and left massive gaps all across the pitch.

We exploited this really well in the first half, often using long diagonals out to Clarke to drive at Aarons 1v1, or find Gelhardt and Ba between their lines.

Our goal came from one of these situations, with Gelhardt dropping into the acres of space in front of their defensive line, before Ba fired a brilliant reversed finish into the bottom corner.

Protection in-front of Norwich defence non-existent

Second Half

The second half followed more of a standard pattern than the first, with us sitting in a deep block and congesting the spaces in front of our defensive line for Norwich to receive in.

Despite their forward-looking to rotate to find pockets of space, it was far too difficult for them to create any separation. Again, Clarke and Roberts (later Gooch) were incredibly disciplined in their tracking of Norwich’s full-backs, and when Norwich were able to find space, our defenders were throwing their bodies in the way to block the shots.


It was a well-executed and effective game plan from Mowbray, and definitely showcased how we are a far more effective side playing against the ball than with it (especially without a striker against a packed defence).

Although sides with continue to drop deep and concede possession against us, it will be interesting to see if we look to sit a bit deeper in the remaining games when we lose the ball, draw teams out, and play on transition, as playing such a style definitely suits the players we’ve got at our disposal currently.


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