To me, Oliver Norwood is one of the smartest players in the league and probably the biggest catalyst for Sheffield’s successful transition to the EPL as he allows them to continue playing the way they have for years without skipping a beat against tougher competition.
Norwood is the deepest lying of a midfield three normally supported by two workmen like midfielders. When the ball is in the defensive and entering the middle third, he primarily moves side to side across the pitch supporting the CBs and WBs and holding the shape of the attack while then providing cover for the overlapping CBs who have license to go forward. He will often show short to collect the ball from the CBs when there’s no pressure and then get his head up and look for a big switch of play, however, often times given the United defenders’ comfort on the ball he will go deep on the opposite side to allow them to take it into space and the other defenders to slide and cover taking up a spot on the back line temporarily.
When the ball moves further up the pitch is where his role becomes even more important. He sits slightly behind the play where a triangle overload is normally hard at work with a CB joining a WB and CMF. His impact is twofold from this reserved position: to serve as an option for a deep cross into the box and then more importantly as a release valve to move the ball from a high pressure area via a big switch to a low pressure area. Sheffield play so much up through the wings and live to create overloads so he’s essential to this system as without this escape route they would be easier to trap and dispossess when a movement along a flank stalls.
Regarding his passing, he’s clearly incredible with fantastic range that probes opponents constantly throughout the game. Norwood sets the tone for the teams and his passing can break open a game. Moreover, he can whip in a great free kick and create a lot of danger along with a good long shot.
Defensively, Norwood does a lot of shielding and slowing down the opponent. He doesn’t get stuck into much and more tends to sit back covering passing angles and can step in and intercept a pass or poke the ball away. Not a great tackler, but he’s crucial in slowing down play when Sheffield turn the ball over and allow the others to get back behind the ball. This is particularly important given how advanced the central defenders can get to prevent the team from getting caught out and exposed. Like most other aspects of the game, he’s intelligent in keeping the shape and integrity of the side.
All in all, Norwood allows Wilder to implement his vision on the pitch and does so much work to allow his system to thrive at the highest level often acting as the extension of the coach on the field. After being part of three consecutive sides to win promotion from the Championship to the EPL, he’s finally proving that he’s not out of his depth in the top tier.
For the set:
I bet his swerve is mid yellows, response is ~75, and aggression really low like Oriello suggested last year. More I watch and think about it that’s a great way to replicate his game. Also, probably form 6 by now. He’s always on the same level it seems. Consistent performer and a good captain.
Videos clipped by Akephalos of some defensive actions to support my notes:
- Spoiler: show