They finally did it! The Under-18s managed to get their first win of the season on Saturday, with a thoroughly convincing 6-1 away win in Brighton. Uriah Djedje and Errol Mundle Smith were on the scoresheet with a goal apiece while Elliot Myles and Gabe Forsyth both contributed with braces.
The U18s set up in an inverted 4-4-2, which has been a recurring theme since the Arsenal game in early November. That shape has seen them collect four points from three games, which is a much-improved ratio compared to results at the start of the season.
The inverted 4-4-2 shape, which brought success away at Brighton.
One of the more interesting observations to emerge was the position of midfielder Toby Chilvers, who was deployed as a striker at the weekend. It caught me by surprise as I expected Elliot Myles to play up top with Errol Mundle-Smith with Chilvers dropping in at left midfield, but there were plenty of scenarios where Chilvers and Mundle-Smith alternated between the two positions.
One of the reasons for this was to give Myles the freedom to travel with the ball and drift infield, which he regularly did across the 90+ minutes. This plan was successful as Myles scored twice from advanced attacking left positions, while also earning an assist from a similar situation. With Myles predominantly playing on the left, City’s shape was more rigid as Chilvers is a disciplined midfielder, which made it hard for the Seagulls to progress centrally.
Everyone in the team contributed to a brilliant away win, but the star players of this U18s side stepped up. Second-year scholars Djedje, Mundle-Smith, Waylon Renecke, and Alfie Doy were the notable contributors – marshalling the team well and keeping a solid foundation.
Mundle-Smith, in particular, contributed with a clinical performance, scoring and assisting and taking his tally to five goals for the season. On the subject of the G/A tally, Myles hit 10 G/A contributions at the weekend, making him the most influential player in the final third between the U18s and U21s sides.
With the convincing win away at Brighton, the FA Youth Cup comes at a good time in the season for the U18s as they are currently unbeaten in two as well as scoring nine goals in those two. They face Leeds at Carrow Road tomorrow night, with whom they recently played and drew 3-3.
Leeds are currently fifth in the U18PL Northern division as well as being the second-highest goalscorers. Their free-flowing football was epitomised in their most recent fixture when they scored six goals against Derby, which coincidentally matched City’s 6-1 win at the weekend. However, City do not match Leeds, when it comes to league position with the Canaries rock bottom of the Southern division, four points adrift from 12th-placed Reading.
In the second part of this article, I’ll be analysing five different topics – areas I believe will help them forge a successful result against Leeds.
As previously mentioned above, Elliot Myles reached 10 G/A last weekend at Brighton, and he was the most threatening player on the pitch. Since Elliot has had some involvement with the U21s, Myles has only had two games playing as an inverted left central midfielder, for the U18s. That makes his goal contribution return more impressive, as he’s scored twice and assisted on three occasions.
Playing Myles on the left gives him the freedom to roam inwards and take players on via the flanks, which essentially gives him a free role when in possession. He is an excellent ball carrier from deep, which will be hugely important tomorrow night as Leeds are expected to dominate possession. This means Norwich will need to find opportunities to alleviate pressure.
However, one important element of Eliot’s playing style that will need to be replicated on Friday is his proactiveness in possession. He needs to continue to play on the front foot and release passes when he sees an attacking sequence open up, something he did perfectly last weekend.
Elliot Myles will be the key man on Friday night. Credit: Norwich City
More importantly, City need Elliot’s clinical edge, as he’s superior in front of goal when compared to his teammates. He is the one player you would want one-on-one in front of goal.
Containing their opponents’ agile forwards.
Throughout the season, Leeds have been patient with their build-up play in the attacking third, which City need to be aware of. The Yorkshire side love to carry the ball from the middle third into the attacking third with their small agile midfielders who can breeze past opponents with ease. This causes opponents difficulties as it leaves the defence exposed. When Leeds eventually reach those areas, they look for gaps centrally to play their attackers through on goal. If they are unable to execute that they are content to recycle the ball patiently and side-to-side at speed.
Norwich have the personnel to combat Leeds’ progression in the attacking third, as Djedje and Bracking have worked well together as a midfield pair in recent months. Djedje, in particular, has good out-of-possession characteristics, such as his ability to win ground and aerial duels, as well as his success rate at winning tackles and winning back possession. They will both need to have good games to contain their opponents’ forward runs from deep.
Quality in possession.
An area of concern for City is that they are not used to having long sustained spells on the ball, which is not ideal when you also have a lack of stadium experience. Everything feels twice as big.
But one player who will aid Norwich massively in possession is 17-year-old defender Waylon Renecke who has had a wonderful first half of the season; playing brilliantly for the U21s and adapting to many positions in the back line.
Renecke is exceptional with the ball at his feet, always looking to play forward and progress the ball from the defensive third into the middle third. He has to set the tone with his precision of passes as that will set the tone for the night.
There have also been spells during the season where Bracking has dictated the game for thirty-minute spells with his runs from deep to collect the ball, as well as running forward and playing the ball into the attacking third.
Full backs pressing the wingers.
During the game against Brighton, City’s full-backs were aggressive against the Brighton wingers, something they have not done much across the season. With Alfie Pinyoun and Kingston Simbai having outstanding games and engaging high against their wide players, it brought opportunities for City to win the ball high up the pitch and allowed their star players Myles and Gabe Forsyth to counterattack.
City must do something similar tomorrow night as they have the personnel to do it. Pinyoun is a reliable option at right back, playing at a consistent level across the season, and another player who is excellent at pressing opposition wide players is dynamic left-back Jaiden Owen, who times his runs to approach defensive duels brilliantly and often gets to the ball before his opponent.
With Norwich scoring two set-piece goals against their Youth Cup opponents a couple of weeks back, it will give them confidence that they can do the same again. Leeds have not conceded many goals from set pieces but Norwich have shown in their recent games that they can be imaginative from set pieces.
You can have all the different routines in the world but the set-piece taker must have technical quality, and Norwich have good technicians, such as Forsyth, Myles, and Pinyoun.
Playing passes in behind the opposition full-backs and centre-backs.
Throughout the season, Leeds have conceded plenty of goals from balls played in behind the central defenders and full-backs. With Djedje’s forward passing game improving and Bracking having a tendency to play passes in behind they have the tools to threaten Leeds in that area.
Due to City playing so centrally, it might be difficult for Norwich to penetrate in that manner as the wide players tend to underlap rather than overlap. If they want to be prominent out wide then the overlapping runs have to come through the full-backs, and if they can reach those passes played behind by the central midfielders, then they could create some serious damage.
For more FA Youth Cup-related content, follow the @norwichyouth socials on Instagram and X, as there will be loads of content throughout the day.
Kick-off at Carrow Road is at 17:00. Tickets are free and still available on the club website.