After a faultless December for the Under-21s side, winning all three games while not conceding a single goal, the development side entered 2024 with huge levels of optimism.
The confidence the team has gained from the winning run was visible across the first half against Stoke on Monday, where they looked vibrant in and out of possession.
When they were out of possession, the U21s were extremely brave in their approach throughout the first half. A perfect example of this was during the middle of the first half when Norwich successfully trapped their opponents in on the right flank, which escalated to them winning a turnover high on that side. The Potters almost managed to evade City’s high press by playing through it, but Harry Brooke intervened at the perfect time.
Brooke impressed for the U21s on Monday night. Credit: @norwichcityfc
This was pleasing to watch as Brooke is normally used cas a deep-lying disciplined midfielder – keeping a safe distance between himself and the centre-halves. That specific high-pressing moment summarises the positive momentum around his game at the minute – timing his approach to back the press perfectly.
As well as displaying positive moments out of possession during the game, Brooke also collected the ball from deep effectively and sprayed low-driven forward passes out to the attackers constantly. Those passes made City a threat centrally, as Stoke were ineffective at cutting passes out through the lines.
Brooke’s development has been steady over recent seasons but this campaign has seen his progress accelerate and him become a vital player in the team. The next step for Harry will be to translate his consistent U21s performances into a first-team environment. He will operate at his best in a team that dictates the ball, as that’s the style that has seen him flourish in the academy.
Norwich played a fantastic first half against Stoke U21s, and their strong performance level was rewarded with an opening goal during the second part of the first half. The goal was beautifully worked, with a dazzling reverse turn from Finley Welch that was followed up with an accurate pass to Brazilian midfielder, Pedro Lima.
Lima then found some space outside the area, before curling home elegantly to put the Canaries ahead.
Pedro Lima has been outstanding for the U21s recently. Credit: @norwichcityfc
Lima was outstanding on Monday night, dictating the game effectively in possession, and constantly playing proactive passes. He also showed a courageous attitude from a ball-carrying perspective as he was the link that connected defence to attack. Lima possesses an aura on the pitch for the U21s, which is the security he has on the ball, as well as the peace of mind that he’s going to do something positive with it.
Welch also played a significant role, in the build-up for the goal, sending promising Stoke midfielder Sol Sidibe to a different universe. Welch’s flair and skill are beneficial for the team in the final third, as he has the capability to dribble through sides.
Not only did Welch show a moment of quality for one of the goals, but he looked sharp from a defensive perspective too. Across the ninety minutes, he showed extreme tenacity to press his opposing players on the right side – attempting to push the hosts back at every given opportunity.
There were also moments during the game when Welch moved infield to provide a central overload. This proved to be effective during the game as it gave City an overload in those areas that Stoke failed to nullify. With the positional advantage made with the overload, coupled with Welch’s effectiveness at exploiting spaces, it made it difficult for Stoke to contain City.
There were examples during the first half of Finley driving into space centrally, playing midfield-splitting passes that allowed Ken Aboh and Joe Duffy to thrive.
Midway through the second half, Welch played as a deep-lying midfielder, travelling with the ball from deep areas, looking to progress the team up the pitch, through running power. With him playing as an attacking RWB, as well as giving him a licence to pick up number 8 positions, the coaching staff allowed him to show his tactical understanding.
Full-backs inverting has been a common trend with Norwich U21s in recent months, with Welch and Montoia being good examples. Welch tends to invert on a more frequent basis, as he has comfort in doing so as he’s played there for a large chunk of his academy time. Guilherme has also shown evidence of inverting but the main difference is that he only does it when he’s on the ball. However, Montoia is predominantly told to keep his width due to his speed and crossing ability from wide areas.
Reviewing Norwich’s first half, the team performed to a sublime standard and were a cohesive unit out of possession, setting traps on specific flanks with the aim of winning turnovers high or pushing Stoke back. With the U21s executing it effectively, it demonstrated the hard work that both the coaching staff and the players.
Despite Norwich being a slick outfit on the ball, in the defensive and the middle third, their passing in the final third was slightly inconsistent, as there were opportunities for them to create goal-scoring opportunities but the execution meant that those chances didn’t transpire.
Stoke formulated a plan in the second half, to play more direct and test the Norwich centre-backs with long balls. With the Potters having a tall striker up front in Nathan Lowe this worked well as two of their goals came from long balls.
This became a problem for City as they were committed to pressing the Stoke defenders high, and when they attempted to carry this out in the second half, they struggled as Stoke were playing over the press.
Stoke managed to mount a comeback and get themselves ahead in the second half with an unfortunate penalty awarded against Welch, as well as a clever back-post run from the opposition full-back, which put Warner in an awkward 2 v 1 situation that he couldn’t contain.
Norwich then showed character to get back into the game through Aboh. Dan Ogwuru found some space in the attacking third and played a wonderfully weighted reverse pass for Aboh to take under his grasp before powerfully executing a weaker-footed finish from outside the box.
The goal from Aboh epitomised the improvement in his finishing across the last twelve months. This weaker-footed finish was replicated earlier in the season against Blackburn Rovers.
Not only was Ken’s game excellent from a finishing perspective, but his game off the ball was exceptional too, pressing the Stoke defenders intensely and forcing them into errors. There were multiple scenarios in which Aboh chased every ball, which Stoke failed to recognise persistently and resulted in them taking more touches than they should.
As mentioned above, Stoke piled on the pressure with a greater proportion of long balls coming into Norwich’s defensive third. One of the goals was littered with missed opportunities for someone in the defensive line to take control and win a vital defensive header. That then escalated to Stoke capitalising with the ball in the opposition box and playing a square pass across the face of goal, which confirmed the disheartening defeat for the Canaries.
It ended 4-2 to Stoke.
To end on a positive note, Waylon Renecke looked exceptional in possession, playing passes at the correct times, as well as showing patience and control to hold onto the ball to entice Stoke players to come on to him. For a 17-year-old left-footed centre-back, he should be pleased with where he’s at.
Norwich play Wolves for the third time this season this Friday night (Colney. 7pm KO), looking to bounce back from the Stoke defeat. If they play to a similar standard to Monday’s first half, they have a good opportunity to take more points off the Midlands outfit.