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What Will Oliver Norwood's Role With Northern Ireland At Euro 2016 Be?

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With the help of some NI fans, we assessed how Norwood will be used this summer in France.

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Two Reading players, Chris Gunter and Oliver Norwood, are pretty much confirmed starters at this summer's European Championships for Wales and Northern Ireland respectively barring injury. Gunter's role is pretty obviously at right-back (well, unless Chris Coleman plays him at left-back following the final few games of the season!), but Norwood's is more unknown.

He's played in different midfield roles for the Royals this season, so I wanted to find out what impact he had on his national side. Was it a holding role? More attacking? And it what formation? With the help of a few Northern Ireland fans, I found out...

Manager's favourite

It's worth pointing out that Northern Ireland boss (and former Reading loanee) Michael O'Neill played Oliver Norwood in all 10 of the European Championship qualifiers. The only other player to have that honour was centre-back Gareth McAuley. That tells you Norwood should be one of the first names on O'Neill's team-sheet come their Group C opener against Poland on June 12th.

The squad was named last week, and to be honest, Northern Ireland's other centre midfield options are pretty limited. Other than Norwood, there's just captain Steven Davis and Corry Evans, Chris Baird and Paddy McNair are usually defenders but can also fill in if needed.

Apart from Davis, none of the other names jump out at you as being better than Norwood, so you can safely assume that if O'Neill wanted a midfield duo, the Reading man would be one half of it.

Formation

Throughout qualifying, Northern Ireland more often than not used a 4-5-1 cum 4-3-3 formation - the difference being whether wingers were playing further up or not. In each of these systems there is a holding midfielder.

However, in recent friendlies against Wales and Slovenia, O'Neill has changed changed tack, trialling out a 3-5-2 formation. The advantage of this allowing Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart all to start in familiar centre-back berths in the team's area of strength.

But especially against Wales, this system didn't really work out, as the 4-5-1 was brought back at half-time in Cardiff with Connor Washington subbed and Jonny Evans moved to left-back. This made Northern Ireland much more effective going forward and indeed scored following the switch.

On formations, O'Neill said:

"It’s exactly what we want. In the summer we are going to have to be flexible. Either system has strengths or weaknesses depending on how the game’s going."

So where does Norwood fit in?

What I wanted to know was whether Norwood played the holding role for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, he does not. I say unfortunately because I personally think that this is his best position. One of the few positives of Brian McDermott's annoying persistence with the 4-4-2 diamond was identifying that Norwood's strength is sitting just in front of the defence.

But 'sitting in front of the defence' has different meanings for Northern Ireland and Reading. Whilst the former want ball winners like Baird and McNair in that role, the latter want ball players like Norwood. And Norwood is most certainly not a ball winner.

In 2015-16, he won 46% of his duels in the Championship, compared to Danny Williams (49%), Aaron Tshibola (58%) and compatriot Baird (53%). Norwood attempted 268 tackles and only 78 were successful whilst 74 resulted in fouls. Stats according to Squawka.

So that means we'll see Norwood slightly further forward as shown in the three possible formations below.

But it is Steven Davis who is likely to take on more of an attacking role out of the centre midfield pair, so don't expect Norwood to be in the box much in France.

That dead central role is one that Norwood has played for Reading - whether that be in a flat 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 when Michael Hector played in-front of the defence. But even then, he's not taken on much of an attacking incentive, choosing to play the ball sideways or backwards instead of forwards. It has been Danny Williams who has taken a more offensive job, so you would imagine this is the same with Northern Ireland and Davis.

And with Michael O'Neill's side often without the ball (they had more than 50% of possession in just two of their qualifiers, both against the Faroe Islands), you would expect Norwood to definitely defend more than attack, and when he does the latter it will more than likely be starting counter attacks.

Set-pieces

Norwood received a lot of criticism in 2015-16 for his poor delivery at set-pieces. Often his corners or free-kicks would hit the first defender, drawing sighs of disappointment from the crowd and causing his team-mates to retreat.

But you'll be surprised to hear that the Northern Ireland fans I spoke to raved about his delivery, with one labelling him a 'set-piece specialist'. With Chris Brunt ruled out of the Euros through injury, Norwood is now first choice from dead ball situations.

In qualifying, Norwood got four assists, which is 25% of Northern Ireland's goals in their 10 games. Only four players around the continent set up more.

Many thanks to @StandardNISC, @GAWAfans and @Euro_Ulsterbus who helped towards this article!

What do you think Norwood's best position is? Will he star at the Euros this summer? Let us know in the comments below.