If anyone’s ever wondered what bare bones look like then they will just have to wait for City’s team sheet on Saturday to get a glimpse.
Coping without a full compliment of players has been a recurring theme of Norwich’s season thus far, starting with the League Cup match at Kenilworth Road where the Canaries found themselves starting with a second string due to the absence of international players.
The match also saw us get a brief glimpse of new boy Kieran Dowell – before getting a view of how this season would pan out when he got crocked and ruled out until January.
Ever since then the injury vultures have been circling over the squad, picking off our players at regular intervals, leaving Daniel Farke sifting through the remains of his squad before the clash with Coventry.
Sky Blues manager Mark Robins is probably the only man with an affiliation to Norwich that is remotely pleased with the problems the German now faces. However, if there’s one thing City have shown over the last week is that they are a rugged and robust unit no matter the personnel employed.
Double-touch penalty aside, the Canaries were the better team against Boro at the Riverside. Colin was fuming with the referee at the end of the game, but he was probably more infuriated with the Yellas’ refusal to yield to the physical, up-and-at-them style he has drilled into what was a previously fragile team.
The football was a lot more pleasing on the eye during the first half against Stoke, with Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki wreaking havoc to give City a comfortable half-time lead. The GOAT made it 3-0 early in the second before Tim Krul’s shock departure – and the slightly less shocking sight of Emi losing his cool and being shown a red by an officious referee.
Stoke quickly grabbed a goal before showing they are more aligned with Boro’s football philosophy than Norwich’s with a fearsome aerial assault the Canaries only just managed to hold off.
Playing away against two of the strongest and toughest teams in the division, who have wily managers skilled in the art of footballing alchemy, Farke’s men exceeded most people’s expectations by returning with the full six points.
As the German said afterwards, he was fully aware of the chatter being that staying unbeaten and taking two points from the games would have been seen as a very good return.
However, at what cost has these victories been achieved?
Without our giant Dutch keeper the defence looked shorn of confidence in that final half an hour at the Bet365 Stadium. That’s no slight on Michael McGovern, who, to be fair, did well when it came to claiming crosses and punching high balls clear. He’s a keeper with international experience, but the bottom line is he’s just not Tim.
Krul’s physical size and personality dominates his penalty area – you can sense it as much through iFollow as you can feel it when you see him play live (those were the days). His goalkeeping inspires confidence in those around him – there aren’t many defenders who wouldn’t want Krul behind them.
That’s not McGovern – while Tim represents Hollywood blockbuster, his understudy is more akin to a low-budget, straight-to-DVD movie.
Michael can make amazing reflex saves and won’t let anyone down, but his presence will have little impact on the psyche of opposing forwards – many of whom seem beaten by Krul before they even make his area.
The other concern will be trying to play from the back. Even though Tim can induce heart palpitations with his risk taking, he’s integral to our play and has the confidence to operate as sweeper by taking control of play from midway inside our own half. It’ll be taking the Mick to suggest the Irishman is going to be comfortable with this pivotal role.
The end result could well be a lot less passing back to the keeper this weekend. This is likely to mean an increased emphasis on either Grant Hanley’s or Ben Gibson’s passing ability or for Oli Skipp to drop a little deeper and take increased responsibility for moving the ball from the back.
It’s the form of Hanley, and his partnership with Gibson, who looked a little ring rusty against Boro, that ensures the picture looks a little rosier than it initially appears.
While Krul has looked almost unbeatable at time this season, the defensive powerhouses in front of him are responsible for ensuring the opposing attacks haven’t managed to get a decent sight on goal that often.
With Max Aarons and Jacob Lungi Sorensen working seamlessly alongside them, the back four have looked increasingly solid and confident in the abilities of each other.
While McGovern will have felt the shock of being thrown into the deep, choppy and exceptionally cold waters of Championship football (which are even chillier in Stoke on a Tuesday night), the four men immediately in front of him will do much to ensure he swims rather than sinks against Coventry.
Further forward, Skipp’s form has ascended over the last couple of matches and he looked at ease with Alex Tettey alongside him on Tuesday. He may find Lukas Rupp is his partner again this weekend, but whoever stands alongside him in midfield it will be a duo adding extra strength to what is an already muscular central area of the pitch.
While the loss of Krul felt utterly seismic, seeing Emi Buendia leave the pitch prematurely represented a large and unsettling aftershock.
His appetite for the Championship fight has been particularly insatiable over the last few matches and against Stoke he looked like he did at the end of the 2018/19 season – too good for the Championship and ready to step up into the Premier League.
The Argentine’s absence is going to make it hard for his colleagues to find the passes that can circumnavigate a Sky Blues bus parked on the Carrow Road pitch. Yet there was enough from Josh Martin against Stoke to strongly suggest he can make a real difference.
The final cold sweat inducing concern will be in attack with Teemu Pukki feeling a hamstring niggle and coming off early against the Potters.
There’s going to be some real issues filling the attacking berth if he isn’t fit for action. No Jordan Hugill and Adam Idah means only Under-23 striker Tom Dickson-Peters will be available as a natural like-for-like replacement.
Wide man Przemysław Płacheta ended the game against Stoke up front and it is his pace that may persuade Farke to make him first choice to replace an unfit Pukki.
With the bench likely to feature Dickson-Peters’ fellow young stars, Rob Nizet and Reece McAlear, there will be an injection of fresh blood into the bones of Norwich’s squad – but it will be down to the steady and reliable old hands of the squad to hold City’s unbeaten run intact this weekend.
Don Harold says
I wonder what the January shopping list looks like!
DF and SW seem to have little fear in bringing young players into the team, and it looks like some will be given a chance to shine over the next four or five weeks. The injury list looks as though it starts to reduce in January and February so hopefully we can weather the storm till then.
I know we are not in the PL. But frankly the defence looks as good as our last Champs adventure. So selling two defenders for around £40m looks like good business. Neither seems to be missed at this level.
We also have to remind ourselves that our defensive records over the past two seasons, even in our promotion year was pretty awful.
The big worry is of course the lack of cover for the back four.