‘We are close, we are so close!’
Those who have watched the Amazon documentary All or Nothing, which follows Man City throughout the course of the 2017-18 season, will recognise Pep Guardiola’s words as his team closed in on their first title under his tenure.
Given that Pep is a self-proclaimed watcher of Norwich City and a friend of Daniel Farke, I’m sure he’ll not mind if Daniel plagiarises those words in the moments before the players depart the Carrow Road dressing rooms tomorrow night.
Because we are we. We’re that close.
But, as we all know, that final step is often the most difficult. And with the two relegated teams to come, both of whom were 1-0 victors over City on their own respective patches, we’re having to do it the hard way.
But, never fear, we will.
We owe them both, but first up are the Cherries of Bournemouth; they of the (formerly) iffy finances, the small ground and three managers in nine months. And they of the 1-0 win back in late September when we were both Emi-less and Todd-less, and Danjuma scored the only goal of the game.
In City’s defence, aside from being minus our two most creative forces, it was only the third game of the season, the transfer window was in full swing and the summer additions to the squad were either injured or still finding their feet.
Jason Tindall, Bournemouth’s then-manager, was cock-a-hoop and no doubt readying himself for a procession that would see his men open up a big gap at the top of the division prior to their coronation. Didn’t happen though.
Instead, the Cherries, who were unbeaten in their opening nine games, zigged and zagged around the promotion places, winning more than they were losing, until four consecutive defeats in January/early-February triggered a P45 for Tindall.
The appointment of Jonathan Woodgate – he of the failed project at Middlesbrough – raised a few eyebrows at the time but has proven to be a good one. In his 14 games in charge – initially as a temporary measure but now permanent – Woodgate has overseen nine wins, two draws and three defeats.
Crucially, five of those wins have come in their last five games – a run that has seen them reassert themselves in the fight for the playoff places – but doubly crucial is the fact that their journey to fifth has now taken them five points clear of seventh-placed Reading.
They still have work to do to claim that playoff place though and that makes for a dangerous opponent tomorrow night: a dangerous opponent with good players who are playing well.
Woodgate looks to have gone with a 4-2-3-1 formation that looks familiar to us, albeit they do it a bit differently in the attacking third.
Against Huddersfield last week, in front of the league’s second-best keeper, Asmir Begovic, the Cherries lined up with a back-four of Adam Smith, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Cook (one for the kids), and Lloyd Kelly, with the ultra-combative duo of Jefferson Lerma and Ben Pearson acting as the shield in front of them.
In the attacking third, the rather splendid trio of David Brooks, Philip Billing and Danjuma were there to offer ammunition and support to the lone Dominic Solanke, and on the bench were such luminaries as Jack Wilshere and Junior Stanislas.
And when I say they do it differently, while Woodgate encourages his full-backs to push on and join in, it will be Brooks and Danjuma who more often than not will occupy those wide areas and who will engage Max Aarons and Dimitris Giannoulis. And in Billing, they have a Marouane Fellaini-type number10.
For Giannoulis in particular, this will be present a challenge unlike any other he’s encountered so far and will be a really good test.
The same applies to Andrew Omobamidele, who last Saturday came through an unsuccessful attempt to ‘rough him up’ from Colin Kazim-Richards but tomorrow will be asked questions of a more technical nature from Solanke.
Based on all the evidence, everything points to Giannoulis and Odobamidele taking this latest examination in their respective strides, but it will be both interesting and a useful pointer for next season.
So, let’s not kids ourselves: this could well be City’s toughest test of the season.
But… a big but… we’re top of the league and on the cusp of both promotion and the title for a reason. We didn’t get this far by being second-best to anyone and I don’t see that starting tomorrow.
Yes Bournemouth will be motivated – not least because they expected to be in the position we are in and because they see themselves as Premier League players being asked to play in the Championship – and yes, they have some technicians who can hurt us, but with the finishing line in sight, I don’t see us wobbling.
We’re nearly there guys. As Pep says, we are so close.
While Carrow Road will be again empty, I sense the players, more now than ever, are aware of the whole Canary Nation roaring them over the line.
That we’re not there to do it in person is a tragedy; that the players have still managed to do it without us is a mark of their quality and desire.
C’mon lads! Let’s do this. NEVER MIND THE DANGER.
While you’re here…
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