Ian Clarke: Why are the Blades cutting it in the Premier League and the Canaries aren’t?
PUBLISHED: 12:32 20 November 2019 | UPDATED: 12:32 20 November 2019
Before the start of this season, are there any of us Norwich City fans who would rather have been in Sheffield United’s shoes than ours?
Would you have had Chris Wilder at the helm instead of Daniel Farke?
Would you have swapped Teemu Pukki, Tim Krul, Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Emi Buendia, Christoph Zimmermann or Onel Hernandez for their counterparts at Bramall Lane?
Remember, we finished five points clear of United last year, scored 15 more goals and lost three fewer games as we romped to the Championship title.
As the latest international break comes to an end, who would now change places with the Blades?
I'd be interested to hear the argument of anyone who answers the final of my questions with a "no."
I suspect the response to the earlier ones - without the benefit of hindsight - will be somewhat more mixed.
The current league table, with almost a third of the campaign gone, certainly makes pleasant reading for the Yorkshiremen.
Only their fans with the most red and white tinted glasses could have dreamed they would be in fifth place in the top flight following promotion.
They have lost the same number of games as Manchester City and Arsenal while only Leicester have conceded fewer goals.
It pains me to praise one of the teams I singled out as one of our realistic rivals to survive, but Wilder and his men deserve huge credit for their success so far.
Of course, things could still change.
If they get a sudden spate of injuries or suspensions and a drop-off in form, they could still struggle.
But to have 17 points and to have lost only narrowly to Liverpool, Leicester and Southampton, is quite something.
By the time the Blades come to Carrow Road on December 8, the way our respective seasons are panning out will be even clearer.
City have trips to Everton and Southampton plus the visit of Arsenal, while Sheffield entertain Manchester United and Newcastle and go to Wolves.
So why have the Blades cut it in the Premier League so well and City - rock bottom with seven points and 28 goals conceded - haven't?
Clearly the comparative solidity of the two sides is a massive - and probably the most significant - difference.
In terms of goals scored, United have found the net only twice more than Farke's men.
It's at the other end that the respective fortunes could hardly be more stark.
The Blades' three defeats have all been by a single goal and they have conceded more than one goal in a match only twice - during the 2-2 draw at Chelsea and the 2-1 loss to Leicester.
They've also kept five clean sheets and are yet to lose away.
The Canaries' nine defeats have all been by at least two goals, except for the 3-2 reversal against Chelsea. Only once have City had a shut-out.
I looked at the Sheffield starting teams in their 12 league games so far - and by doing so it revealed the factor that for me shows why they have been so effective.
Dean Henderson in goal, the back three of Jack O'Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham, plus the wing backs Enda Stevens and George Baldock have played all 12 games - as have midfielders John Lundstram and Oliver Norwood
So, their "back six" plus two key man in the engine room have started each match. That continuity and consistency has got to be worth so much, especially when they have looked so well organised and strong.
In comparison, Norwich have had 11 players in goalkeeping and defensive positions, with only Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis ever-presents.
The injuries which have ransacked the Canaries' squad have been particularly crippling in the back line.
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How would the Blades have feared if they had been faced with such disruption?
Critics of City have pointed out the lack of spending in the summer to strengthen the squad. Only around £1m was spent to bring news faces in to Carrow Road.
United shelled out an estimated £42m after getting promoted. That certainly showed plenty of intent.
A big chunk of this money was on two players. Striker Ollie McBurnie cost £20m - and has just one goal from his five starts and five sub appearances - while midfielder Lys Mousset was a £10m signing and has three goals from his nine appearances (three from the start).
Of the other new arrivals (who were freebies or signed for undisclosed fees), only Callum Robinson has had any real impact.
Basham, Egan, Stevens and O'Connnell missed only 15 games between them last season and United's mainstays are not dissimilar to last year.
There's no doubt we have plenty to worry about as the battle to avoid the drop gets tougher and tougher.
But United's success in sticking with a good number of their promoted side and building on that, has to give us hope.
City need to discover their consistency, tough to beat mentality and confidence.
Finn-tastic for Teemu
What a joy it was so see the euphoria in Helsinki after a Teemu Pukki-inspired Finland secured their place in a major tournament finals for the first time.
The Pukki party went well into the night and the next day, and I'm sure the following night, after the 3-0 victory over Liechenstein.
Fair play to Norwich for organising a big supporters' event in the capital city - which even included a pop-up Canary store.
We've certainly all become Finland fans since the hugely likeable striker arrived - and there's no doubt there are now plenty of Canary followers in the Scandanavian country.
It's no surprise that Teemu is a cult hero in his homeland as he's now the third most profilic scorer in their history.
Please, please, bring back the Pukki Party to Carrow Road to help us kick-start our campaign and get back to that early-season form.
And here's a prediction - Pukki will score his 33rd goal for Finland to set an all-time record against England in the Euro finals.
Delighted for Madders
I was delighted that James Maddison made his debut for England last week.
In all my time supporting Norwich, I can't remember any player who has left and had such support from fans afterwards.
He has been sensational for Leicester this year and has been a key reason why they are doing so brilliantly in the top flight.
Madders fits perfectly into the free-flowing, expansive and exciting football that Brendan Rodgers' men play.
He's already bagged four goals and more will surely come.
It was a big surprise that it took so long for his first appearance for the Three Lions.
And I really thought Gareth Southgate would have started him - or at least brought him on - against Kosovo on Sunday.
There's no doubt that in time he will add many more caps to his tally.
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