Hectic spell is sure to push Norwich City's squad to its limits
The intensity of the Championship is about to be felt by Norwich City with a testing set of seven fixtures in just three weeks – which could well set the tone for the rest of the season.
The Canaries welcome joint leaders Middlesbrough to Carrow Road on Saturday as club matters return after a two-week break.
It kicks off a busy three weeks without a midweek rest through until the October international break which follows the visit of Stoke on Saturday, October 6.
With City’s squad already carrying a few too many players following the closure of the transfer window, head coach Daniel Farke may just be thankful for those numbers.
It is the strength in depth which will really come under the microscope though with at least three of those games offering decent chances of victory.
Saturday’s clash with Boro looks difficult, against a squad which reached the play-offs last season and which has now been knocked into shape by Tony Pulis, conceding just twice during their six league games so far.
While the Canaries are at home, a point against one of the early pace-setters would surely be considered a decent return from a testing fixture.
It is once that game is out of the way when expectations will increase. A trip to the league’s current bottom side, Reading, follows next Wednesday – where manager Paul Clement is already under pressure.
The former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich assistant is still struggling to prove he can be a manager, with two wins from his 14 games since taking over in March, picking up two points so far this season.
Three days later is a trip to another of the division’s struggling sides, QPR, who occupy 22nd and sit just above the Royals and Ipswich.
Not only is a match against the Rs another which teams with any hopes of a play-off place should be confident of winning but it is also something of a revenge mission.
Farke’s squad endured a miserable 4-1 loss at Loftus Road on Easter Monday earlier this year, as a transitional season began a slow march to its conclusion.
While avenging that nightmare result would be satisfying, Steve McClaren’s side did at least show signs of life before the break, beating Wigan 1-0 at home to end a run of four consecutive defeats and drawing 0-0 at Birmingham.
An opportunity for a rest – of sorts – does follow when City face a Tuesday night trip to Buckinghamshire to take on League One side Wycombe in the Carabao Cup third round.
Gareth Ainsworth steered the Chairboys to third place and automatic promotion from League Two last season, after six consecutive campaigns in the fourth tier.
Six points from their opening seven games leaves Wycombe 19th in League One after one win, with both victories in the Carabao Cup coming from home games against League Two sides.
While it seems likely that Farke will make wholesale changes again, as he did for the 3-1 win at Cardiff in round two, slipping on a banana skin is the last thing needed as the progress of his City team continues to be analysed closely.
Then its back to Carrow Road – after three consecutive away days – for a clash with last season’s League One champions Wigan, who sit 10th and five points better off than the Canaries at this stage.
Despite that, it will be a game that Canaries supporters expect their team to win, particularly with two tough games to follow.
A trip to Derby – sorry, Frank Lampard’s Derby – follows in midweek before a home fixtures against Stoke, fresh from a decade in the Premier League and with a high-profile squad.
So far the Potters are yet to fire, sat on the same five points City have achieved. If they are not on much more than that by the time they travel to Norfolk, Gary Rowett may well have been replaced already.
If the Canaries have not managed a respectable haul of points from that intense three weeks either, then the next international break could well prove particularly interesting for Farke’s future as well.
Six points would seem an absolute bare minimum – and one that this City squad is clearly capable of.
• Sat, Sept 15 – Middlesbrough (h)
• Weds, Sept 19 – Reading (a – 8pm)
• Sat, Sept 22 – QPR (a)
• Tues, Sept 25 – Wycombe (a – 7.45pm)
• Sat, Sept 29 – Wigan (h)
• Weds, Oct 3 – Derby (a – 7.45pm)
• Sat, Oct 6 – Stoke (h)