David Freezer: City may have rediscovered their mojo at the perfect time
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Have the Canaries got their mojo back at just the right time?
Worried words have been replaced by Canaries conversations laced with eager anticipation for the visit of Sheffield United, after seeing the Championship sea start to part last weekend.
All of a sudden a sapping, challenging winter has a flicker of spring light at the end of the tunnel, the opportunity before Daniel Farke's impressive team so clear.
Beat the Blades and City could reclaim top spot from a wobbling Leeds, if Norfolk's own Paul 'Warniola' Warne can do the business and lead Rotherham to at least a draw against Marcelo Bielsa's under-pressure team, who have lost three of their last four league games.
While that would be welcome, more importantly it would propel Norwich six points clear of third, temporarily at least, with West Brom in FA Cup action at Brighton. Should everything continue to click into place then Farke's team can travel to Elland Road in a dream position, with all the pressure on the home side ahead of a sold-out encounter which already has the makings of a classic.
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Before any of that though is a very solid Sheffield United team, as Chris Wilder continues to wring every ounce of sweat from his unfashionable but thoroughly impressive squad. Well drilled, organised, tough and far from a team which can be dismissed as direct, long ball merchants, City can't afford to take their foot off the pedal for a second against a dangerous opponent this afternoon.
Yet the control and quality displayed during the deserved win over Birmingham offered some tantalising hints: a winner's instinct, a calm confidence, the ability to control a match so often associated with teams who win trophies.
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The style and verve with which the Canaries raced into a 3-1 lead against a previously resolute Garry Monk team had the Carrow Road faithful on the edge of their seats. Teemu Pukki twice went close to making that scoreline more convincing before the break and Onel Hernandez, Todd Cantwell and Mario Vrancic all wasted chances to put the icing on the cake in the second half, even after the superb Emi Buendia had been kicked off the pitch.
The control of Tom Trybull, Marco Stiepermann and Vrancic to then calm things down and dictate possession could have frustrated City fans in the past – but the relief was palpable as Farke's team played sensibly and made sure the three points were safe.
Finishing with 66 percent of possession has only been bettered in three games this season. It was also just the third match in which City have surpassed 650 passes and only once have they managed better than the 85pc pass completion they finished with.
To manage that without Moritz Leitner is a serious statement of intent and Vrancic certainly deserves praise for the way he's stepped up to the plate when needed. Five goals and five assists in the league, after missing pre-season and the opening month of the season through injury, has been absolutely crucial.
That meant the classy midfielder missed the first battle with the Blades of the season and when you look back on that 2-1 defeat at Bramall Lane in August – a match City really should have won – the evolution of this Norwich squad is emphasised.
RECAP: Sharp gave Blades the edge over Canaries at Bramall Lane earlier this seasonBen Marshall played at right-back and was caught napping for Billy Sharp's 93rd-minute winner. It brought an end to his time at full-back and eventually led to his loan move to Millwall this month, with Max Aarons soon overtaking Ivo Pinto as first choice in the weeks that followed.
Grant Hanley and Timm Klose were the central defenders. Three games later the injury which has ruined Hanley's season would emerge and just one league appearance has followed.
Trybull started alongside Alex Tettey in central midfield, a partnership of last season which was eventually upgraded when Leitner found his form – but that day Leitner started on the right, with Teemu Pukki in support of Jordan Rhodes and Marco Stiepermann's remarkable reemergence yet to spark into life.
While the return of Klose and Leitner could yet prove pivotal to automatic promotion, this City squad have put themselves in prime position for the top two.
In fact they have the same amount of points (53) from 28 games as Nigel Worthington's title winners of 2004.
Who could have imagined we'd be saying that when the final whistle was blown at Bramall Lane, when the Canaries had just one point from their opening three matches? I certainly couldn't.
• RENEWAL ALERT
City season ticket holders need to pay close attention to the renewal pack they should have received in the post by now, in particular the 14,000 fans who use the cub's direct debit scheme.
There are clear instructions that direct debit users will not have their season ticket automatically renewed this year, as updated contact details are required.
This is due to GDPR, yes that phrase we heard so much about in various emails before it became law in May of last year: General Data Protection Regulation.
So if you normally just ignore your renewal pack and expect your season ticket to take care of itself, make sure you have a read. As it was flagged up to me this week, if you fail to realise this before the first deadline of Sunday, February 10, you could end up paying more for your seat.
If you're an adult in the Barclay it goes up from £499.50 to £534.50 and then £569.50 after the second deadline of March 9. So read carefully, the club have underlined the details, IN BOLD LETTERS.
• BREXIT EFFECT?
How many times in your life has someone who doesn't like football said something to you like: 'It's absurd how much they get paid, when nurses earn what they do.'
Well, firstly, of course we all agree with that sentiment, it would be great if public sector workers were paid more – but comparing such work with those in the entertainment industry is silly. Sport stars, singers and actors generate cash, so are always going to be able to command higher wages in a capitalist system. Some figures caught my attention this week though.
Premier League players paid £1.1billion in tax during 2016-17, one third of the total £3.3bn tax generated by the league and its clubs overall, up £2.4bn from 2013-14, a report from Ernst and Young has found. It also supports nearly 100,000 jobs.
That's not even including the rest of English football.
So yes, absurd wages, but that's a lot of very welcome money coming back into the system – so let's hope Brexit doesn't harm football, if it ever actually happens.