David Freezer: Roller-coaster is sure to be a bumpy ride at times for City
The most important part of City’s time in Florida? Some practise time on the roller-coasters which could prove vital preparation for the Championship dramas ahead.
There are 18 matches scheduled for the next 13 weeks, through until the February international break, with the FA Cup potentially adding to that schedule if any unwanted replays are added to the mix – and if the winter weather doesn’t lay claim to some.
In other words, it’s crunch time.
All that good work which we’ve watched unfold so impressively in the last few months has been great, but it’s merely set up a chance of a successful season. Nothing is won in November.
Currently the Canaries are averaging 1.9 points per game, having taken 33 from their opening 17 games. Continue that over the course of the campaign and Daniel Farke’s team are on course for 89 points.
In the past 10 seasons that total was enough for automatic promotion, with Cardiff going up in second place with 90 earlier this year. Indeed, Paul Lambert’s team of 2011 went up automatically with 84 points and even 79 was enough for Hull in 2013.
However, it’s the current run of nine wins in 11 league matches which has Canaries fans eagerly anticipating this afternoon’s return to action at Swansea.
That averages at an even higher rate of 2.5 points per game. Maintain that rate and another 72 points are due to rack up a massive final total of 105, almost certainly guaranteeing the title.
And breathe. Let’s come back down to earth for a minute.
Realistically, that’s not going to happen. Maintaining a rate of nine wins and one draw from 11 matches is incredibly unlikely.
To hit 105 points would better the title totals of 102 for Newcastle in 2010 and Leicester in 2014 – but still wouldn’t come close to the frankly ridiculous record of 106, held by Reading since 2006.
Given the style City have played with during that steep upturn in form, there’s no harm in dreaming a little. Clearly the potential for something special is there but it’s all about consistency now.
The coming months are going to throw injuries, transfer rumours, contract dilemmas, difficult moments and off-field controversies in to the mix along the way. Fortunately, City have already shown they can deal with much of that this season.
Thursday night’s AGM was the latest landmark to demonstrate the unity flourishing on the pitch, in the stands and in the corridors of power at Carrow Road.
All of which means, should defeat rear its ugly head at Swansea today, the Canaries look ready to deal with it.
Let’s not forget that the Swans were promoted alongside Lambert’s team in 2011, it’s just they managed to avoid a roller-coaster ride ever since, enjoying seven consecutive seasons in the Premier League.
Some poor work in the transfer market and a struggle to continue the culture set in motion by Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez has caused Swansea to slip back to the second tier.
And while Graham Potter’s team may have made very little noise so far, they have quietly been shifting their relegation hangover and sit just seven points behind Norwich in eighth place in this ludicrously competitive and entertaining division.
Of course, should today not bring a 10th win in 12 league games, some will point to the Tampa tour during the break as being the reason. Most will realise that’s just an easy excuse.
The players have been home since Sunday and prepared for their longest away trip of the season in exactly the same fashion as they would have during any other international break, when key players such as Teemu Pukki, Timm Klose, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis have all been away with their countries anyway.
Instead, it’s important that if the Swans aren’t beaten that everyone remains calm – and I get the feeling Farke and his players have earned that faith already.
Remember the 3-0 loss at Swansea in April 2011?
Nope, me neither. Just a speed bump on the way to promotion under Lambert in 2011 – the only defeat in the final 16 matches of that excellent campaign.
After seeing the intensity of City’s training up close during last week’s Tampa tour it was easy to see how motivated this squad is, a jolly in the sun it was not.
The players lucky enough to be Stateside for the warm weather break had to earn their trips to the theme parks, the nice rounds of golf or the golden sands of Clearwater Bay.
In other words, if there is a setback today: Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the long flights, don’t blame it on the good times, blame it on the Swansea.
Just to emphasise how intense the training was during City’s warm weather break, there was even a bout of pushing and shoving in the session open to the public.
Marco Stiepermann took exception to a slightly late tackle from Dennis Srbeny during a small-sided game played at full pelt – and let his German compatriot know full well.
Shortly after it was Jordan Rhodes feeling the wrath of Stiepermann, who was clearly intent on impressing the watching Daniel Farke nearby – all played out at a public session with fans of City and Tampa Bay Rowdies watching on.
It was soon water under the bridge, with hand shakes and hugs all round, and skipper Grant Hanley peace-maker-in-chief. It was symptomatic of the entire session though, with players looking genuinely gutted to concede a goal.
It wasn’t a squad going through the motions or keeping their coaches happy, it was a league-leading squad fighting for first-team places.
Some unfortunate scheduling meant I had a race from Gatwick Airport to Wembley last Sunday, after landing back in the UK following my week shadowing the Canaries in Florida.
Having landed shortly after 10am, I managed to get to King’s Cross, store my luggage, meet my dad and get to the national stadium with just about enough time to enjoy a beer before England took on Croatia in their Nations League decider at 2pm. We decided to not buy each other birthday or Christmas presents this year and enjoy taking in a Three Lions game together, a first competitive international at the new Wembley for us both.
It turned out to be a cracker, with the late comeback from Gareth Southgate’s team creating a special atmosphere of celebration at full-time.
However, seeing the speed of thought and class touch of elite players such as Luka Modric, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling reminded me of the daunting levels City would be faced with once again in the Premier League.
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