David Freezer: Superb Mario so deserves his 50th Canaries game to be a start
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
I'm still wondering how City aren't currently looking forward to a League Cup quarter-final as they try to make it four wins on the spin in the Championship.
I'm not especially keen on the 'expected goals' statistics circulated these days but that metric must have been off the chart for Daniel Farke's team at Bournemouth.
Premier League opposition should have been comfortably beaten and at the heart of that was a quite brilliant performance from Mario Vrancic – who is in line to make his 50th appearance for the club this afternoon.
The midfielder was very much the creator-in-chief, the playmaker, the Hoolahan. The 29-year-old has made it almost impossible for Farke to leave him out of his starting XI at Sheffield Wednesday – and has shown a great deal of fortitude in reaching that point.
Lesser players may well have wilted or lost faith given that his head coach has even admitted publicly that he was unfortunate to not be starting more games in the past.
His performance reminded me of a pre-season poll in the summer of 2017 as we all eagerly waited to see the results of the great Carrow Road revamp on the pitch.
We ran a survey at pinkun.com in which one of the questions was 'which signing are you most looking forward to seeing in action?' and the Bosnia & Herzegovina international was the clear winner with 53 percent of over 3,000 votes.
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He was a player brought in from Darmstadt for a reported £650,000, fresh from three seasons as a regular in the Bundesliga, one of which was with Paderborn.
His smooth style and classy left foot had plenty of supporters excited to see what a player capped 28 times at youth levels by Germany could do in the Championship.
Unfortunately, things didn't quite go to plan for Vrancic and it wasn't long before his lack of physicality and desire for too much time on the ball were being shown up too regularly.
He very much remained part of Farke's plans and 34 of his 39 appearances last season were from the start, yet a return of two assists and three goals saw much of that pre-season excitement ebb away.
However, there was no denying that the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund II man improved markedly throughout last season – getting stuck into physical challenges and adjusting to the pace of the English game. That improvement was largely overlooked as a disappointing campaign meandered to a close though.
He was bumped even further down the pecking order during the summer, as a groin injury left him unable to take part in pre-season and forced him to miss the opening eight matches of this season.
Mario has clearly moved up a level now though.
Eight appearances from the bench in the last nine league games have reintegrated the Bosnian, with League Cup starts at Wycombe and his midweek efforts at Bournemouth bringing him back up to speed.
He was the hero with winning goals at Reading and at home to Wigan in the league as well though, let's not forget, so has shown admirable patience and determination for a real chance.
With Marco Stiepermann emerging in such fine style as an attacking midfield option and Moritz Leitner excelling in central midfield alongside Alex Tettey, it's been difficult for Farke to change an in-form team.
Yet with Stiepermann suffering from a bout of tonsillitis this week, Vrancic grabbed his chance with both hands.
Linking with Tom Trybull and Onel Hernandez particularly well, the silky midfielder was the man that made City tick.
From being denied by an Artur Boruc shot early on, to a lovely cross-field switch from which Felix Passlack fired just wide, threading Dennis Srbeny clean through for a golden chance he should have scored, firing just beyond the far post and delivering the corner from which Trybull's deflected header was cleared off the line – that was just his first half.
After the break he had a shot deflected through to Boruc, had a decent free-kick saved, played Hernandez clean through only for the Cuban to find the side netting and picked out Jordan Rhodes with a peach of a cross in injury-time which the striker somehow headed wide.
So he only went close to scoring four times and created five clear goal-scoring opportunities!
If that's not worthy of a start, then I'm not sure what is. Bravo, Mario. More of the same please.
My team for today: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann, Klose, Lewis; Tettey, Leitner; Buendia, Vrancic, Hernandez; Pukki
• That's team work
Emi Buendia adding his name to the list of players who have scored this season continued to emphasise the team ethic playing such a key part in City's upward momentum.
The Argentinian youngster's beautiful flicked finish proved the vital difference against Brentford last weekend, as a 1-0 home victory was ground out against decent opposition.
He became the 14th player to score for Norwich this season, with Onel Hernandez's goal at Bournemouth on Tuesday taking the overall tally to 31 goals in 19 games in all competitions. Add to that the creative spread of assists being credited to 15 different players and it's easy to see that Farke's squad are really sharing the load.
At the same stage last season 25 goals had been scored in 15 league games and four cup ties, with 12 different players scoring the goals and 10 sharing the assists.
For the record, Jordan Rhodes has the most goals with seven overall – but really should be in double figures after two penalty misses and that costly midweek header.
• So long, Ivo?
It was like a blast from the past seeing Ivo Pinto back in the starting line-up for City at Bournemouth.
It was just a fifth appearance of the season, with the 28-year-old having not featured in a matchday squad in the league since the 3-0 loss to Leeds in August. Since then he's only seen action in the third round of the Carabao Cup, starting the 4-3 win at Wycombe.
He may as well have been in Wycombe in the 39th minute of Tuesday's cup defeat at Bournemouth, given how far out of position he was as the top-flight hosts took the lead.
Alex Tettey was then tied in knots by Junior Stanislas before Pinto charged in to try and help his team-mate rescue the situation, only for a powerful shot to deflect high into the roof of the net.
The disappointment was written all over the speedy Portuguese full-back's face when he was replaced by Emi Buendia in the 68th minute.
Given his contract expires in June – and the form of Max Aarons – it could well prove to be the January 2016 signing's final Canaries appearance.