Changes at Boro seem unlikely for City, despite international demands on key players
Six consecutive wins and the same starting XI for six successive matches – there’s no chance of Daniel Farke making changes to his Norwich team at Middlesbrough, is there?
City’s head coach has kept faith with players who have done the business for him so far this season but on the back of five of that recent consistent line-up seeing international action, his resolve could well be tested.
While we’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s pre-match press conference to discover whether the Canaries have a clean bill of health for the clash with play-off hopefuls Boro, there is plenty for Farke to consider ahead of the televised 5.30pm kick-off on Saturday.
Chief among the issues is star striker Teemu Pukki, fresh from a nomination for the Championship Player of the Season award and being included in the division’s Team of the season alongside Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons.
The Finn has enjoyed a phenomenal campaign, leading the Championship goal-scoring charts with 24 goals. Only three players have managed more than that in a league season for the Canaries in the top two tiers – and he still has eight games to surpass the 26 scored in the second tier by Terry Allcock (1962-63) and Ron Davies (1963-64).
The 28-year-old has now gone five games for club and country without a goal, playing almost all of Finland’s two games during the international break, a 2-0 defeat in Italy and a 2-0 win in Armenia in Euro 2020 qualifying.
However, he didn’t look short of energy as he created the first goal against Armenia on Tuesday, with a classy back-heeled pass in the build-up before his shot was saved, only to be turned home by a team-mate.
He’s already played 46 matches for City and Finland in all competitions this season, so signs of fatigue would hardly be surprising, particularly with all 34 of his league and all eight of his international appearances being from the start.
Can you drop a player with 28 goals and 13 assists to his name from 46 games though?
It would seem highly unlikely, given how important he has proved, but Jordan Rhodes did step in with two goals in the three games that Pukki missed in October after tweaking his hamstring in Finland action.
Rhodes will be desperate for a chance – particularly against former club Boro – having not started a league game since late October, coming on as a substitute in 17 of the last 22 matches.
Right-back Aarons made three appearances for the England U19s, playing 160 minutes, and the 19-year-old is another to have played a lot of games this season – earning a nomination for the EFL Young Player of the Season award.
The youngster has started each of City’s last 33 matches, finishing all but one as well, but it seems unlikely Borussia Dortmund loanee Felix Passlack or the experienced Ivo Pinto would be asked to step in after such limited game-time.
Farke is helped by there being no midweek game to follow, with his promotion hopefuls’ next game after the Boro battle being at home to QPR a week on Saturday.
Left-back Lewis similarly looks unlikely to get a rest, despite playing all of two home qualifying victories for Northern Ireland during the break, beating Estonia 2-0 and Belarus 2-1 in Belfast.
January signing Philip Heise is waiting in the wings however, yet to make an appearance since being signed from Dynamo Dresden in January. Is the 27-year-old ready if needed?
Kenny McLean has held off the pressure from the fit-again talents of Moritz Leitner and Mario Vrancic in recent weeks, with three goals and three assists in his last six games for City.
Having made just one appearance for Scotland, scoring a header in a 2-0 win away to minnows San Marino on Sunday, the midfield dynamo is unlikely to be in need of a rest, having missed the first half of the season due to ankle ligament damage.
Which leaves the left side of central defence as the remaining position of potential contention.
Ben Godfrey has made that role his own during recent months, forming a determined rearguard action alongside Christoph Zimmermann, but played two full matches for the England U20s during the break.
His poor touch led to Portugal’s winner in a 1-0 loss in Penafiel, near Porto, on Tuesday evening but the 21-year-old has been in fine form and headed in the winner at Rotherham to send the Canaries four points clear at the top of the table.
On the other hand, Timm Klose was an unused substitute for both of Switzerland’s games and could be viewed as a fresher option for the Boro game. Either way, both are likely to be fired up to get back in action.
So is there potential for Farke to freshen up his team? Of course, but I wouldn’t bet any hard-earned cash on it.
With a plethora of talent to choose from, it seems the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ will continue to ring true.