David Freezer: Buendia is so good that it’s looked like City have a loan player from Barcelona in the Championship
Just how good is Emi Buendia?! For me, it’s been like Norwich City have had a player on loan from Barcelona in the Championship this season – the Argentine has been utterly brilliant.
Promotion would surely have been wrapped up earlier than last weekend had the creative star not lost his head when City were already 4-0 up against QPR last month. His angry lunge into a tackle, frustrated at the persistent fouls against him, sparked a three-game ban which felt disproportionate to the offence.
However, that needless red card may well prove a defining lesson in the education of a special player, as we've already seen Buendia ease off slightly in some challenges in the opponents' half since his return from suspension.
That physical edge has been a major part of the 22-year-old's success though, harrying the opposition, pressing quickly and battling back to help Max Aarons deal with threats on the right side. That attitude has been evident throughout Daniel Farke's team during this superb promotion campaign and will have to move up another notch in the Premier League.
Ever since Buendia's first pre-season game, at Luton, it was clear he was not just a player with all the fancy tricks and flicks fans crave – but someone willing to fight for his right to party as well, clattering one of the League One club's players in an aerial challenge almost immediately.
He may well have an outstanding 18 assists and eight goals from 40 matches in all competitions this season, but he has also comfortably attempted the most tackles in the City squad, 171 in total according to WhoScored.com, for an average of 4.6 per game. Tom Trybull is the only other Norwich player to break three figures on that score, with his 106 averaging out to 3.4 per game.
No player in the rest of the division, who has played at least 10 games, can match that and only 10 players have won more than the Argentine's total of 98 successful tackles.
The same website ranks Buendia as the highest rated played in the Canaries' squad this season, averaging 7.40 out of 10 by their statistical measures – ahead of Teemu Pukki on 7.27 – with just three players across the division averaging higher.
It's only Pablo Hernandez of Leeds (3) that averages more key passes per game than Buendia (2.4). Last season James Maddison averaged 2.8. In other words, Emi has been absolutely awesome.
That should come as little surprise when you take a closer look at Buendia's upbringing though.
Just take a look at some of his Argentina team-mates at the U20 World Cup in New Zealand in 2015, which admittedly ended in a disappointing group stage exit.
Angel Correa is a regular in the Champions League and La Liga for Atletico Madrid, playing a key role in last season's Europa League win, and Giovanni Simeone is a regular in the Italian top flight for Fiorentina, a former River Plate starlet signed from Genoa for around £13m in 2017.
Both are now full internationals and valued respectively at around £30m and £20m by Transfermarkt.com. These were Buendia's contemporaries, players he will be looking to follow in the footsteps of at the top level.
You don't end up leaving Argentina for Real Madrid as an 11-year-old unless you have serious potential, even if you have former Real and Juventus striker Juan Esnáider recommending you, who shares Mar Del Plata as his hometown with Buendia.
The pair were reunited in April 2016 when Esnáider became Getafe boss and soon handed Buendia a five-year contract, following relegation, but an ankle injury meant that by the time the youngster was fit a disappointing start to the season had already resulted in a change of manager.
That change worked and Getafe were promoted via the play-offs, so it was with loan club Cultural Leonesa that the chance for consistent game time in La Liga 2 emerged, scoring six and setting up 11 in 40 games in spite of relegation – with Leonesa partnered with Leeds, leading to strong transfer links during January 2018.
Yet Canaries chief Stuart Webber managed to capture that talent for just £1.5m, knowing Getafe were in need of money. Star striker Pukki may have been a bargain free transfer but that fee for Buendia was peanuts.
Just how much could City's thrilling prospect be worth in 12 months' time?
Let's hope it's eye-watering figures that the club has never before known – as that will mean he's strutted his stuff on the big stage, hopefully helping to preserve his team's status in the process.
• TITLE MOMENTUM
You may have read an article this week which took a closer look at how promoted teams have got on during their first season back in the Premier League.
It showed that in the past 10 seasons just two of the teams promoted as champions have been relegated immediately and three of the runners-up slipped straight back down.
Six of the 10 play-off final winners in the past decade have been relegated however, showing the big impact that an extra three weeks of the season has on players recovering over the summer and on transfer business – as Alex Neil so lamented at Norwich in 2015-16.
Thankfully City have avoided the play-off lottery and will hopefully wrap up the fourth second-tier title in the club's history, which is sure to be helpful for maintaining momentum.
If that success is secured at Villa tomorrow then just four clubs will have lifted the trophy on more occasions: Leicester, Manchester City (seven), Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland (five).
• BIG DAY FOR RUSS
A big game awaits Canaries legend Russell Martin at Carrow Road on Monday – but there's a far bigger game on his agenda this afternoon.
The former City skipper joined MK Dons in January and has made 17 appearances for the League Two promotion hopefuls, scoring once, a late winner at Forest Green in March. He's helped the Dons to fourth place with one game remaining, which is at home to Mansfield who are third and in the final automatic promotion place – level on points and ahead of MK on goal difference. In other words, it's winner-takes-all.
Should the Dons win, Russ has quite the celebratory weekend ahead of him, with Monday's charity fund-raising game alongside Wes Hoolahan set to be great fun with loads of former Canaries preparing to pull on their boots.
The legends game against Inter was a cracking day last year and following on from City's promotion parade, the game promises to be good fun, with Alex Tettey and the outgoing Ivo Pinto among the latest additions to the teams.