Paddy Davitt: Why Buendia must move centre stage to give City survival chance
PUBLISHED: 13:00 19 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:18 19 February 2020
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Daniel Farke might have had another reason for keeping Emi Buendia in reserve against Newcastle and Liverpool.
Farke elected to unleash his midfield maestro in two late cameos from the bench either side of the mid-winter Premier League break following a recent quad injury.
Lukas Rupp got the nod on both occasions to patrol the Norwich right flank in front of Max Aarons. Given Norwich failed to win either, or score for that matter, there will be an inevitable clamour for the Argentine to start at Wolves.
Farke may well have reasoned in a game where the Canaries were unlikely to have much in the way of possession against Liverpool, Buendia was best protected for the more winnable battles ahead.
Certainly Ondrej Duda's impact against Jurgen Klopp's side was limited to some probing corners, with Norwich unable to build any concerted spells of pressure with the measured precise passing that is a hallmark of Farke's work.
Next up is Wolves at Molineux on Sunday. The Carrow Road meeting was arguably Buendia's finest in a yellow shirt. It may well have ended in more frustration, after the visitors hit back in the second half to win 2-1, but the 23-year-old delivered a near faultless performance against a seriously good top flight outfit.
For those who love a number or two Buendia's statistics from that December afternoon are worth recalling.
He produced nine key passes, five more than his nearest rival on the day in the muscular frame of Wolves' powerhouse Adama Traore. Buendia also had nine dribbles, two more than Traore again and only Leander Dendoncker produced more total passes than his 62, 20 above his usual match output.
The cut and thrust, the dash and verve were a joy to behold. Wolves have some gifted midfielders of their own but none shone brighter than Buendia.
Farke will be well aware how good he was on home soil and the compelling case for his restoration to the Norwich line up for this weekend's return.
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By the head coach's own maths City now need at least six wins from the next 11 league games on the Premier League run in to ensure the final day trip to Manchester City matters.
To do that they must arm Teemu Pukki with the ammunition he requires and there is no-one in this current Norwich roster who has a better understanding with the Finn than Buendia.
They were rightly hailed as the outstanding double act in the Championship title-winning campaign. Pukki has found goals in open play much harder to come by since Buendia threaded a gorgeous pass he coolly despatched past Foxes' keeper Kasper Schmeichel the week before that Wolves masterclass. There was another one in the briefest of cameos against Liverpool last Saturday, which Pukki could only drive straight at Alisson.
But it underlined yet again in a season now condensed into a pivotal Premier League stretch Buendia must surely be accommodated.
Yes, the lack of goals from his own talented feet remains a mystery as much as a source of irritation to all concerned, given the assurance of his general play. That said, you can be sure Pukki's prospects of re-discovering a rich seam of late season goalscoring form would improve dramatically with Buendia behind him.
Rupp looks a reliable, experienced counter-balance to Todd Cantwell on the opposite side and Duda's more natural attacking instincts. Aarons may feel he has better defensive protection to launch his forward bursts with the German in the vicinity, but City's risk and reward strategy has reached a defining phase.
Rupp would appear to offer defensive discipline on the evidence of his early City outings but he does not offer Buendia's creative spark.
The former Real Madrid junior's work without the ball, since those costly turnovers at home to Aston Villa and Watford prompted a spell of reflection on the sidelines, has undoubtedly improved. But his strength is still seeing pictures in front of him.
Ask Nuno Espirito Santo or his Wolves midfielders who they would rather avoid facing in the Canaries' line up this coming weekend. We know the answer.