Robin Sainty: It’s not always about glamour in the Premier League battle
PUBLISHED: 06:00 22 February 2020 | UPDATED: 07:56 22 February 2020
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The Premier League and its propaganda arm Sky Sports see football as all about glamour.
That's why the environs of Carrow Road were flooded by unofficial sellers of tatty half and half scarves last Saturday evening and the pitch-side crowd watching the pre-game warm-ups was bigger at Liverpool's end than at City's.
It's also why any positive coverage of clubs like Norwich revolves around eye-catching players like Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia and not the more workmanlike members of the squad who allow them the licence to play, so here's a homage to a couple of them.
Let's start with Grant Hanley, a player who some fans always seem to nominate for replacement as soon as a more aesthetically pleasing centre-back becomes available, yet last week he rendered one of the most potent attacking weapons in the Premier League, Mo Salah, virtually anonymous.
Whenever the Egyptian received the ball with his back to goal he found himself enveloped in a blanket of Scottish granite and, unable to find room for his trademark turns, struggled to make any real impact on the game.
Despite being seen by some as lacking pace and quality on the ball Hanley twice outpaced Salah in a footrace and got himself out of a tight situation by selling a dummy to Roberto Firmino which, had it been performed by Virgil van Dijk, would have had the pundits salivating.
The simple fact is that City have looked much better organised defensively since Hanley returned to fitness, particularly in respect of set-pieces, and his on-field leadership has been obvious to everyone. He may not be the easiest on the eye, but he is exactly the sort of no-nonsense defender that an expansive side like City need at the heart of their rearguard.
Just as Hanley is often undervalued as a defender, so is Kenny McLean in City's midfield. He may not glide effortlessly past defenders like Cantwell or produce moments of magic like Buendia but there are good reasons why he is so trusted by Daniel Farke and invariably finds himself in the starting line-up.
The most obvious of these is his versatility in that he can switch easily between a holding role and a more advanced position, but he is much more than simply a utility player as his performance against Liverpool illustrated.
In a first half where City were often pegged back his energy was the key to their counter-attacks as he constantly made himself available as an outlet to the back four and the 30-yard ball that set Lukas Rupp up for what turned out to be City's best chance of the game showed both the high quality of his left foot and his awareness of the movement of others.
Like the rest of his team-mates he found himself pressurised into mistakes in the second half by Liverpool's high press but what I admire is that he never let errors detract from his desire to get on the ball at every opportunity.
Of course, football is all about opinions and there will be plenty who will disagree with that analysis, but I personally think that both of those players will be absolutely key to City bouncing back if they do indeed go back down.
However, I can't close without mentioning another player who was widely undervalued in the early stages of his City career, and even as recently as last summer was seen by some pundits as someone whose position needed to be "upgraded", namely Tim Krul.
Despite inevitable rustiness after his long-term injury Krul has got better and better and the sort of saves that brought him a spontaneous standing ovation on Saturday shows how he has won over the doubters. Like Hanley and McLean he is a consummate professional and the sort of leader that sides can be built around.
Football's really not just about glamour.