David Freezer: Has the mayor found his best position for City after fine display?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The unofficial mayor of Norwich has become one of Daniel Farke’s most trusted lieutenants in the Premier League this season – but has Kenny McLean finally nailed down his best position?
The Scotland international is a doubt for FA Cup action at Burnley today due to a hip problem but earned a rest in midweek with one of his best performances in a Canaries shirt.
McLean was the driving force of City's midfield during a fine team performance which deserved a point at the very least at Tottenham, only for Spurs to get lucky with a winner.
It was difficult not to feel sorry for Christoph Zimmermann. In one second it looked like the big friendly German had pulled off one of his trademark heroic blocks to deny Dele Alli, the next the ball was looping off his outstretched leg and dropping perfectly for Son Heung-min to nod in the easiest goal of his career.
It was cruel. Daniel Farke's team deserved better after shaking off a ropey first 15 minutes to pretty much take control of proceedings, but it so often seems to be the way that misfortune stalks those in a relegation battle.
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Having said that, any team in the Premier League that passes up six decent scoring opportunities during a game is unlikely to win, particularly away from home and particularly when the keeper is barely tested.
That has really been the story of this middle third of the season, ever since returning from the international break, when 10 points from a possible 36 could so easily have been closer to double that, had just a few more chances have been taken.
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While it's almost impossible to criticise Teemu Pukki, the Finn has had 27 shots during those 12 games and scored five goals, two of them were penalties, and he failed to test Hugo Lloris with three shots that flew wide at the magnificent new Tottenham stadium.
The looks on his face as each chance slipped by showed Pukki knows full well that he needed to be better, but the truth of the matter is he needs more support, for others to be chipping in, to take that bit of pressure off of his shoulders.
Unfortunately, it's become a bit like a broken record analysing this middle third of the season. Whatever happens from here, the injury crisis during the first third certainly played its part in puncturing the confidence and momentum of promotion, but there have been more than enough chances for City to already be outside of the relegation zone since then.
There's no point in moping though and all supporters can do is hope that Farke's team start taking those chances during the final 14 games, to pull off the great escape.
And, based on that display at Spurs, McLean could have a major role to play in those attempts.
Only Pukki, Max Aarons and Tim Krul have played more minutes in the Premier League for Norwich so far this season and he is way out in front for aerial duels.
According to WhoScored.com, McLean has been involved in 130. Sam Byram is second in those stakes on 74. Of that 130 he has won 69, ahead of Byram and Grant Hanley on 35 - although Hanley averages more per game (3.5), having played fewer matches.
At Spurs he won the most aerials (four), only Ondrej Duda (five) made more successful tackles (four), and only Max Aarons (54) attempted more passes than McLean (51) in the City team.
He buzzed all over the pitch and truly got stuck into the challenge, having been dropped into the deeper central midfield role alongside Tettey since Duda's arrival.
Which tees up a challenge for Mario Vrancic to try and win his place back at Burnley today, if he gets a start at Turf Moor, as seems likely after a minor shin injury.
Over the festive period it looked like Vrancic had emerged to claim an influential role, particularly with the goal - and wonderful assist which was snatched away by VAR - during the 2-2 home draw with Tottenham.
That competition has to be a positive for Farke, as City search for a place in the fifth round for just the second time in 13 seasons.