David Freezer: Fasten your seatbelts, City fans, this ride is about to pick up some serious speed
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Ahead of a potentially defining period of hectic Championship action, David Freezer takes a closer look at the challenge facing the Canaries
The Norwich City players lucky enough to have enjoyed a rest at the weekend need to make the most of it - ahead of a hectic spell of 12 Championship matches in six weeks.
While those not on international duty would no doubt happily swap the break for the honour of playing at this highest level for their country, head coach Daniel Farke and his coaches will be planning how to get the best out of their squad.
We’ve seen in recent weeks that the Canaries are fortunate to have some enviable strength in depth at this level, in spite of injuries to seven players who would all be considered contenders for the starting XI.
Farke has been able to have the likes of Alex Tettey, Christoph Zimmermann, Mario Vrancic, Kenny McLean and Jordan Hugill on the bench, despite those injury issues, and it’s clear that squad strength is going to be needed during this unprecedented season of compacted fixtures.
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That kicks off away to Middlesbrough at 3pm next Saturday, but as many as five City players could be in action less than 72 hours earlier. Goalkeepers Tim Krul (Holland), Michael McGovern (Northern Ireland), midfielder Kenny McLean (Scotland) and strikers Teemu Pukki (Finland) and Adam Idah (Ireland) could all be in action on Wednesday night.
So while plenty of fingers will be crossed that all of the Norwich players emerge unscathed from the busy spell of international action, those players in particular face a quick turnaround to be ready for action at the Riverside.
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Farke has said he’s hopeful that the influential trio of Ben Gibson, Lukas Rupp and Todd Cantwell should be okay to return after a rest, having missed last weekend’s 1-0 home win over Swansea, while it’s understood that Max Aarons and Grant Hanley pulled out of national duty to err on the safe side of injury concerns.
Every body is going to be needed during a six-week spell which will take the Canaries through the festive season, into 2021 and past the halfway point of the season before January arrives and the FA Cup provides a potential breather.
Whether Farke will deem it necessary to rotate his squad more than he would normally will be fascinating, as the German has largely preferred not to change a winning team whenever possible during his first three seasons in charge.
They will be able to approach a difficult start, at Boro and then Stoke the following Tuesday, in good heart though thanks to a seven-game unbeaten run and topping the Championship form table with 17 points from a possible 21.
That has placed City third in the division after 11 games and raised hopes of being in the mix for a Premier League return - but supporters know it’s too early to be getting too excited.
In 2016-17 Alex Neil’s relegated squad had two more points than the class of 2020-21 do, yet a five-game losing streak knocked that campaign off course and the Scot lost his job, before Alan Irvine guided City to finishing eighth.
Two years earlier and Neil Adams’ squad matched the current haul of 21 yet that would also drift off course prior to Adams resigning in January and Neil arriving to galvanise a successful revival.
The promotion season of 2010-11 under Paul Lambert saw City with 20 points at this stage and both of Farke’s first seasons had earned 18 points from 11 matches. The first stumbled to finishing 14th, the second soared to the title.
It was nine games during the comparable six weeks of the past two seasons, so the hectic period which follows the international break is likely to tell us just how good this Norwich squad are compared to their rivals.
Half of the next dozen teams to be tackled are currently 15th or lower in the table and while Boro and Stoke are only just outside the top six after building steadily under Neil Warnock and Michael O’Neill respectively, it’s only surprise leaders Reading and second placed Watford are currently in the top six.
The Championship is unpredictable in normal times and it’s already been an exciting campaign for City, so fasten your seatbelts, as the roller-coaster ride is about to pick up pace significantly.
Six weeks, 12 games
Sat, Nov 21 - Middlesbrough (A)
Tues, Nov 24 - Stoke City (A)
Sat, Nov 28 - Coventry City (H)
Weds, Dec 2 - Luton Town (A)
Sat, Dec 5 - Sheff Weds (H)
Weds, Dec 9 - Nottm Forest (H)
Sat, Dec 12 - Blackburn Rvrs (A)
Weds, Dec 16 - Reading (A)
Sat, Dec 19 - Cardiff City (H)
Sat, Dec 26 - Watford (A)
Tues, Dec 29 - QPR (H)
Sat, Jan 2 - Barnsley (H)