FA Cup tie is perfect timing for Canaries squad
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The FA Cup has arrived at a helpful time for Norwich City, with some players in need of a well earned rest and others desperate for game time.
Saturday's third round tie against Coventry provides a welcome breather from league action for the Championship leaders, after a frantic spell of 12 games in six weeks since the November international break.
Despite being without over 10 players for some games during that spell, mostly due to injury, Daniel Farke's team have managed to work their way to sitting four points clear at the summit at the halfway point of the season.
With promotion to the Premier League so important to a self-funded club, particularly given the significant financial strains created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems pretty clear where priorities lie.
However, with the injury issues clearing up and little pressure on the result, the home tie against the Sky Blues could allow some players the opportunity to close on form and fitness to ensure they play a role in a potentially exciting few months.
IN NEED OF A REST
There are five important players who stand out as having played a lot of football already this season, led by top scorer Teemu Pukki.
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In just four months, after a short summer break and brief pre-season schedule, the striker has played 28 games - and scored 13 goals - for City and Finland, missing two games with a hamstring strain just over a month ago.
Similarly, right-back Max Aarons and on-loan Tottenham midfielder Oliver Skipp have made 27 appearances, thanks to starting every Canaries league game so far and also earning four England U21 caps each.
Aarons has also been in the wars, pulling out of the Young Lions squad in November due to concussion protocols and hurting his shin as Coventry scored their late equaliser at Carrow Road at the end of November, leaving on crutches but thankfully shaking it off to start again three days later. The issue with resting Aarons however is it's unclear who would be next in line to play at right-back.
That trio would seem the chief candidates for a rest weekend ahead of next Saturday's scheduled league trip to Cardiff but Farke has also recently spoken about injuries preventing him from giving skipper Grant Hanley a rest.
The centre-back returned from three months out with a hamstring injury in October and has played every minute of the 19 games since the October international break, having to pass up the chance of a first Scotland cap since March 2018 due to a minor hamstring worry, having been called up for action during the November break.
Next in line for a rest has to be Emi Buendia, to protect such an important player as much as anything. The Argentine has played 254 minutes more than the next most active player in the squad though, according to WhoScored.com, which is Jacob Sorensen.
Buendia has regularly been substituted late in games but has started all but one of the last 19 games, as he served a suspension for his silly red card at Stoke, picking up a careless second yellow midway through the second half of that 3-2 win.
That was the night that Tim Krul limped off injured with the calf injury that would keep him out for nine games. The Holland international managed to get through last weekend's 1-0 win over Barnsley unscathed but with Michael McGovern out injured, it could make sense to give the influential number one another few days to ensure he's ready for the remaining 23 league games.
Similar cases could be made for Ben Gibson, Kenny McLean and Todd Cantwell after their returns to fitness in recent weeks but it seems likely they will be needed to at least be in the squad and that they would be happy to get more minutes under their belt if required.
READY FOR ACTION
That degree of potential flexibility is available to Farke thanks to several players who need game time, such as Jordan Hugill, who seems certain to start up front in Pukki's place.
The summer signing from West Ham has had just five starts so far and his only goal was the injury-time winner from the penalty spot at Rotherham in October, returning from a couple of weeks out with a shoulder injury to feature briefly from the bench in the last six games.
Left-back Xavi Quintilla has been back on the bench for the last three matches and looks certain to return at left-back, having returned to parent club Villarreal briefly to get to the bottom of hip pain which had kept him out since late October.
While in midfield, Lukas Rupp, Przemek Placheta, Kieran Dowell and Marco Stiepermann have all been targeting this game as potentially important in recovering their fitness, with Onel Hernandez also hoping to be on the bench after groin surgery in October.
It's a similar story with young full-back Bali Mumba, who injured a knee in early November, while youngsters Daniel Barden, Andrew Omobamidele, Josh Martin and Tyrese Omotoye have all been pushing for more opportunities recently.
Add the experience of Alex Tettey and Mario Vrancic in midfield to Christoph Zimmermann losing his central defensive place to Gibson against Barnsley, and Farke has flexibility if he chooses to use it.
Then it's down to those players to take their chance, knowing that victory could also provide another helpful opportunity for them later this month, with progress to the fourth round seeing a league trip to Millwall on Saturday, January 23 postponed.
- What would be your starting XI? Let us know in the comment section below