Six things you might have missed from Norwich City's victory over Barnsley
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Following a strong start to 2021 for Norwich City, thanks to a hard fought 1-0 home win over Barnsley, David Freezer assesses the state of play for the Championship leaders at the halfway point of the season.
1 – History on City's side
Getting back to winning ways has seen Daniel Farke’s squad keep pace with the best start to a season in Canaries history in the second tier, tied with the German’s title winners of two years ago on 47 points after 23 games.
Victory at Cardiff when City return to league action would edge the class of 2020-21 ahead of that squad’s success and keep pace with the other season in the mix, the 1971-72 title winners.
That legendary team would also have had 47 points after 23 games had they earned three points for a win – and went on to win their next two matches as well.
So they remain in record-breaking territory and Championship history also paints a nice picture at the halfway point in each of the last 10 seasons as well, with nine of the leaders at this stage going on to the title or automatic promotion.
The implosion of Leeds in 2019 remains a cautionary tale though, who were top with 48 points at the turn.
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2 - Krul's fine run continues
Tim Krul hasn't conceded a goal for City since October 31. Admittedly he missed all of December through injury, with his thigh problem keeping him out for nine games in the end, but he has now kept a clean sheet in each of his last four full appearances.
The Canaries were also leading 2-0 at Stoke prior to the Holland international limping off five minutes before the break during that 3-2 win.
His personal hot streak may have only narrowly survived, thanks to the crossbar denying Luke Thomas during the first half, but this return to action was about much more than saves.
The leadership, organisation and confidence of City's reigning Player of the Season were immediately clear as his bellowed orders echoed around a depressingly empty Carrow Road. It may be a little while until the Dutchman feels totally comfortable with his kicking again but his calming presence was a very welcome sight.
3 – Return of Gibson
Farke also opted to bring Ben Gibson back into central defence alongside Grant Hanley, after a couple of shaky moments from Christoph Zimmermann during the 1-1 draw with QPR last week, including his part in the admittedly soft late penalty concession.
That won’t have been an easy decision, given how much Farke trusts Zimmermann, but Gibson and Hanley appear to have a better balance. Beyond the basics of a left-footed player and a right-footed player, their understanding seems to benefit City’s passing.
Gibson averages the most passes per game in Farke’s squad (79.6) and Hanley the second most (69.5) but Zimmermann is 10th in that ranking on 44.9.
The partnerships compare favourably though. The games started by Hanley and Gibson have averaged 1.3 points gained and 0.9 goals conceded (12 games), and with Hanley and Zimmermann it’s also 1.3 points and a slightly lower 0.7 average for goals conceded (seven games).
As the injuries have proven, all three are needed and all three have their part to play.
4 – Corner concerns continue
The energy of the in-form Tykes forced the Canaries to win 33 aerial duels. Only once during the Farke era have City won more in a league game, when Preston were beaten 2-0 at Carrow Road in August 2018 (35).
Gibson won seven and, perhaps surprisingly, it was Mario Vrancic winning six ahead of Hanley’s five, as the game became scrappier with every chance the hosts wasted.
City skipper Hanley powered one header wide in the first half and nodded one over under pressure during the second, both from Emi Buendia corners – who even went close to scoring directly with one of his seven corners on Saturday.
Which leaves it at 61 games since Kenny McLean rose to open the scoring on that brilliant night against Manchester City, the last corner that Norwich scored directly from, also delivered by Buendia. Those 61 matches has featured a total of 315 corners.
Hanley did head in a Vrancic free-kick at Burnley last year and clearly City’s passing and technical style lessens that aerial threat, but when the defence has improved so much aerially this season, that elusive goal surely can’t be too far away?!
5 – Finishing the job
Just like the midweek draw with QPR, this game should have been so much more comfortable. During those two matches the leaders have had 17 shots on target and scored twice, one of which was a Teemu Pukki penalty.
Thankfully the points keep flowing but the longer that profligacy goes on, the more worries will grow that those many wasted chances will come back to bite City on the backside.
It’s still only Blackburn (129) that have registered more than the Canaries’ 121 shots on target but four of their rivals have scored more than their 31 goals.
Beating the Tykes earned a 14th win but 12 of those have been by just one goal – and the visitors had hit the bar and came agonisingly close to an equaliser in the 94th minute, which left Farke absolutely fuming as the final whistle was blown.
Todd Cantwell and Pukki put in really lively performances but their wastefulness prevented them from sharing the spotlight with Buendia on this occasion.
6 – Timely cup tie
All of which takes the Canaries into a two-week breather from league action, safe in the knowledge they will start the second half of the season in a great position, after an FA Cup third round tie with Coventry.
Perhaps helped by reaching the quarter-finals last season, it’s a game that very few City fans are going to be too worried about losing during this hectic campaign.
But for Farke it allows the opportunity for some welcome rests for the likes of Max Aarons, Oliver Skipp, Hanley and Pukki. Aarons and Skipp may be young but 27 appearances inside four months for City and the England U21s is rather intense, while it’s 28 for Pukki including his Finland action.
Fortunately, there are plenty of players eager for game time after injuries. Xavi Quintilla was an unused substitute for a third successive game, Alex Tettey, Kieran Dowell, Przemek Placheta and Jordan Hugill made late cameos, Ben Gibson started his first game in almost a month and Christoph Zimmermann was kept on the bench.
Add that Lukas Rupp, Onel Hernandez and Bali Mumba are all hoping to be back in full training ahead of the tie, before you even consider youngsters such as Daniel Barden and Josh Martin, and there will be some hungry players keen to impress their head coach.