Jon Punt: Why the City injury bulletins will set agenda in promotion race
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When the curtain falls on 2018/19, wherever Norwich finish up, a simple question might just have held the key to the Canaries’ destiny.
What has been more defining, City’s tendency to pick annoying sprains and strains, or the ability to conjure up stoppage time, heart palpitating gains?
The two factors are potentially intrinsically linked. Farke’s charges had been expertly honed during a gruelling pre-season. The work on the fields of Colney, coupled with a pre-season tour taking in the sights of Germany, has played a huge part in those last-gasp moments which have sent supporters of a yellow and green persuasion into raptures. Invariably, the players have had more left in the tank than their opponents as matches draw to a close.
Teemu Pukki has long since etched his way into City folklore with his capacity to come alive in the dying embers of a game. His team mates have acted as a wonderful supporting cast.
The hallmark of this side has been never knowing when they’re beaten, which has manifested itself in so many comeback heroics the list is almost too long to mention.
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The fun is back at Carrow Road and it’s wonderful being a City supporter while the team continue to defy expectations.
Yet there’s a niggling part of me that knows recent weeks could have been infinitely easier had Daniel Farke had a relatively injury free squad to choose from.
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Key personnel have been unavailable for what many feel could just be a season-defining run of games, which will culminate in this week’s trip to Leeds and an East Anglian Derby of huge importance at both ends of the table.
Has all of the hard graft on the training pitches inadvertently played a role in the recent spate of injuries?
When players are so finely tuned, with the aim of being at the peak of physical fitness, there’s a fine line between being razor sharp and sidelined due to being pushed too far.
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It was a factor that blighted much of last season, although this was at the time when the squad’s depth wasn’t particularly apparent. This time out Norwich have coped much better with the core of their side being unavailable.
Yet had a Moritz Leitner been available on Saturday, it’s likely his intelligence with the ball would have resulted in better game management. Similarly, Timm Klose’s experience and sheer presence may have seen more clean sheets at a time when Norwich are leaking goals, especially at home. As excellent as Tom Trybull has been since his return to the starting eleven, a more combative shield in the form of Alex Tettey could have seen Norwich home as the Blades pressed hard. Emi Buendia’s recent absence also saw that spark of talismanic ingenuity disappear from the side.
While the understudies have performed admirably, there can be no doubt Norwich have been severely weakened by the loss of some of their most influential operators.
Fortunately, and hopefully in time for the visit of our ‘friends’ from south of the border, all of the aforementioned lynchpins will be available for selection very soon.
Equally as fortunate is the fact that while City’s recent stutter has been minor and short-lived, the chasing pack have failed to make up any significant ground. Norwich’s fate is very much in their own hands, and you sense the squad’s belief they can go all the way is growing by the week.
Whether they can go and grab one of those automatic spots could well rely on carefully managing the fitness of those who’ve been most instrumental in helping them reach the heights they’re at right now.
If Farke starts to deliver injury bulletins that include only the occasional minor bump or niggle, rather than the more prolonged lay-offs of recent times, we can all be confident this team has what it takes to attain their goals.