The numbers behind Grant Hanley’s importance at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
At the heart of Norwich City’s success so far this season has been rejuvenated captain Grant Hanley, with a succession of commanding displays at the heart of defence.
The 29-year-old has been a rock for Daniel Farke, with just 16 goals conceded by the Championship leaders after 17 matches – which has been absolutely crucial.
Nine of City’s 10 wins have been thanks to a solitary goal, with the 3-1 victory at Bristol City the exception during a congested campaign which has seen most teams struggling to find their best form consistently.
Had the back door not held as firmly as it has, the Canaries could easily have found themselves outside the top six at this stage, as the English second tier lives up to its notoriously competitive reputation once again.
Yet they head for play-off hopefuls Blackburn on Saturday knowing they will finish the weekend in the top two regardless of the result, after pushing four points clear of third-placed Watford with Wednesday night’s 2-1 home win over Nottingham Forest.
Just one defeat in 13 matches saw Hanley nominated for the Championship Player of the Month award for November and Farke for the managerial award, although both were pipped to the prize.
That has continued a renaissance for the Scotland centre-back ahead of a clash with Blackburn, a club he captained for the majority of three seasons between 2013 and 2016, before joining Newcastle.
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After a frustrating season on the fringes of the Magpies' Championship title success under Rafa Benitez , City reportedly forked out £3.5million for Hanley in August 2017 after a shaky start to Farke’s reign had peaked with a 4-0 thrashing at Millwall.
At the end of that season he finished as runner-up behind James Maddison in the Player of the Season voting and was named captain ahead of the success of 2018-19 - only for two campaigns of injury frustration to begin.
After missing the first three games of this season, Hanley has now played every minute of City’s last 13 matches, during which there has been just one defeat – on a bad night personally and collectively as injury woes contributed to a disappointing 3-1 loss at Luton.
That’s despite a hamstring strain forcing him to drop out of the Scotland squad during the November international break, when he had hoped to earn his first cap since March 2018, as his consistent form earned a recall.
The statistics make a compelling case for just how crucial the former Rangers trainee has been so far as well, with Canaries fans voting him the club’s Player of the Month for November.
Aerial duels won per game
Averaging 5.2 successful aerial duels per game, Hanley is clear of Ben Gibson (3) as his closest competition for that metric in the Canaries squad.
Only 11 defenders average higher across the division, led by Sean Morrison of Cardiff on 7.7 per game.
Pass success percentage
He is also averaging the highest pass accuracy rate in the City squad, of 89.8 percent, ahead of midfielders Oliver Skipp (88.4pc) and Lukas Rupp (87.9pc).
Only one player in the division has a better pass accuracy average, which is QPR winger Chris Willock, who has played less than half the minutes that Hanley has, according to WhoScored.com.
Hanley also averages the most clearances per game (5.9), ahead of defensive colleague Gibson (4.3) and in terms of interceptions it’s only Gibson (1.7) who averages more than his 1.4.
Widening that across the division, just two players average more clearances than Hanley so far this season, led by Sheffield Wednesday defender Tom Lees (6.5).
Statistics only provide indicators of performance however and it’s the leadership, ruthlessness and determination that have highlighted Hanley as a key player recently.
It’s contributed to a more solid start when compared to Farke’s first two Championship campaigns as well, with 16 conceded after 17 games comparing to 22 during 2018-19 and 21 during 2017-18.
That improvement has contributed to a growing defensive confidence and obvious determination when defending set-pieces and crosses.
It’s a solid foundation to build upon but City’s centre-backs will also have their eye on opening their goal-scoring accounts as well, with Hanley going close with yet another header during the 2-1 home win over Wednesday at the weekend.
His first league goal in over two years, since a 4-3 defeat to West Brom in August 2018, can’t be far away – although the Scot did score a header at Burnley in the FA Cup fourth round in January of this year.
If Hanley can add that goal threat, stay fit and maintain his fine defensive form, he could well find himself in the Player of the Season conversation again in a few months' time.