Robin Sainty: It all worked out well in the end for City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
This may seem a strange thing to write after a defeat, but apart from the injury to Jordan Hugill last Saturday couldn’t have gone much better for Daniel Farke.
The defeat against an impressive, hard-working Barnsley side will obviously rankle because no manager likes to lose, but overall there were an awful lot of positives to take from the afternoon, not least the insight that Farke gained into how the hosts will approach the much more important league game at Oakwell.
The fact that Tim Krul and his defence spent a lot of time under pressure will have done them much more good than the win against Bristol City when Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley could have spent most of the evening in deck chairs smoking cigars, such was the lack of offensive threat that they had to deal with.
What’s more, the fact that Onel Hernandez, Przemyslaw Placheta, Kieran Dowell, Lukas Rupp and Alex Tettey got some match fitness will be invaluable as the fixtures begin to come thick and fast again.
Add to that the fact that Swansea won their tie, which means that as well as a postponed league game they now also have to fit in another cup round into an increasingly congested season, and it wasn’t a bad day at all from a City perspective, unless you happen to be one of the dwindling number of FA Cup romantics.
It should hardly come as a surprise that City looked disjointed and most of the returning players looked a little off the pace, but any criticism should be tempered by the fact that the likes of Rupp, Hernandez, Dowell and Tettey have had virtually no football for months.
Even Placheta has seen little action since his injury before Christmas, yet he seemed to be the scapegoat of choice on social media on Saturday. There is no doubt that his decision making and finishing require work, but City were well aware of that when they bought him.
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Yes, he can be frustrating and is very much at the raw talent stage, but Farke and Stuart Webber clearly see potential in him, and they are usually reliable in their judgments. Both Kenny McLean and Rupp are recent examples of players who weren't immediate hits with fans but who have now proven their worth.
One thing that last Saturday’s game did do is emphasise just how much more effective City’s first choice central midfield now is. Whilst Tettey has performed admirably for City over the years, his lack of passing range and natural inclination to look for a short, and invariably backwards, pass allowed Barnsley to press City in central areas and slowed the Canaries’ attacking momentum at times when a swift passing move through the press would have opened up opportunities.
Although Barnsley were tiring by that stage it was noticeable how much more quickly Norwich were able to move through the phases when Oliver Skipp came on. Whereas Tettey acts primarily as a shield for the defence (a job that he does superbly) Skipp is able to play box to box and provide a true link between defence and attack, as does McLean.
That makes McLean’s positive test for coronavirus all the more frustrating, although with two specialist left-backs now available Farke has the opportunity to switch Jacob Sorensen, who ironically had his worst game in that position at Barnsley, to his true position, although Rupp will offer another option.
The last few weeks have been good for City’s promotion push with rivals dropping points and they are currently in a great position. However, there is still a long way to go, and the nature of the Championship is such that there are always freak results so Farke will certainly not be taking anything for granted as City start a gruelling run of three games in seven days.