Robin Sainty: Norwich City and the arrival of the fittest

Kieran Dowell of Norwich in action at Sheffield Werdnesday

Norwich City are seeing the best of impressive midfielder Kieran Dowell - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

As Swansea were being battered at Bournemouth on Tuesday, the Sky commentary team were busily excusing their poor showing on the basis that they have had to play a lot of games over the last month. 

The following evening, Norwich City completed their ninth win in 32 days whilst looking as fresh as daisies. Funny that. 

Just when the chasing pack must have been hoping that Daniel Farke’s team would start to lose a bit of intensity with the finishing line in sight, City ramped it up to another level at the City Ground with a performance that had neutrals purring with delight. 

The fact that they did so without their talisman, Emi Buendia, shows how much this squad has developed over the season. Even though City had previously won only one league game without him since the little Argentinian's emergence, he was hardly missed against Forest as Lukas Rupp and Kieran Dowell produced excellent performances in one of the best all-round City performances in this stellar season. 

I was particularly pleased for Dowell, who is a player that I’ve always rated highly, but who had not really made much impact in his limited appearances, and I strongly agree with the excellent analysis of his qualities by columnist Ian Clarke earlier in the week. 

Apart from the fact that he is so pleasing on the eye with the elegance of his movement and ability to produce sudden bursts of pace to create openings, he is another player, alongside Buendia and Todd Cantwell, who is capable of contributing goals from midfield, and his first-time strike against Forest was of the highest quality.  

Ryan Yates of Nottingham Forest and Lukas Rupp of Norwich in action during the Sky Bet Championship

Lukas Rupp has won over a lot of Norwich City fans - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Rupp, too, has had to win over a lot of fans after a difficult start to his City career, but his footballing intelligence and ability to take possession in tight areas and find space makes him a key member of the squad and a contender to take on the Oliver Skipp role if a further loan cannot be negotiated with Spurs. 

However, there is another contender for that role in the shape of Jacob Sorensen, who has all the essential attributes, not least a very similar tackling technique to Skipp in that both look to stay on their feet and time tackles rather than sliding in. 

While there have been plenty of plaudits for Farke and Stuart Webber in respect of the construction of this squad, credit must also go to Chris Domogalla, the head of performance, because I have never seen such a fit and well-conditioned squad at City before. 

Their work rate is remarkable as Sheffield Wednesday found to their cost last Sunday, as City absorbed their high energy press before utterly dominating their flagging hosts, and that is down to the incredible stamina levels that have been built up. 

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As Wednesday discovered, hard work only trumps talent if talent doesn’t work hard enough. In the first half City were perhaps a little off the pace, but when they upped their work rate only one result was possible. 

So, fitness levels and squad depth are all contributory factors to City’s current position, but one other thing that has had a crucial impact is the fact that City have sold two defenders who, despite their obvious potential, tended to be reactive to danger, and replaced them with players who read the game better and are proactive in snuffing out threats. 

I would be interested to see the statistics on how many passes Dimitris Giannoulis has intercepted since he arrived, but I would expect the figure to be very high, and he, along with Ben Gibson, has made the left side of City’s defence virtually impregnable whilst adding to the side’s passing game. 

Every City win is now another knife to the heart of the chasing pack, and as the pressure mounts on them I suspect that we’ll see more surprise results like Brentford’s at Derby. 

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