David Hannant: Why World Cup qualification outcomes could be pivotal in Norwich City’s season
- Credit: PA
It seems to me this season more than any the impact of international breaks has become a big talking point in this neck of the woods.
The one immediately following the Millwall debacle was hailed as the big turning point in the season, as it was clear to see it had been utilised to toughen up City’s Swiss Cheese-like back line - more on Swiss things later!
The one after that contributed somewhat to just how jam-packed City’s schedule became at the tail end of October, leading to the recent downturn in results.
This one I feel could prove the most crucial of all to how the rest of the season turns out, although perhaps not for reasons you may expect me to give.
Before I delve into these though, just allow me to make my stance clear on the club versus country debate; I would sell England up the river for Norwich City in a heartbeat.
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While I do consider myself to be an England supporter, if I had the choice between England winning the next five World Cups, or Norwich winning the Premier League just once - it would always be Norwich. I’d even take one more League Cup win over five World Cups. In fact, I’d just settle for promotion.
Now that elephant in the room has been addressed, onto the implications of this international break - and unlike the previous breaks it’s actually things that happened on the international circuit that could have their effect.
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In previous breaks, it has been what is going on back home that has had the impact, the chance to go back to the drawing board at Colney, or the opportunity for some down time.
This time though, I feel it could be different - starting first with the contrasting fortunes of the nations of two of City’s most talismanic individuals - Timm Klose and Wes Hoolahan.
We’ll start with Wes - ten years of being the best player I have ever witnessed pull on a Norwich City shirt earns him that right.
I’m biased - of course - but I for one am adamant that had Wes been involved from the start of Ireland’s playoff, Russia 2018 would be a little more green.
But that’s neither here nor there. What matters, is the effect psychologically this could have on Wessi himself - having lost which surely was his last chance to play in a World Cup (though this is Wesley - 35-going-on-20 - Hoolahan we are talking about.
I can’t claim to know the man personally, so can’t really predict how he will take it, but I can say what I hope will come of it.
If I were Wes Hoolahan, of course I would be gutted, but I would be more motivated than ever to make sure my career finishes with a flourish - World Cup or no World Cup.
Therefore, we could now be blessed with an even more charged Wes Hoolahan for as long as he wishes to carry on playing.
I do, however, have a tiny piece of dread bubbling under than worries the World Cup hopes being gone, he might decide to call it in, which nobody wants to see.
Now onto one of the nations who will be in Russia next summer - Timm Klose’s Switzerland, who saw off Northern Ireland.
This one I must admit was not the outcome I was hoping for - sorry Timm.
For me, the big defender is currently neck-and-neck with James Maddison for player of the season so far, having well and truly sussed the Championship.
He’s looking a real leader and a massive, massive asset.
However, one thing he has made clear is that his international coach has told him while he is playing in the second tier, it will be difficult to select him.
This is fairly ludicrous for me, the latest squad featured players from the Swiss, Croatian, Portuguese and US top flights, all of which are weaker than the Championship in my books.
Nonetheless, I fear the Swiss qualification could be enough to get Timm thinking about whether a move would force his way into Vladimir Petkovic’s thoughts.
This, for me, would be one of the worst things that could possibly happen in January.
And finally we have England, who may actually have impact .
Angus Gunn’s shock call-up proved that Gareth Southgate knows the Championship exists.
Whether the call would have arrived were he not on loan from the almighty Manchester City is dubious - but nonetheless, perhaps it could prove to another rising star that being a Norwich City player does not render you completely invisible.
Could the call-up, paired with his own under 21 bow, bring even more out of James Maddison?
It’s an outside shout, but if he drags City kicking and screaming to promotion, maybe, just maybe Madders could be the obligatory jaw-dropping squad curveball.
Pritchard’s return can’t come soon enough
Alex Pritchard’s imminent return to the first team is going to feel like a new signing.
In a way, his injury could actually prove a blessing in disguise for more reasons than one.
First, the rise and rise of James Maddison may not have actually happened without it, by Stuart Webber’s own admission.
Secondly, the cynic in me says it may have taken him off the radar of potential suitors.
However, at the end of the day an in-form and fit Pritchard is easily in the top five or ten players in the entire division, so how could you not look forward to his return?
While it doesn’t offer width, the prospect of seeing him, Wes and Maddison forming a holy trinity in attacking midfield is mouth-watering.
If they can figure out a way to play as a three, with attacking full-backs providing the width, they should in theory have opposition defenders chasing shadows.
Having a player of his class to come back makes a real statement.
City’s Carrow Road hoodoo has nothing on Barnsley’s
The first international break saw Daniel Farke address a headache of a leaky defence.
This time, the issue he needed to address most was City’s struggles to win on home soil.
Therefore, I’m glad there is a chance to address this immediately, with our first game back being at home.
Not only is it at home though, it is against a side who City traditionally tend to have the number of - particularly at home.
The visiting Tykes have only ever recorded three victories in Norfolk - and to put this into perspective, only one of these actually happened at Carrow Road.
In fact, the last time Barnsley managed to come away from Norfolk with all three points was before the Second World War - May 1, 1937 to be exact.
While I’m probably administering the kiss of death here, what better chance to put this season’s home hoodoo to bed, than against a side battling a far more significant hoodoo of their own - one spanning a whopping 80 years?