This game couldn’t have come at a worse time for Middlesbrough who have recently entered a rut of form, having lost 4 of their last 5 games in all competitions. The most glaring of which came with a defeat to lowly Rotherham United. Norwich City, on the other hand, are currently perched at the top of the table, putting themselves in poll position to earn promotion at the first time of asking.
Middlesbrough could also be due a visit from former Middlesbrough captain and nephew to the clubs chairman, Ben Gibson, the imposing centre back has been an almost constant target for his home town since it became clear that he would be getting few, if any, minutes at Burnley. Unfortunately the financial implications made the deal unlikely and then Norwich City came in for the player and Middlesbrough couldn’t compete with the financial terms that the Canaries offered Burnley. On the other hand, the unfortunate injury to striker Jordan Hugill will mean that the target man will not be facing his hometown and former club. As unfortunate it is that he has a hamstring injury, it does improve Middlesbrough’s chances of getting a result as the former West Ham United attacker has a knack for scoring against the Teessiders.
Norwich City's Season So Far:
The Norfolk based team currently sit at the top of the table after coming out victorious on 16 occasions so far this season while they have held 5 other teams to a draw and lost just 4 games up to their clash against Middlesbrough. This has put them in a great position to push on and win the league as they sit 6 points ahead of other candidates Swansea City and Watford.
The team currently has a +14 goal difference as they have successfully found a good balance between defensive security and offensive prowess, only conceding 21 goals and scoring 35. Interestingly, this is not the highest goal difference in the top six as Swansea, Brentford and Bournemouth all have a better goal difference. This shows that the team will not step up the gears to make improve their goal difference if they don’t need to and instead focus on preventing the side sustaining too many injuries or tiring themselves in a compressed season.
Norwich City's Recent Form:
Middlesbrough’s hopes may well have been raised by Barnsley’s success against a talent filled Canaries in the cup. However these hopes will be subdued as the sides ruthless form in the league, winning against Bristol City, Cardiff City, Coventry City and Barnsley, shows that there hasn’t been a recent downturn in performance. An extended look past these successive wins show that they drew against QPR and last lost against Watford, one of the other top sides in the league, and before that they were on another winning streak.
Taking the last 5 games in the league Norwich City have won 4 games and drawn one, scoring an average of 2 goals per game and only conceding 2 overall. This poses a troubling question for Middlesbrough who have difficulty scoring goals and the potential loss of Dijksteel and Dale Fry could prove to weaken the backline too.
Top Goalscorer: Teemu Pukki (11)
Most Assists: Emiliano Buendia (7)
Most Yellow Cards: Ben Gibson, Christoph Zimmerman, Jacob Sørensen, Max Aarons, Oliver Skipp, Todd Cantwell (3)
Most Red Cards: Adam Idah, Emiliano Buendia (1)
One to watch: Emiliano Buendia
There are a number of top talents to choose between when picking a one to watch for Norwich City. Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell pose a massive attacking threat that will need to be dealt with. Meanwhile the likes of Oliver Skipp and Mario Vrancic are great in midfield as are Max Aarons and Ben Gibson in defence. However it is Emiliano Buendia, who has garnered some interest from Premier League stalwarts Arsenal. Though it seems unlikely that the Argentinian will be leaving the club during this transfer window as Norwich City have slapped a £50m price tag on his head and Arsenal have moved for alternative creator Martin Odegaard.
The interest in the Argentinian is hardly a surprise as the player has a lot of enviable attributes. He often starts on the right hand side but will drift around the mid-spaces between defence and midfield looking to collect the ball. He will then try to do one of three things: find a defence splitting pass, run at the defence or shoot. He has the ability to pull any off any of these options and so it would be best for Middlesbrough to prevent him from even attempting them.
His current haul of 7 goals and 7 assists in 21 games speaks for itself as he has been directly involved in a goal every 1.5 games.
Middlesbrough will hope that their man-marking system will help to subdue to the player by preventing him from getting enough space on the ball to threaten the Middlesbrough defence.
Manager: Daniel Farke
The current Norwich City head coach will need no introduction as Farke has graced many television screens up and down the country in Match of the Day post-match interviews. Yet, at 44 years of age, the German has had a relatively short managerial career to date, holding only three such roles so far in his career.
Daniel Farke isn’t well known for his playing career, having never left German soil during his time as a forward. However his career extended from 1994 to 2008, giving him 14 years of footballing experience. Most of this time was played in the now nonexistent Oberliga Westfalen, or the highest level league in the region of Westphalia as he failed to make it into the national leagues. The Steinhausen-born manager made a total of 256 career appearances and was a prolific striker scoring 124 goals. This resulted in a career average of a goal per 2 games which is not too dissimilar to his main striker, Teemu Pukki’s current strike rate. His career extended across five separate teams, one of which he returned to on 3 separate occasions: SC Paderborn 07 (1994-1997), SV Lippstadt 08 (1998-2003, 2005-2006, 2007-2008), SV Wilhelmshaven (2003-2005), Bonner SC (2005-2006), SV Meppen (2006-2007).
At 31, Daniel Farke hung up his boots and pursued a career as a sporting director. He studied economics and took a coaching course to sympathise with his coaching colleagues. He took a sporting director role at SV Lippstadt, the club he frequently returned to as a player, which developed into a dual role as sporting director and manager. After six-years at SV Lippstadt, he caught the interest of Borussia Dortmund. He took over their second team in November 2015, impressing as he turned the teams fortunes around. Finally he moved to Norwich in May 2017 as their first ever foreign head coach. He has since lead the team to promotion and is within reach of doing it a second time.
Emiliano Buendia (highlights):