How would you sum up Norwich's 2018?
It’s been a year of two halves. The second half of last season was rather like death by a thousand cuts; a midtable finish very clearly on the cards as the best-laid plans of Daniel Farke’s first season meant consistency was difficult to find. A cultural shift on the pitch and in the dressing room, with a heavy German influence, left the club stuck between the past and the present.
Finishing 14th was disappointing as a lack of goals failed to take advantage of some good play overall - City ended the season below Ipswich in the table for the first time since 2011, on goal difference. Since then, the plans of Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber have clicked into place. Raising over £30m in transfers and continuing to slash the wage bill, while also identifying some summer transfer bargains and pushing through young talent, has made it a difficult job. Most City fans were hoping a Play-Off chase might be possible, so to be in the top two at Christmas was little short of a revelation.
Who would you name as player of the year at this point?
It’s difficult to look beyond summer signing Teemu Pukki, a Finland international signed on a free transfer after four successful years in Denmark with Brøndby – two of which were under Brentford boss Thomas Frank. Prior to that he hadn’t quite cut the mustard at Sevilla, Schalke or Celtic, but he has been utterly ruthless for Norwich. 13 goals and six assists from his first 21 games earned him Championship Player of the Month nominations for September and November. He lurks on the last man’s shoulder, knows how to stay onside and has been able to pounce at the perfect moments due to his confidence being so high. Injury-time winners at Carrow Road against Millwall and Bolton Wanderers were truly memorable moments and he also proved the difference against Middlesbrough and Queens Park Rangers. Combined with five international goals as well, 2018 was the best year of the 28-year-old’s career.
What do Brentford need to do to beat The Canaries?
Ensure they are fit enough to last the full game, given the amount of second-half goals and late winners Norwich have scored. That comes down to the way Farke’s team control possession, moving their opponent around the pitch and wearing them down over the course of the game, as well as their own high levels of fitness. Moritz Leitner has been key to that approach, the former Borussia Dortmund man is the midfield metronome, with Alex Tettey his defensive lynchpin. Around them is a great deal of pace, with full-backs Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons encouraged to push forward. Most teams this season thought they could contain City but then realise disrupting the game plan is easier said than done.
What's your score prediction for the game?
Given that Norwich have been so good away from home this season, I’ll say 2-1 City.
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