Daniel Farke wants Norwich to do well in the FA Cup but also survive in the Premier League. Can they do both? And will one help with the other?
It might not be picked out by many as the most exciting game of the weekend, but Norwich City’s 2-1 win over Burnley will have given Daniel Farke’s side something important to hold on to. The victory was only the club’s third away win this season – having beaten Everton in the league and Preston North End in the previous round of the FA Cup.
After the game, Farke said: “We want to be as successful as possible in the FA Cup and also work on our little miracle, surprise everyone and stay in the Premier League.” Whether working on them both is feasible is a less obvious question.
The advantages and disadvantages of a cup run are much debated. On the one hand, going out of the cup early allows teams more time off between league fixtures, giving worn-out squads the opportunity to rest and recuperate. On the other, confidence undeniably impacts form in football, and winning a succession of games in the cup can give teams the push they need in the league.
Statistically for most teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, going on a cup run offers little to your points tally during the season. In the past four seasons, six teams who have finished tenth or below have made it to the FA Cup semi-finals. Of those teams only Southampton, in 2018, have improved their average points tally during the run.
Brighton’s journey to the semi-finals last season saw them drop from an average of 1.24 points per game to 0.59 as they began their FA Cup journey 13th in the table and finished it in 17th. Crystal Palace’s form dipped even further when they went to the final in 2016 as they went from averaging 1.55 points to 0.61, dropping eight places from 7th to 15th.
For these clubs, it is possible that the allure of the FA Cup was the opportunity to fight for something. Their league form dipped in the face of games that did not mean much to them as they knew they would finish mid-table. The last two clubs to go on significant FA Cup runs in seasons when they were relegated were Wigan in 2012/13 and Portsmouth in 2009/10. Both saw their league points average rise – although to no avail. It seems that stringing a set of good results in one competition did boost them somewhat in the other one, whilst for fans it offered something to savour in otherwise dismal seasons.
Norwich currently sit 20th in the Premier League table, six points off Watford, Bournemouth and West Ham and eight points behind Aston Villa and Brighton. Watford’s initial bounce under Nigel Pearson showed how a run of good results can quickly change things at the bottom. The problem Norwich face is who they have to pick points up from. Newcastle away next weekend is a competitive prospect, but following that they have Liverpool, Wolves, Leicester and Sheffield United. FA Cup run or not, they will be hard pressed to pick up any points from those four games.
Even if a FA Cup run can’t help Norwich’s league form, it could still offer a lot to their team. Alongside Aston Villa, they have been the Schrodinger’s Cat of the Premier League, bamboozling everyone by seeming to be both quite good and really bad. For Norwich, part of this comes from the youth in their talented team: there is a sense that Norwich’s appearance in the Premier League has come a bit earlier in the team’s development than anticipated. Max Aarons (20), Ben Godfrey (22) and Todd Cantwell (21) have all stood out this season. Having the opportunity to play in some high intensity, meaningful cup games, even alongside the threat of relegation, will be a fantastic opportunity to develop them further. Whether they will be able to hold onto them if they did go down is another matter.
This is the first time since 2012 that Norwich have reached the fifth round of the FA Cup. Not since 1991/92 have they gone any further than that. Whilst it might seem like an unwelcome distraction for a team battling relegation, Norwich’s poor run of fixtures would suggest that logically there is not much hope for the league. The FA Cup might be the perfect outlet for the team to show their ability in a slightly different format. And once a team starts winning, logic can go out the window.
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