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Norwich City: Gabriel Sara analysis after player of the month award

Emi Buendia scored or assisted in 11 single-goal wins for the Canaries as they dominated the 2020-21 Championship, with his goal contributions earning Daniel Farke’s side 34 points on their way to the second-division title.

By January he was being tracked by Champions League-chasing Arsenal, by April he’d won the EFL’s Championship player of the season award, and by June he’d signed for Aston Villa in a deal that could be worth £38million. There was no doubting his status as the second tier’s best player that term.

That EFL award was the official recognition of that fact, and in spite of Farke’s all-encompassing style of football, it’s hard to argue that they could have come close to achieving what they did without Buendia.

But that was in a different era of yellow and green success, and all of the main protagonists have moved onto pastures new. There’s one thing linking that tribe to the current crop, however, and it’s in the form of a rather generic-looking divisional trophy.

Norwich Evening News: Emi Buendia was the Championship's best player when Norwich City were last promoted.Emi Buendia was the Championship’s best player when Norwich City were last promoted. (Image: PA)

The same organisation that formalised Buendia’s status as the best Championship player of 2020-21 has now done the same with Gabriel Sara’s August 2023.

The Brazilian’s status as their player of the month recognises tangibly what’s been bubbling under the surface of EFL fandom since the campaign began: that he may well be the best player in it.

To play how he did in a struggling side last season was impressive enough; he scored seven goals and claimed four assists in a team that finished 13th and garnered the attention of the world’s biggest clubs in the process.

That achievement was recognised by Norwich fans with the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy, but the club’s failures on and off the pitch kept national attention at bay in the short term.

Now that attention appears to be returning, and a situation similar to Buendia’s last year in NR1 is developing. Add to the mix that Sara has taken what used to be the Argentinian’s number 17 shirt, and the comparisons become eery.

The final few days of the transfer window were anxious ones for Norwich fans. Not solely because of late searches for a centre-back and striker, but for fear of a late swoop for their key man.

Stuart Webber avoided temptation this summer, but the same anxieties will undoubtedly be present in January, barring a dramatic drop-off from the dynamic midfielder.

Whether City have sustained their early play-off form will play a significant role in the decisions made at that point, and there will be a flavour of Buendia’s proposed move to North London.

But Sara is happy in Norwich, and won’t be agitating to depart. He’s a man who thrives on home comforts, even if he is comfortable in all areas of the pitch.

It’s arguable his influence is even more wide-ranging than Buendia’s was at Carrow Road, with the former Sao Paulo man vital to defensive systems as well as chance creation.

The 19 opportunities he found his team-mates stand out when reeling off his August credentials, but he’s also in the 83rd percentile amongst attacking midfielders for tackles and interceptions. He’s in the top 11 percent for clearances, and beats 61pc of offensive players when it comes to blocks and aerials.

Buendia may have been a ’10’ disguised as a right-winger, but Sara is a true ‘eight’ in every sense. His late runs into the box, eye for a pass, commanding strength and tactical intelligence stand out in almost every game he plays.

Even in last weekend’s loss to Rotherham, one of his poorer performances in a Norwich shirt, Millers reporters could be found raving of his supremity.

City supporters will be keen to quiet those shoutings down to whispers for at least one more season, but it’s hard to ignore the quality of their main man.

Possessing the Championship’s best player was the key component last time Norwich were promoted, and they’ll be hoping that’s the outcome once again.

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