City Slickers: An electric team performance in a stormy Manchester leaves City in Seventh Heaven

November 4, 2013 in Premier League by Emma Lucy Whitney

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Everybody has a day once in a Blue Moon, when absolutely everything goes right for them; for Manchester City, Saturday 2nd November 2013 was one of those days when everything we tried came off to perfection. The contest with a fragile Norwich City was effectively over as soon as it began; by the time Nastasić had scored his first ever goal for the Blues in the 25th minute, the Canaries were well and truly silenced. Damage limitation never entered the equation; City were simply a class apart, effortlessly outplaying Norwich for the whole of the 90 minutes. Perhaps the only City spectator wishing yesterday that he wasn’t watching the match from the Etihad sidelines was Joe Hart; ironically, his replacement Costel Pantilimon was barely more involved in yesterday’s match than Joe himself. Before kick-off, all the talk had been about the dropping of Hart; as it was, Pantilimon had the easiest of Premier League debuts a goalkeeper could wish for. It’s never easy to watch your team get absolutely slaughtered – every fan’s been there at some point - and taking delight in watching Hughton’s Norwich get completely dismantled is akin to kicking Bambi, but yesterday’s collective performance by the Blues was something else, a masterpiece in attacking football which deserves to be lauded on every rooftop, webpage and blog in the land.

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A betting man would have known yesterday’s match was going to be goal-heavy; in the past four league meetings between the clubs 25 goals were scored, an average of 6.25 goals per game. With City already sitting pretty as the Premier League’s top goalscorers before 3pm yesterday, and our generally excellent recent record against Norwich, this match had goal-fest written all over it, especially considering the need for a statement performance after our devastating last-minute defeat at Stamford Bridge a week ago. City began brightly, buzzing with all the confidence that abounds when we play at home; opting for a 4-2-3-1 line up, Pellegrini selected a strong attacking eleven, giving starts to Negredo and both Silva and Nasri. The latter two found it hard to play in tune together last season, yet this time around they’re unstoppable, with Nasri in particular seeming a man reborn under The Engineer. Demichelis was also handed his home league debut, though refreshingly for City this was a match that was all about the action in the opposition’s half; with 68.5% of the possession, 711 completed passes and a whopping 231 passes in Norwich’s attacking third, the Blues ran well and truly riot.

Nasri should have put City ahead after a quarter of an hour, skipping deftly past four Norwich defenders into the box and shooting into the side netting after a neat one-two with Silva. A minute later, however, Bradley Johnson obliged for City, as his attempt to block Agüero’s shot ensured that the ball looped over a hapless John Ruddy. City’s second didn’t take long to materialise, and again it was created from the left; with 20 minutes gone, Nasri played a sublime pass to Agüero, who controlled the ball with consummate ease before setting up the on-coming David Silva; the Spaniard bagged his third goal of the campaign with a well-taken shot that Ruddy might have done better with. In the 25th minute, City even did what for us often seems like the impossible, and scored from a corner. Nasri’s kick from the D found Nastasić who headed home not only his first goal in a City shirt, but the first goal for a City defender this season. Again we had all the luck, with a deflection from Martin perhaps ensuring that the ball found its way past Ruddy into the net. The build-up play for City’s fourth was just astonishing, with the lupine Álvaro Negredo finding himself in the perfect centre-forward position as City hunted in packs, Fernandinho, Silva, Touré and Agüero wolfishly tearing Norwich to shreds with eye-wateringly good football. Hughton argued that Agüero was offside, but no flag was raised and it would have been a travesty if Negredo’s conversion of such sublime play had been ruled out.

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There was every danger that City would sit back with the advent of the second half, allowing the already-won match to bore itself into a stupor, or even to ridiculously let Norwich get something out of the game. We let United off the hook in September’s derby (though Cleverley’s introduction did have something to do with this, to be fair) but yesterday, City were for once ruthless. I always complain that we lack that distinctive, killer edge – we’re too nice, almost, to kill teams off – but yesterday we had no such compassion. Norwich were dispatched as clinically in the second half as in the first, with the crowd greedy for more goals and the players eager to ramp up our goal difference. By the time Edin Džeko – brought on at half time for the excellent Negredo – was fouled just outside the box by Johnson, the Etihad was impatient for another goal. We all knew who’d score from the second referee Phil Dowd blew the whistle, and City’s stand-in Captain Yaya Touré duly stepped up to convert his fourth free-kick of the season. Touré makes it look so easy, but his kick was inch-perfect, leaving Ruddy with no chance. City’s fifth of the afternoon was also the first time this season a team has scored more than four in the league.

Five-nil up with half an hour left, City continued to show little mercy. Agüero got the goal his performance deserved twenty minutes from time, courtesy of a wayward clearance from Bassong; Silva’s determination to chase down the ball on the left in order to make the assist was just brilliant. Nasri was replaced by Milner just after City went six to the good, with David Silva following shortly afterwards; the mercurial Spaniard came off to an incredible, rapturous reception which was richly deserved. Demichelis had a chance of claiming a debut goal after pouncing on Touré’s second free-kick of the afternoon, but his effort was well saved by a beleaguered Ruddy; Silva’s replacement Jesus Navas then had a gilt-edged chance to make it seven, but Ruddy proved up to the task once more. The City faithful didn’t have long to wait, however, with Džeko getting in on the act; the Bosnian’s half turn and well-placed shot was coolly executed, making the score seven to the good. It was City’s highest win this season, at the Etihad, in the Premier League and since 1987’s 10-1 dismantling of Huddersfield. What more could a Blue ask for?

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After a performance like yesterday’s, it’s almost impossible to pick a man of the match; if only Silva, Nasri and Agüero could share the accolade. Fernandinho had another excellent game, and is improving all the time, which is especially welcome to see. Ultimately, it went so right for us yesterday because Norwich allowed us to do what we’re good at – their 4-2-3-1 set up gave us acres of space anyway, and combined with the fact that they didn’t press us enough, whether through intimidation or respect, we were allowed to run riot. City are all too easily thwarted when teams stand up to us, like Cardiff did back in August, but we’re rampant when we’re allowed to play, pick out crosses, use the wings and press on. Our 4-2-3-1 was more of a fluid 2-4-3-1, with the excellently aggressive Zabaleta and Clichy attacking the flanks and Agüero tracking back and reading space perfectly. It also helped yesterday that three of our players - Agüero, Silva and Nasri - are in the form of their lives at the moment. Norwich should have packed the midfield and parked the bus in order to eke anything out of this match, but thank God they didn’t. Fair play to the Canaries; when they did get the ball, they passed it nicely, and Pilkington forced Pantilimon to make a save in the first half, but Saturday was only ever a case of men against boys.
From a City perspective, we were electrifying to watch, as the rain lashed the pitch and the lightning lit up the Mancunian sky; when City are good, we’re bloody brilliant. We need to keep this ruthlessness up against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday and against our bogey team Sunderland – away – next Sat. That game will be a real test of this inconsistent City side, sublime one second, ridiculous the next, but, with all due respect, if we can’t beat the Sunderland side of ’13/’14 then we don’t deserve to even compete for the title, let alone win it. Whilst things look dire for Norwich and Hughton, yesterday was a great morale booster for City. More of the same please lads!

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