Aguero's bit of brilliance and Balotelli's shrug sum up City superiority
Manchester City 5 Norwich City 1
Sunday 04 December 2011
You could pick any number of statistics to illustrate this match. During the interval the screens flashed up the fact that Manchester City had enjoyed 78 per cent of possession. It was their 12th successive victory at Eastlands, in which time they had scored 36 and conceded five. However, perhaps the most telling statistic was that you could get only 8-1 with the bookmakers against Norwich losing 4-0. Old Trafford is no longer Manchester's most forbidding sporting venue.
Norwich had already gone to Stamford Bridge, Old Traffordand Anfield this season. Theyperformed well at Chelsea, they ought to have held Manchester United to at least a draw and they drew 1-1 with Liverpool. Here, like a man clinging to the rocks at high tide, they struggled manfully before being swept away. The Norwich manager, Paul Lambert, remarked that City's two late goals hurt: "because it looked like an absolute mauling which it wasn't."
It was, however, a defeat that was predictable the moment Norwich's defence gave way as Micah Richards, marauding down the right flank – always Manchester City's most dangerous route to goal – pulled the ball back for Sergio Aguero to turn through 360 degrees, leave Leon Barnett on the wet grass, and shoot past John Ruddy. It was his 13th of the season.
Norfolk is the land where the Lotus was born but here Norwich performed like a big clunky Volvo, sacrificing everything to safety. The halfway line was rarely crossed and City's attacks were thwarted by an out-thrust leg, a late tackle or a yellow shirt flung in the path of a shot. Before the interval, Norwich had less than a quarter of the ball but Lambert was right to observe that Ruddy only had a single shot to save.
"It was always going to take a bit of brilliance to open them up," said the Manchester City coach, David Platt. "But we have that type of player. We kept moving the ball, kept shifting it around and the bit of brilliance came."
Two minutes after the restart, Norwich had their opportunity to draw level but, although Elliott Bennett rounded Joe Hart, the angle was too tight and the shot finished up in the side netting. The collapse, however, was not long in coming.
It arrived without warning. Samir Nasri's free-kick was a gentle affair, directed at Edin Dzeko, who decided it was not worth pursuing and let the ball bounce in front of Ruddy, who simply pushed the ball into the corner of his net. The error was calamitous, especially since at Anfield in October, Ruddy's bravery and reflexes had helpedto earn Norwich a point.
Perhaps it was as well for the keeper's mental health that there were four other goals, although it might galvanise Nasri. Of the men Roberto Mancini has brought to Eastlands in the past 12 months, the boy from Marseilles appears to have had the most problems in adjusting, although Platt observed that "when he plays with that kind of zest, he is a force that can really hurt people."
By now Norwich were being hurt repeatedly as City's advantage in goal difference was pushed to stratospheric levels. Norwich clung on and scored one of their own with a fine header from Steve Morison but it was never anything other than a reminder that this was a side unused to capitulation.
Manchester City's goals looked casual but were superbly taken. Yaya Touré side-footed the ball into the corner of the net with an elegant swing of his boot while Adam Johnson found himself in a green sea of space in the closing moments and finished exquisitely.
However, perhaps typically, it will be Mario Balotelli's goal that will linger in the collective memory. It arrived from a distance of about six inches and began when Yaya Touré chipped into the box, allowing Johnson to feed the Italian, whose shot was blocked by Ruddy and spun up so gently that Balotelli was able to stand on the goalline and nudge it in with a shrug of the shoulders.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Richards, K Touré, Kompany, Clichy; Y Touré, Barry; Silva, Aguero (Balotelli, 72), Nasri (Johnson, 69); Dzeko (De Jong, 82).
Norwich (4-5-1): Ruddy; Naughton, Martin, Barnett, Tierney; Bennett (Holt, 60) Crofts, Johnson (Fox, 78), Pilkington (Hoolahan, 60), Surman; Morison.
Referee Howard Webb.
Man of the match Yaya Touré (Manchester City).
Match rating 7/10.
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