Four years ago Manchester City came to Carrow Road and blew away Norwich City 6-1, embarking on a run of six straight League wins that took them to the title. But in 2016 City were not good enough to do the same. Yesterday afternoon they played out a futile 0-0 draw, a result that does not do enough for either relegation-threatened Norwich or City, who by tomorrow night could be 12 points behind Leicester City with just nine games left to the leaders’ eight.
The difference between the City teams who won the 2012 and 2014 Premier League titles, and this one, is clear: City have lost their attacking sharpness.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side dominated possession against Norwich but were not good enough to score. Sergio Aguero worked hard but he never received enough support, especially in 58 miserable minutes from Wilfried Bony. Raheem Sterling and Kelechi Iheanacho came on, to little effect.
City came into this game off the back of dispatching Aston Villa 4-0 last weekend. This was their chance to win consecutive league games for the first time since October, a lack of consistency that explains why they are where they are, but they could not. “Must always think you can do it,” insisted Manuel Pellegrini afterwards, “when you mathematically have a chance.”
Naturally Pellegrini’s side tried to take the initiative from the start, and they barely allowed Norwich a touch in the first 20 minutes. Aguero naturally had all of City’s best chances. John Ruddy had to tip over a 20-yard free-kick, before saving well to his right from a powerful low shot.
Those two chances were the closest Manchester City came to scoring, which is damning given how much of the ball they had over the match. The second half was played almost entirely within 30 yards of Ruddy’s goal but he did not have one serious save to make. There was no real siege and when Aguero skewed a hopeful shot over the bar with two minutes left that was that.
“We worked very hard, and normally it is easy to create space and score goals,” Pellegrini said. “We tried different ways to create space but we couldn’t. It is frustrating because it is the best thing we do as a team. Today we could not.”
It was Norwich City, in fact, despite seeing so little of the ball, who had the best chances to win the game. Once they realised, after 25 minutes or so, how little they had to worry about they started to press City and cause them problems.
Alex Neil trusted Patrick Bamford, on loan from Chelsea, with his first Premier League start and he worked hard, despite little service. He managed to come closer to scoring than anyone else. When Nicolas Otamendi switched off, Bamford muscled him away from a bouncing ball and hit a shot on the bounce that thundered off the crossbar.
Norwich’s best spell came just before the break and they went close with the last action of the first half, as Matt Jarvis’ shot deflected off Otamendi, looped high, over Joe Hart and just beyond the far post.
The hosts spent most of the second half defending but still managed to create the best chance with five minutes left. Dieumerci Mbokani pulled the ball back to Graeme Dorrans but he skewed his shot wide of the far post. The point left Norwich in the relegation zone, though they only behind Sunderland on goal difference now.
“I couldn’t ask any more from our players in terms of effort and endeavour,” Alex Neil said. “I believe that we are good enough to stay up. We will see at the end of the season how significant that point was.”
Norwich City: (4-2-3-1) Ruddy; Martin, Bennett, Klose, Olsson; O’Neil, Howson; Redmond (Dorrans, 44), Hoolahan (Mbokani, 67), Jarvis; Bamford (Jerome, 67)
Manchester City: (4-4-2) Hart; Sagna (Zabaleta, 85), Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy; Navas (Iheanacho, 77), Fernando, Fernandinho, Silva; Aguero, Bony (Sterling, 58)
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Man of the match: Klose (Norwich)
Match rating: 3/10