The most expensive footballer in British football’s history may lose that title over the course of the next 10 days if Harry Kane joins him at the Etihad, but Jack Grealish has already returned on a portion of Manchester City’s £100m investment, scoring on his home debut in a dominant 5-0 win over newly-promoted Norwich City.
Grealish did not know much about his first goal for his new club, which bounced in off his thigh, but given his reputation as something of a maverick, he can pretend he meant it. It was one of three goals set up by the magnificent Gabriel Jesus, who failed to get himself on the scoresheet but excelled playing in an unfamiliar role out on the right.
Aymeric Laporte, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez completed a rout that ended with City playing with the verve and conviction that they failed to show in last week’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. From Tim Krul’s own goal in the seventh minute onwards, there was never any doubt that Pep Guardiola’s defending champions would pick up their first points of the new campaign.
Only three times in the Premier League era has a team lost their opening game of the season and gone on to win the title. City’s attempt to become the fourth saw Guardiola make five changes from the reverse in north London, one of which involved deploying Jesus on the right-hand side of a three-man attack.
Jesus is one of several City players to be disappointed with their lack of time on the pitch over the past year but, whereas Laporte and Bernardo Silva were once mainstays in the starting line-up and have genuine grounds for complaint, the Brazilian never truly convinced when stepping into Sergio Aguero’s shoes as a centre-forward.
Now, even with Aguero gone and a replacement pending, perhaps Jesus has a new position. Rodri’s delicate, lofted pass out to the right-hand side of the penalty area was chested up then drilled low across the box by Jesus. It was struck with enough force to rush Grant Hanley into a botched clearance, which in turn hit his own helpless Krul and bounced over the goal-line.
If Norwich had conceded in unfortunate circumstances, they were lucky not to soon go two down. Jesus was involved once more, pouncing on a loose ball, turning on a sixpence and slipping in Ferran Torres, whose fine finish would count for nothing. After a pitchside VAR review, referee Graham Scott judged Silva to have fouled Milot Rashica in the build-up.
It was soft, and any contact was minimal, but it would not matter. City doubled their lead seven minutes later anyway with Grealish’s first for his new club. Again, Jesus clipped his cross from the right with power – so much for it to miss Torres, its intended target – but enough for the bounce off the new signing’s thigh and in. Kyle Walker, superb throughout, had set the move in motion with an exquisite through ball.
Two up, any semblance of this being a competitive contest went. City were made to wait for their third but it was inevitable, with Laporte sweeping home after Norwich were too slow to react to Ilkay Gundogan’s corner. The game won, Guardiola began making changes, introducing the young Cole Palmer and Sterling, who finished another low Jesus cross. Mahrez, the third and final substitute, did not have to do much to beat Norwich’s feeble attempts at an offside trap and get the better of Krul for the fifth.
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