Football Features

Have Norwich City exposed Man City’s only weaknesses? Winners and Losers from Carrow Road

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:48, 14 September 2019

In one of the greatest shocks of the season so far, Norwich beat Premier League champions Manchester City 3-2.

The Canaries shook up the world here, smashing City off the park with a devastating and ruthless counter-attacking display. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Emi Buendia

Before kick-off, if you were going to pick a winger to dominate and influence the game, you would have picked Raheem Sterling or Bernardo Silva. Before kick-off, if you were going to pick a no. 17 to dominate and influence the game, you would have picked Kevin de Bruyne and he started the game on the bench.

But no, the winger wearing no. 17 who did dominate the match was Emi Buendia. The Argentine was utterly sensational against the Premier League Champions. He was fast, he was furious. His ran like hell with the ball at his feet and without it. His defensive work-rate was monstrous and topped only by his sensational use of the ball.

First, he delivered a pinpoint corner straight onto the head of Kenny McLean, allowing the Scot to thump his side into the lead. Buendia followed that with a supreme display, and when City had pulled one back and looked sure to equalise, Buendia surged forward, robbed the ball and squared it to Teemu Pukki for him to tap home. A wonderous display of selfless individualism.

Loser: John Stones and Nico Otamendi

These two were once a Premier League-winning partnership. Now they look like a comedy double-act, one that specialises in cringe-inducing Ricky Gervais style comedy – and Carrow Road was their best show yet. Now, sure, neither of them was really at fault for Norwich’s first goal since City’s set-piece weakness is mostly structural.

But the second goal? That was atrocious from Otamendi who pushed up to try and win the ball back onto to be such a soft non-presence that Norwich didn’t even notice his existence. John Stones was just as poor, trying to play offside despite not knowing where Kyle Walker was (his compatriot was standing behind him) and then not reacting quickly enough to the through-ball. The final flaw was Walker’s, although even that reflects poorly on Stones and Otamendi for failing to organise the back-line.

And then the third goal was just a disasterpiece. This was Typical City, quite possibly the most Typical City one can get. The Champions had pulled a goal back late in the first half and many assumed the second-half was going to be a non-stop onslaught from the Sky Blues. Except the second Norwich showed any attacking impetus, Otamendi folded like a cheap suit. His lack of awareness as Emi Buendia easily robbed him of the ball and squared it for Teemu Pukki to score was just beyond belief. These two are an phenomenal pair of buffoons.

Winner: Kenny McLean

Imagine being Kenny McLean and preparing for your full home Premier League debut aged 27. Imagine also that this debut is against champions Manchester City, probably the best side on the planet. Then imagine that you’re only playing because both regular starters are injured, and that the starting centre-backs are out, as is the starting right-back. You’d be sweating bullets.

Then imagine you only go and thunder home the opening goal of the game with a storming near-post header. Just how good would that feel? It would be indescribable, right? Well Kenny McLean got to live it on Saturday evening. And beyond the goal he put in a superb shift making two tackles, seven clearances and four interceptions. McLean made it happen!

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Winner: Liverpool

It’s gotta be good being Liverpool, hasn’t it? Not only is your manager lovely and your forwards so fantastic that they can dig you out of any hole, but the rest of your team is on point as well. You’re an obscenely good side, with superb skill, vision and a coherent philosophy driving everything. Beyond that, everything is flowing for you, luck is on your side. Bounces of the ball, refereeing calls, you’re not just lucky or good, you’re lucky and good.

So even though Manchester City are going to blow Norwich away at Carrow Road, you’ll still be top of the league and in superb form. So you can make a great challenge and really try to win the Premier League title. You nearly went all the way last year and you can probably do it aga–wait, what? Norwich beat Manchester City? The Champions have drawn and lost a game whilst you’re still 100%? Well that’s pretty god damn great, isn’t it? Goodness, that’s special.

Allez Allez Allez, eh?

Winner: Daniel Farke

Norwich have already played Liverpool this season and even though they dominated the game they got smacked around Anfield and ended up losing 4-1. It was a harsh result for a good performance, but Norwich clearly learned some lessons because today, their next match against a Premier League juggernaut, The Canaries played with a bit more savvy.

Make no mistake they still played out from the back and attacked with gusto, their second goal was a beautiful flowing move from back-to-front that move through City like a hot knife through butter. This match was as spectacular a validation of Farke’s philosophy as you could imagine, tearing the Champions to pieces by playing their own way. As he said post-match “we cannot change our beliefs for one game,” and they didn’t. The German made no compromises and was rewarded with the greatest scalp possible.

Loser: Pep Guardiola

Vincent Kompany left Manchester City in the summer and the Premier League champions declined to sign a replacement. That’s just monumentally short-sighted when you consider that Kompany only had to appear and play the run-in last year because injuries took John Stones and even Nico Otamendi out of commission. So to think you could go into another season without signing a centre-back is lunacy.

Yet that’s just what Guardiola did, and now with Aymeric Laporte’s injury he was forced to rush John Stones back into the side and pair him with the volatile Nico Otamendi. This is the partnership that largely won the 2017/18 Premier League, but that was a long time ago now and neither man looks anything like the same now – nor do they play well together.

Watching Manchester City at Carrow Road and there was the overwhelming sensation of 2016/17, Pep Guardiola’s first season in England. That year it was obvious how good City were in attack but they were so open defensively that they kept on losing points down to poor defending and goalkeeping. Obviously City are much more accomplished side now than then, but because Guardiola didn’t sign a replacement for Vincent Kompany then his side may be at risk of a massive regression.

Especially because this match exposed more than just one weakness. It wasn’t just the poor defending from set-pieces and their lack of centre-back depth, but the fact that if you can just get the first goal: City can struggle. Guardiola’s men only trailed for 132 minutes in 2018/19, a Premier League record. They rarely if ever fall into a hole, they find it very hard to get out.

Last season, Manchester City won just 24 points from losing position. But alright they were rarely losing, yeah? Except that City have now trailed in 25 Premier League matches under Pep Guardiola and only come back to win just six of those games. Six. They have also drawn just six as well, meaning that half the time they fall behind they stay behind. This is only a small weakness because they are rarely behind, but in a title race as tight as City vs. Liverpool, even a small weakness becomes a fatal flaw.