Sunday 25 February 2018

City's juggernaut rolls on

From the Premier League leaders, another performance of control and confidence to demonstrate the seriousness of their title aspirations.

Manchester City, believe it or not, did not quite reach their most exhilarating levels but the pressure was near-unremitting as Norwich became the latest club to find out why Roberto Mancini's team have legitimate reasons to believe they can prise the championship trophy, finger by finger, from Manchester United's grasp.

They have now scored three or more goals in 11 of their 14 league fixtures and 48 in total, the latest rout coming courtesy of five different scorers, instigated by Sergio Aguero's first-half strike and followed by a four-goal blitz after the break from Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure and two of the substitutes, Mario Balotelli and Adam Johnson.

In the process, Balotelli may have become the first player this season to score, intentionally, with a volley off his right shoulder. Aguero's 13th goal of an illuminating first season in Manchester was a toe-poke between the legs of two Norwich defenders. This is the modern-day City: Double-nutmegs, scoring with all parts of their anatomy, leaving their opponents grateful to hear the final whistle. Once again, they demonstrated the qualities of champions-in-waiting.

The only grievance for Mancini was his side's continued inability to keep a clean sheet. Joe Hart has now been beaten in seven successive league matches, which constitutes the longest run of Mancini's tenure.

Nonetheless, it hardly represents a major cause for concern when they are so relentlessly prolific at the other end. "People automatically assume we are going to score five, six, seven, eight goals in these fixtures," David Platt, deputising for Mancini in press conference duties, said afterwards. "To be honest, we'd just be happy with one, as long as there isn't one at the other end."

Paul Lambert, the Norwich manager, reflected that 5-1 was "a mauling", although he argued that the score was not wholly representative of how the game had gone. But Norwich, after an encouraging start, struggled to replicate the confident performances that have already seen them draw at Liverpool and give Manchester United a scare at Old Trafford.

Steve Morison's heavy first touch squandered a wonderful opportunity to take the lead, after Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany had contrived to let him run clear, and the lesson they will take back to Carrow Road is that, at this level, you cannot afford to be so generous to your opponents.

What followed was a chastening experience for the promoted side from the moment Aguero opened the scoring with a brilliant and almost bewildering goal, wriggling one way, then the other, leaving one defender Leon Barnett on his backside, then scoring with an old-fashioned toe-poke through the legs of, first, Andrew Crofts, and then Marc Tierney.

It was a moment of improvisational brilliance -- outnumbered, starting off with his back to goal with hardly any room to manoeuvre -- that typifies City's confidence inside the penalty area.

As Platt said afterwards: "It was always going to take a bit of brilliance to open them up, and we have that kind of player." The second owed more to good fortune and came straight from a free-kick, Nasri whipping over a cross that the Norwich defenders left for one another and the goalkeeper, John Ruddy, helped into the net.

Yaya Toure scored the third with a lovely curled effort through a congested penalty area and the home side quickly re-established control after Morison, on 81 minutes, out-jumped former Arsenal defender Gael Clichy to head in the Grant Holt's cross.

Balotelli impudently made it 4-1 from the rebound after Johnson had set him up and Ruddy blocked his first effort, the ball spinning into the air to give the Italian his opportunity to improvise with his finish on the goal-line. Then Johnson, busy and eager to impress, completed the rout with a precise finish, running in from the right wing.


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