What a funny old game is football. 10 days ago United were eight points clear and looking certain for the Championship. With a win today, The Blues can close the gap to a mere 2 points and put certain pressure on United. Mancini, who earlier this week suggested the title is a mere formality for United, must be smiling inside. After undergoing a club crucifixion on Sky Sports News as the finely coiffured and tanned so called pundits ripped into the club spouting Red Top diatribe, the club and fans must hope for a League Title to shove it up their proverbials. Disgusting and clearly biased so called journalism from Sky who are clearly worried by the threat City pose to their established order.
The team had only one change from the one that demolished a weak West Brom side as Richards found himself replaced by the combative and very able Zabaleta. The sheet read as follows: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, De Jong, Barry, Silva, Nasri, Aguero and Tevez. The subs bench consisted of: Pantillimon, Richards, Kolarov, Milner, Yaya, Johnson and Dzeko. This was a team with goals, movement, pace and intelligence. Could they close the gap on a Norwich side with bags of goals and a never give up work ethic?
The game kicked off in the Norwich sunshine and it was Norwich. Clearly buoyed by their beating of Spurs in their last game, started the brighter. Their dominance of the opening ten minutes must have had many City fans thinking ‘same old City`. The Blues were struggling to cope with Norwich`s pace and industry and Kompany and Barry were both guilty of misplaced passes and bad decisions which could have cost their team.
The first talking point of the game came in the tenth minute as Tevez was clearly impeded in the box as his marker stood on his foot, bringing the Argentinian powerhouse to the floor. Despite being only five feet away and having a clear view of the incident, our ref for today, Chris Foy, not only waved away the City protests, but booked Tevez for diving. Either Foy is incompetent or he is a cheat, either way he shouldn`t referee.
The penalty claim seemed to galvanize City as they started to play the ball around with more pace and deliberation and the Norwich back four were finding the movement of Tevez and Aguero impossible to deal with. The two Argentinians were popping up here there and everywhere and as they drifted from midfield to attack, no Norwich player was quite sure who should go with them.
In the 13th minute, Norwich nearly went one nil up as Hart was clearly impeded. The ref once again ignored the foul and fortunately, Lescott was on hand to head clear as the ball was heading over the line. This was the final straw for City who were not only up against a very good Norwich side, but it would appear, the referee.
Two minutes later and the scoreline had changed. Tevez picked the ball up on the City right thirty yards from goal after a neat pass from Silva. He took two or three steps and unleashed a powerhouse of a shot which dipped and swerved, beating a usually reliable Ruddy at his near post. 1-0 to City and the game totally changed.
Minutes later and Aguero had a chance, but lost his footing at the critical time as Ruddy advanced on the ball. The swagger was back in the City team as Norwich were suddenly chasing a game that for the opening fifteen minutes they had totally dominated.
The second goal for City came in the 26th minute. Tevez had dropped deep and picked up the ball in midfield. He played it to his left to Aguero who returned the ball in a lovely one two movement. Tevez, playing his best football of the season, back heeled the return to Aguero who took one touch and put the ball past Reddy into the net. 2- 0 to City and fully deserved.
The remainder of the first half followed a similar vein as City totally dominated their Norwich counterparts, playing scintillating football, with a verve and tenacity unseen for months. They harried from the front, supported each other and chased down every ball. It looked like it could a drubbing for Norwich who looked totally shell shocked.
As the second half kicked off, Norwich bravely introduced to substitutions that threatened to derail all the City good work. Within seconds, it was clear that the substitutions had had an effect for Norwich. They were looking as dominant as they had at the start of the first half, however this time they looked like they may actually score.
Hart`s heart must have been in his mouth in the 49th minute as he saw Holt bearing down on him, but the Norwich striker scuffed his shot wide. Only a minute later and the home team had a goal. Zabaleta failed to stop the cross in from the Norwich left wing and Hart`s attempted punch clear was simply not good enough for a keeper of his calibre. It fell inside his own box at the feet of Surman and left Hart totally out of position, handing Norwich their goal on a plate.
The complexion of the game changed again as a resurgent Norwich looked for the equalising goal and City started to look nervy. The double substitution by Lambert seemed to have been a masterstroke of genius and for twelve minutes, the Blues didn`t get a sniff. Then suddenly, Aguero was through on goal and lashed a shot at the near post only to see Ruddy make an excellent save.
The next point of contention came in the 58th minute after Tevez had received a lovely ball from Nasri and pushed it past his marker, Bennett, who pulled the Argentinian to the ground when clearly beaten. Lucky for Bennett that one of his team mates was slightly further forward otherwise the card issued would have been red rather than yellow.
Two minutes later and De Jong played a lovely sweeping pass to Zabaleta who found himself in acres of space but he didn`t strike the ball cleanly and Ruddy made an important save. Mancini had seen enough now and introduced Yaya to give the midfield fresh impetus. This change was genius. Off went Nasri and so did Norwich chances.
What happened next can only be described as a masterclass in football as Manchester City showed the world what they are capable of with the dream pairing of Tevez and Aguero up front and a midfield made up of Silva, Barry, De Jong and Yaya.
Norwich were pushing the back line dangerously high up pitch and Tevez nearly beat their line but was flagged offside. Seconds later in the 72nd minute, Tevez had his second and City their third. Silva found space for himself and picked out Yaya on the City right. The towering midfield barged into the Norwich box and shot with power. Ruddy was only able to parry the ball. Tevez out jumped his marker and planted a header into the back of the Norwich goal. 3-1.
A minute later and it was 4-1 after a wonderful goal by Aguero as the two Argentinian forwards vied for goal of the match and the most goals. So two in two minutes and City were cruising. The next goal was handed to them on a plate. Tevez chased down Bennett whose back pass to Ruddy was weak and fell short. Tevez pounced, rounded Ruddy and slotted into an empty net to make it 5-1 to City and give Tevez the match ball. He celebrated with a lovely golf swing too.
With three minutes to go, City were looking totally dominant, as Richards replaced Tevez and Johnson replaced Silva. The Blues were looked to rub mustard into the Norwich wounds with a sixth. Johnson and Aguero both went close hitting crossbar and post respectively with Ruddy well beaten each time.
The final goal when it came was a thing of one touch beauty. Yaya picked the ball up on the right side just on the edge of the Norwich box. He shaped to shoot but then crossed to the far side for Clichy whose one touch pass set the ball on a plate for Johnson who side footed past a bemused Ruddy to make the score an unbelievable 6-1 to City with an aggregate score of 11-2 against a Norwich side who let`s face it are no mugs.
This was a game that must have struck fear into the Reds of Stretford whose eight point lead had been whittled down to two and whilst Mancini stuck to the line that the Title was going to the Swamp, he must have been having more than a chortle on the inside. It makes you think though, if Tevez had been up front all season with Aguero, how many points ahead in the title race would City be. It also makes you think what was actually wrong with Tevez and whether he was suffering mentally and needed the time to recuperate and discover his old self.
As for the ref, after analysing the whole game, he made some absolutely atrocious decisions, booking Tevez for a clear penalty (and not a dive) and not booking Holt for diving in the 45th minute when he expected Kompany to clatter him. I said earlier in the article that Foy was either a cheat or incompetent and after he made an equal number of mistakes for each side, one must deduce that he is incompetent and really should be relegated to Sunday morning school football.
Joe Hart – 7
His distribution was poor today and he was directly at fault for the Norwich goal. Not up to his usual high standards considering for the most part he was a spectator.
Pablo Zabaleta – 8
Got forward well, nearly had a goal and looked comfortable playing the attacking wing back role.
Vincent Kompany – 7.5
Looked solid in the second half but gave the ball awy a number of times in the first. His decision making is usually impeccable but made the wrong one at least three or four times today.
Joleon Lescott – 8.5
Looked imperious in the air and on the floor and the pick of the back four today.
Gael Clichy – 8
Got forward well. His crossing was good and he got an assist for Johnson at the end.
Nigel De Jong – 8
Allowed the City attack to do its stuff by unselfishly patrolling the City 18 yard line. More defensive than Yaya but lets the others get on with it.
Gareth Barry – 7.5
Had a good game but like Kompany, his passes were going astray on occasion. Also has a nasty habit of turning his back when blocking the ball.
David Silva – 8.5
A passing masterclass even when not fully fit. His through balls though are just not coming off at the moment.
Samir Nasri – 8
Looks like he is back to his Arsenal best and fits in with the team brilliantly.
Carlos Tevez – 10
A hat trick and a lesson in how to play the ‘in the hole’ forwards role. Utterly brilliant and had the Norwich defence at sixes and sevens. Hilarious in his Sky interview. The interviewer should be sacked though for asking ‘did you dive’ what an a hole.
Sergio Aguero – 9
Could have had a hat trick and his movement and balance is incredible. Probably the best all round forward player in the premier league along side Van Persie.
Yaya – 8
Bought stability to the team when they risked imploding after a spirited Norwich fight back.
Richards – 8
Went on a stunning run and took on the entire Norwich team. Without doubt one of the finest full backs in the country and should be an England regular.
Got a goal and looked better on the left. Still hasn’t shown the ability he has on the pitch and must be leaving his boss frustrated.
Roberto Mancini – 9
Winning the mind games at the moment and hiding behind his Italian when he doesnt want to answer a question. Could still win the league and if he does well……
Ref Watch – Chris Foy
Incompetent and utterly useless like most of the refs in the premier league. Made a number of bizarre decisions, the worst of which was the booking on Tevez for his dive. Replays of which showed Foy to be six feet away with a direct view of the incident which he still got wrong. Disgraceful and an embaressment to the League.