Wilfried Bony showing why he’s not up to standard at Man City, the felt absence of Yaya Toure, and why the title is now a two-horse race are just three of the talking points to emerge from Man City’s 0-0 draw at Norwich.
Flat-track bullies City don’t have title qualities
If Manchester City still fancied their title chances before today’s match at Carrow Road, their lack of urgency and cutting edge will have been a major concern for Manuel Pellegrini ahead of the run-in. In fact, having had no shots on target in second half, City’s display was more reflective of a side enjoying the comfort of mid-table security rather than one who could yet ensure a glorious end to the Chilean’s reign at the Etihad.
City had gone into the match with a reputation for being something of flat-track bullies, with this graphic from Sky Sports showing exactly how effective they are against the lesser quality sides in the Premier League.
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 12, 2016
But City neither showed the quality or the desire to break down a Norwich side, who very rarely keep clean sheets. And if they can’t take solace from beating a struggler, what chances do they have of claiming enough wins to win the title?
Their failure to claim successive wins in the Premier League since October tells you more than enough about their inconsistencies this season.
City had gone into Saturday’s match with a word of warning from Pellegrini, who said they’d need to win nine of their remaining 10 games to win the title.
In fact, having now won one of their last five Premier League games, City have not only ensured their own title prospects are on the drift, it also likely means this season’s Premier League title will come down to a two-horse race between Leicester and Tottenham – and who would’ve called that back in August?!
Bony performance reflective of a man who knows he’s leaving
Question marks have emerged over Wilfried Bony’s future at Man City and he’s one of a few players who look set to move to pastures new once Pep Guardiola comes in this summer.
But starting alongside Sergio Aguero in a 4-4-2 selection today, the Ivorian had a real opportunity to prove himself worthy of a long-term City stay. It was a chance that he wasted after a truly lacklustre display.
Bony has now scored eight goals in 27 appearances for City this term. But predominantly as a goalscorer, he’s certainly a player who should’ve thrived alongside Aguero against a porous defence such as Norwich’s. But Bony offered City little. Granted, his languid style does him no favours, but if he’s not scoring goals, what is he offering?
Although a consistent run in the side has rarely been afforded, it’s easy to see why on today’s display, and the fact that he was hooked on 57 minutes was probably 12 minutes too late. Bought in an eye-watering, which revealed earlier on Saturday, could amount to as much as £33million, Bony had the air of a man who knows his time is up, rather than one determined to prove otherwise. Pep will not have been impressed.
Tighter look for Norwich gives them survival chance
Played 30, won six, drawn seven, lost 17.
Norwich probably don’t have the quality to survive in the Premier League this season, but a battling point against title-chasing Manchester City at least gives them some hope.
After an opening 20 minutes that saw them chasing City’s tails, Norwich gradually found their footing in the game and, but for a little more quality in the final third, might have claimed a rare win against a top-four side.
Norwich’s defence has so often been their downfall this season, but after only a fourth clean sheet of the season, Alex Neil’s men at least showed they were learning some lessons, and marshalled by the excellent Timm Klose – who joined in the January window from Wolfsburg – they at least now have a defender who gives their defence some authority and organisation.
Bamford impresses on first Prem start
As a striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, ploughing a lone furrow in the Premier League these days is often a thankless task – especially in a Norwich side struggling to supply much ammunition behind you.
When I saw Patrick Bamford had been afforded a rare start as a lone frontman, I found myself questioning the wisdom of Alex Neil – not least because it’s not a position he’s suited to. If anything, Bamford would be better selected in the No 10 role, just behind someone like Cameron Jerome or Dieumerci Mbokani.
But after an industrious performance, it was probably a decision Neil wouldn’t have regretted and his ability to drop deep and pick up the ball – with Norwich almost playing the false No 9 – often caused Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi trouble.
In fact, Bamford was unlucky not to mark his first ever Premier League start with the opening goal, when after 39 minutes, he once again dropped deep to pick up a bouncing ball and unleash a dipping volley that beat Joe Hart. Brought off after 67, Bamford can be pleased by his efforts, and despite the lack of a goal, his performance will have pleased his manager.
Yaya missed as Fernadinho / Fernando axis fail to impress
Yaya Toure’s strained relationship with Pep Guardiola has been well documented and a parting of ways this summer seems an absolute inevitability. But with a year after this season still left on his contract, surely the incoming boss would be best served to let bygones by bygones and keep the midfielder at the Etihad for another year at least?
Against Norwich on Saturday, City opted for a rare 4-4-2 formation – a starting line-up that afforded Brazilian duo Fernando and Fernandinho rare starts together in the engine room. and while the duo did OK in the early stages, they did not dominate in the centre of the park, nor offer City enough. In fact, you get the sense that the duo are too similar in style.
Worse yet for City, their inclusion in the central positions forced playmaker David Silva into an uncomfortable role on the left side of midfield. The Spaniard switched to a more central role in the second half, with Raheem Sterling coming on and City switching to a more conventional 4-2-3-1.
In fact, you can’t help but feel a central duo of Toure – and Ilkay Gundogan – should they, as expected, sign him – would be a brilliant combination for Guardiola.
According to whoscored.com, Toure’s seasonal average this year (7.33) would make him the ideal midfield foil for Ilkay Gundogan (7.41), but after this game, Fernando (6.76) and Fernandinho (7.19) underlined why they simply don’t offer the same quality of the Ivorian.