Robin Sainty: City need to prove display at Old Trafford was an aberration
PUBLISHED: 06:30 18 January 2020
It would be nice to be able to put a positive spin onto Norwich City's defeat at Old Trafford, but the truth is that there was very little to be positive about.
The only time that I have seen City so completely outclassed this season was the 5-1 loss at home to Villa, and there were extenuating circumstances in that case with the injury crisis at its height, but on Saturday they performed like a team lacking belief in what they were trying to do.
There was no energy, their passing was laboured, and their tackling was often powderpuff. From the moment that Marcus Rashford reacted to Juan Mata's cross while Max Aarons and Christoph Zimmermann were marking fresh air the writing was on the wall, but the two early goals in the second half both finished the game as a contest and threatened a rout.
In fact the second summed up City's performance with Emi Buendia making no attempt to track as Brandon Williams ran past him into 20 yards of empty space before being brought down by Tim Krul for the penalty which Rashford converted.
The third was almost as bad with Anthony Martial, a player hardly renowned for his aerial prowess, out-jumping five defenders from a short corner, an indication of the scrambled thinking in the City ranks.
It was a strangely abject performance from which few in yellow shirts emerged with too much credit, although Grant Hanley and Sam Byram were notable exceptions, while Buendia was as creative as usual but clearly missed Teemu Pukki's movement off the ball as Adam Idah unsurprisingly struggled to get away from Harry Maguire.
However, in fairness to Idah his team-mates showed no inclination to use his pace to get behind the United defence. On a number of occasions the youngster was clearly primed for a ball over the top, but none was forthcoming and the fact that Maguire and his colleagues were able to feel confident that they wouldn't be turned made their afternoon extremely comfortable.
Such a lukewarm showing was out of character given that City had previously gone toe to toe with Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. It certainly can't have been due to an intimidating atmosphere within Old Trafford, which increasingly seems to be turning into a sort of football theme park awash with half-and-half scarves and an announcer whose job description seems to require him to use the phrase "Theatre of Dreams" as often as possible.
There will hopefully be rather more passion in the stands against Bournemouth this afternoon and hopefully last weekend's performance on the pitch will prove to be an aberration. Certainly the injection of new blood in the form of Ondrej Duda and Lukas Rupp into the squad and the return to full training of Ben Godfrey will be positive factors.
Duda is a high-quality player who should be capable of a making a significant impact in an area where City have been sadly lacking this season, with only Todd Cantwell of their attacking midfielders producing goals as well as creativity, but Rupp is an interesting signing, in that he appears to be a departure from the recent template of young players with something to prove.
What he does bring, however, is considerable experience with several seasons in the Bundesliga under his belt and it seems that he is more of a workhorse than an artist, which would seem to suggest that Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke have recognised that City's midfield requires a little more grit to add to its undoubted creativity.
I think we will see more movement in the transfer market, but the club's current league position obviously complicates matters with players inevitably wary of joining a club that looks likely to go down.
As for today's game, it really does seem like City are drinking in the last chance saloon, but a win would give renewed hope of a miracle.