Six things we learned from Norwich City’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
From the perfect game plan to a pair of painful defensive lapses – Michael Bailey picks the key debates surrounding Norwich City's loss to the Premier League leaders at the Etihad Stadium.
1. The gaffer had a good day at the office – even if he may not have felt like it
Even Alex Neil admitted he could have been more patient at Newcastle with that second-half substitution, while the home games with Leicester and West Brom were won by the visitors' tactical planning as much as players' efforts.
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So in a word, things haven't really been working out for the City boss in recent weeks.
And yes, perhaps the argument could be continued into next week given Norwich did lose at the Etihad on Saturday.
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Certainly the look on Neil's face as he chatted through his post-match interviews showed that the result hurt.
However, this was a return to form. Neil did concede setting up a side to be defensive was easy to do as a coach, but his well-drilled side dealt with tweaked roles and a probing opposition seamlessly.
Norwich also grew into the game, carried a goal threat of their own and in truth, deserved to take something home.
That may well be where Neil's hurt comes from – because while the plan was to emulate West Ham's win at the Etihad earlier in the season, City's defensive lapses ultimately proved they weren't quite good enough to do it.
2. Yaya Toure loves coming up against the Canaries
He's a superstar of Cote d'Ivoire, a man who likes his birthdays to be recognised with cake – it's May 13, in case you're wondering – and a potential force of nature on his day.
He's also a long way short of hitting Luis Suarez proportions in terms of being a thorn in Norwich City's side.
However, Yaya Toure most definitely enjoys his games against the Canaries.
The midfielder's 89th-minute penalty was the sixth time in his last seven Premier League appearances against Norwich, that Toure has been directly involved in a goal.
That penalty made it three goals and three assists in those seven games.
That said, short of John Ruddy's save from Toure's first-half free-kick, Yaya was mostly a peripheral figure as the hosts huffed, puffed and stumbled against Norwich's mostly stubborn resistance.
For the record, even on a quiet day Kevin de Bruyne was able to clock his fourth assist of the season, alongside three goals from his opening seven Premier League appearances.
What Norwich would do for just a drop of that quality in their side.
3. Ryan is yet to prove he is the answer to the defensive riddle
The biggest thing brought by Alex Neil's defensive reshuffle for West Brom's visit last weekend was a prime opportunity for Ryan Bennett to prove he should be a regular starter for the Canaries.
It's a situation that could even stick beyond January if it all works out.
Now you'll struggle to find a centre-back that looks more cultured than Bennett, and his distribution remains wholly reliable. The issue is a little more fundamental – and it reared its ugly head again at the Etihad.
Nicolas Otamendi's bullet to open the scoring was superb – but it was effectively an unchallenged header, thanks to the Argentine's little shimmy of movement that left Bennett joining the rest of the crowd for Otamendi's majestic leap.
The same thing happened to Bennett at a West Brom set-piece the previous weekend, when City were let off thanks to Craig Dawson somehow heading into the ground and over the gaping goal.
There is a lot to like about Ryan Bennett and he's a young man who has the potential for a very bright future at Norwich.
But right now, he has to make sure his marking is up to scratch. What Russell Martin's one-game ban does do is take away any selection headaches for Alex Neil when Swansea arrive.
4. John Ruddy needs to change the narrative over his position – and quickly
The reality is, only the opinion of Alex Neil really matters in terms of John Ruddy's responsibilities and form – not mine and not individual fans.
That said, the noise is getting louder each time a new question pops up – and Saturday was no exception.
The City keeper was not alone in making a howler at the weekend, of course. And arguably, Joe Hart's error was even more inexplicable.
But that doesn't make what happened in the 89th minute any more palatable. And while Hart was able to produce a stunning save from Martin Olsson's deflected shot to make amends, Ruddy never got that chance.
He even saw his foot slip as Yaya Toure's penalty flashed agonisingly close to him – had he kept his footing, he may well have saved the penalty. Watch it again and see what you make of it yourself.
City have a promising keeper who looks better every time he's handed first-team duty. Declan Rudd looks ready – John would probably say as much himself.
Which means it's all about Ruddy showing his character, ability and turning things back in his favour.
5. Robbie even looks accomplished on the right flank
The man known as Big Grant Holt on Twitter, City fan Jon Rogers, used his Thursday appearance on Mustard TV's football show 3 Up Front to give his game plan for City at the league leaders – and he came up with a 7-2-1 formation, with Wes the lone striker and two holding midfielders ahead of pretty much every senior defender on City's books – fit or not.
And you know what, even he didn't put Robbie Brady on the right wing.
It felt like the biggest call of Alex Neil's game plan – yet there was no need to worry. In fact, Brady probably added another £1m on to the amount of value he's brought to the Canaries following his £7m summer move from relegated Hull.
Yes he looked tired as he gave away the late penalty on Raheem Sterling, that Aleksandar Kolarov could only slot wide.
His crossing wasn't quite at its usual high standard – even cutting back on his favoured left foot. His best cross of the day actually came from his right boot, while he also played in Matt Jarvis for his first-half shot.
Brady remains a terrific piece of business.
6. The gulf is growing – which makes next weekend crucial
Two parts to this last one. Firstly, the marvel of Manchester City's apparently bottomless pit of cash is truly manifesting itself at Eastlands.
The new academy stadium is not only a gorgeous piece of architecture, it's a better ground than most League One clubs – and it's solely for academy, development and women's football.
The Etihad is alongside the best places to watch football in the country – but the entire complex is out on its own. It's effectively a football theme park and something to behold.
And of course, that underlines the gap between the top of the Premier League and a club like Norwich, trying to secure a long-term stay in the top-flight.
There was a time when that was Manchester City's lot too – until their owners changed the rules.
Then there's the current Premier League table where, ignoring the ridiculous situation inflicting Chelsea, the bottom five are now somewhere between four and nine points off the rest of the division with 11 games gone – although Aston Villa play tonight.
Nothing gets decided yet, but the fact is Norwich could really do with a win when Swansea – four points up the road with one win in seven – visit on Saturday.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey