It’s the one we’ve all been dreading! A little trip to the league leaders, who can’t stop scoring. Is there anything Norwich can do to stop them? Dan Brigham asks blogger Alex Timperley from Typical City if there's any hope (no)
Dan: Hi Alex, thanks for joining us. So, Man City are top of the league. They’ve scored more goals than anyone else. No one has scored fewer than them. Yikes. What's changed from last season, when it seemed like Manuel Pellegrini was close to the sack most weeks?
Alex: City have had a pretty strong start to the season, yeah. Despite some disappointing losses to West Ham and Spurs I am very happy with how it has gone so far. We look a revitalised attacking force this year and it would be easy to point to the new signings – Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling in particular – as the reasons why. And yes, they have definitely played more than their part so far.
De Bruyne has been fantastic, settling in to his new team almost immediately and showing us what he’s all about. All of the people who supposedly watch a lot of the Bundesliga were dead wrong about him being similar to David Silva. They share some qualities but are totally different players. De Bruyne is far more athletic and is much more a weapon aimed at the goal whereas Silva is more of a puppet-master, the best No.10 in the world.
Sterling has started less well, but it's all relative. Starting less well than De Bruyne is nothing to be ashamed of. It is easy to see how scared other teams are of Sterling, and rightly so. His pace is obviously a tremendous asset but far more interesting is what he does with it. It means that defenders can't take as many chances, they can't afford to ignore him. That in turn opens up more space for others and has been a key feature of this season so far.
However, saying that it's all changed this season is a bit misleading. There was a lot of pressure on Pellegrini in the second half of last season following a frankly appalling run of results towards the beginning of the year. The manager was stubborn with his tactics and unwilling to make the changes which would have affected games. We lost a lot of matches we should have won and lost them in incredibly dispiriting fashion. Watching the league and the cups drift away was not great. However towards the end of the season Pellegrini made the tactical changes the fans had been crying out for and City finished the season in style, wrapping up a top-2 finish (again) and laying the ground work for this season. Crucially we did not stand still this summer.
A lot went wrong last season but that's behind us now.
Dan: As if you've come on here, the land of Wes Hoolahan, and called Silva the best No.10 in the world...
Ignoring the fact you've put five past Palace, six past Newcastle, five past Bournemouth and four past Sunderland, it's probably best we concentrate on those defeats to Tottenham and West Ham... Was there anything about the two defeats that was similar that Alex Neil can learn from? Did both teams exploit the same potential weakness? Or did they set up in completely different ways?
Alex: Haha, sorry. Can we compromise and say Hoolahan is the second best?
West Ham was a strange one. They scored from both their shots on target (if memory serves) and then we battered them for ages. I wouldn't look to that game for inspiration as on another day City would have won that. Maybe not comfortably, but definitely won it.
Spurs again, bit of a strange one. The game turned on two totally ridiculous offside decisions from the linesmen at key points and City were knocked well off balance. Spurs reacted to this a lot better and took full advantage. They worked harder than City in the second half, played more adventurously and with more imagination and deserved the win.
My advice to Norwich would be to press and harry like your lives depended on it if things go badly and take your chances. Though reading that back, it’s pretty general advice...
Basically, don’t do what Watford did. They came to the Etihad and had 10 men in their own half for most of the game. Daring City to attack isn't traditionally a good game plan, and they lost 2-0.
Dan: Hm well you're not giving us much to go on!
How about the defence? That came in for some criticism last season, but it seems to have been more solid so far this year. Are there still areas that are vulnerable? Which causes them most problems – pace down the wings or craft through the middle?
Alex: The defence last season was at times a bit of a shambles due to Eliaquim Mangala settling in and Vincent Kompany being injured a lot. They struggled for consistency and it showed on the pitch. Some of the same problems have carried over into this season, though on the whole the defence has been a lot better, albeit with a few hairy moments.
Kompany has been injured a lot (again) and there’s something weird going on behind the scenes between him and Pellegrini but Mangala has grown into his role a bit and Nicolás Otamendi has had a fairly good start, especially in the Manchester derby, which has covered for the big man's absence somewhat.
Full-back has been an area which has consistently worried me for a while purely due to how old the lot of them are. The ages of Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Aleksandar Kolarov and Gaël Clichy combine to equal 120 years. Having four 30-year-old full-backs in the modern era where they almost have to be wingers as well presents a weakness. Kolarov’s great start to the season has covered a traditional weakness at left-back but he is still vulnerable to pace. Clichy is nowhere to be seen. Zabaleta just got injured again but luckily Sagna has been having a great season.
Pace down the wings is probably the way to go, especially if your strikers are strong in the air, but there is joy to be had by constantly hassling the centre backs as well. They can panic sometimes but generally they are pretty solid. In fact, City in general have been pretty solid this season.
Dan: It's 16 goals in your last three home games now, which has led to a few Norwich fans to suggest that'll be doubled after Saturday...
Can you give us a predicted starting line-up and shape?
Alex: We are definitely having a good moment so a lot of goals wouldn't be a surprise, even without Sergio Agüero. The best thing about our goals this season is that they are coming from all over the team. City are an unpredictable attacking force this season and your defence and midfield have an interesting afternoon ahead of them...
Wilfried Bony and Kelechi Iheanacho will both start I think, similarly to Wednesday’s 5-1 cup win over Palace, and we'll see Sterling and De Bruyne in behind them hopefully. The defence should pick itself depending on the Kompany situation, as does the midfield. Hopefully goalkeeper Willy Caballero is nowhere to be seen. We've got a lot of injuries at the moment so Alex Neil should be able to predict fairly accurately what Norwich will face.
My line-up is as follows:
Sagna - Kompany - Mangala - Kolarov
De Bruyne - Fernando - Toure - Sterling
Iheanacho - Bony
Pretty much the side which faced Palace, a simple 4-4-2 formation with the potential to swap it around if necessary.
Dan: Gulp. Looks like another long day for our full-backs, in that case.
Right, let's finish this off with three quick questions:
Where do you think Man City will finish?
Where do you think Norwich will finish?
And what's your score prediction?
Alex: Haha, I suspect it will be. Our forwards are quite the handful...
I think we will win the league; I think Norwich will stay up – but only just. There are a few truly terrible teams near the bottom and that will save Norwich more than anything.
I’m going City 3-0 Norwich. Bony, De Bruyne, Iheanacho. Joe Hart to continue his march towards another Golden Gloves award.
Dan: Cheers Alex. I think we’ll swamp midfield and try and hit you on the break with Nathan Redmond’s pace (if he’s fit). It’s pretty tempting to predict a hammering, but I think we’ll keep it quite tight. 2-1 to your lot.
We love doing The Little Yellow Bird Project, and we would like to keep doing it. If you would like to donate to this noble cause and help keep the website and podcast going, then please press the donate button below. Thank you!