The major talking point for the home side is obviously the replacement of Joe Hart with Costel Pantilimon. The 6”8 stopper provided a solid display in the 0-2 win at Newcastle in the Capital One Cup, and kept another clean sheet in the game at the Etihad, albeit with little to do in the game. Alvaro Negredo came into the side, ready to continue his scintillating partnership with diminutive Argentine, Sergio Aguero.
Changes were made in both goals, with Norwich regular John Ruddy replacing Mark Bunn in goal. Gary Hooper started in favour of ex-Bolton man Johan Elmander and Nathan Redmond dropped to the bench in favour of Martin Olsson.
Partnering Fernandinho in the double pivot, Yaya Toure provided a virtuoso display against the Canaries. As part of this double pivot, Yaya Toure was allowed to bomb forward and link up with the forward players against Norwich’s defence, safe in the knowledge that one of the duo, in Fernandinho, would stay back in the unlikely case of a Norwich counter attack, to assist the defence, explaining the number of passes received from Spanish playmaker, David Silva (23) and the amount he gave to French counterpart Samir Nasri (21) on the other side of the pitch.
With Sergio Aguero looking to run into the box from his position as number 10, Toure provided a balance outside the box, dictating play against the Norwich defence. He did the job effectively, too, with a 93% pass completion rate, completing 23 out of 30 in the final third, as well as creating two chances. The Ivorian capped off a wonderful display with a curling free kick, reaching the top corner of the Norwich goal. As we can see from the picture below, while Nasri, Silva and Negredo are making their way into the box, Toure hangs outside the 18 yard box, not only to latch onto any defensive headers that may fortunately fall his way, but to provide a high defensive block to any possible Norwich counter-attacks and allow Toure, not abundantly blessed with pace, to get back quicker.
Irrespective of the performances he turns in from now until the end of his stay at the Ethiad, Sergio Aguero will have a place in Manchester City folklore, for THAT goal against Queens Park Rangers on the last day of the season to win Manchester City their first title in 44 years. Not one to rest on his laurels, Aguero has started the season in sparkling form for the Citizens, and his game against Norwich was no different. Though initially deployed as a number 10 to play off of Alvaro Negredo, Aguero’s movement on and off of the ball, especially to wide areas, made him a thorn in the side of the Norwich defence all day long. Aguero’s direct running in behind Russell Martin and Whittaker allowed him to play the ball across the keeper or back across his six yard box resulted in him creating 4 chances for his fellow players, two of which were converted. Aguero also added to the defensive side of the game, with one tackle. But it was his linking up with Gael Clichy on the left wing which provided the most satisfaction to watch, one overlapping the other to allow Aguero to create those aforementioned chances by bombing down the touchline.
The importance of Fernandinho since his big money move from Shaktar in the summer has been looked over by many, but not by Manchester City fans. Much like Gareth Barry, Lucas Leiva and John Obi Mikel, the defensive minded midfielder is a player seemingly only appreciated by the supporters of the club he is at. Alongside Yaya Toure, Fernandinho provides an option in the form of pressure release for the City defence, should they need it.
Able to drop in between the centre halves to receive a short ball from the goalkeepers. Generally positioning himself centrally and between the keepers 18 yard box and the halfway line, Fernandinho is at the centre of everything and offers a valve to release pressure from virtually any position inside his own half, and is able to start counterattacks through winning the ball, not dissimilar to Claude Makelele during his stay at Chelsea. Similarly to the French midfielder, Fernandinho’s domination of the aforementioned area allows the more offensively minded midfielder of the duo, Toure in this case, to go forward.
So what do you think? Is Fernandinho one of the best defensive midfielders in the league, or a waste of money? Will Norwich beat the drop? Will Pantilimon continue to keep Hart out of the squad, even in the big games? Can Manchester City win the league, despite their patchy away form?