Norwich the right foe for City bounce back

Posted by David Mooney

Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty ImagesJesus Navas and Manchester City pummeled Norwich City 7-0 in their previous meeting this season.

Right up until the end of 1986, tradition dictated that miners working in the pits would be accompanied by at least two canaries. The small birds would react quicker to any toxic gases or fumes that may put the lives of the workers in jeopardy, so the alarm to evacuate the danger zone could be raised quickly. By 1987, electronic detectors had been widely brought in and the use of the small birds was phased out.

In November 2013, the Premier League sent a bunch of canaries into the Etihad Stadium in Manchester to "test the water" on how far a group of prospective title-winners were progressing, and the effect was one akin to giving Sylvester the Cat the keys to Tweety Pie's cage while the bird was looking the other way -- feathers everywhere.

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The warning signs had been there all season, but it was Norwich who were the first team to be on a huge hiding at the hands of Manchester City at Eastlands, as the Blues banged in seven (and it could -- perhaps should -- have been more) without reply. That free-scoring game, though, felt a world away from the side that struggled to break down Chelsea on Monday evening.

The bad news for Norwich is that should there be a backlash from that first home league blank since November 2010 by the Blues as has been predicted, it's likely to come on Saturday as City travel to Carrow Road. That's probably not what the Canaries wanted to hear, having been taken apart, put back together again, and taken apart once more at the Etihad earlier in the season.

However, there is a plus point for the hosts this weekend. One of the biggest factors in City's toothlessness against Chelsea on Monday evening was the personnel that were missing or were only fit enough to fill space on the bench. Fernandinho dropped out late on -- and will be missing for a couple of weeks -- and he joined the likes of Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri, who have been two of this season's most outstanding performers, on the treatment table.

Meanwhile, Alvaro Negredo was still suffering with that shoulder injury despite his start against Jose Mourinho's men; Javi Garcia was sidelined still and James Milner wasn't fit enough to come off the bench and attempt to change the game. With Stevan Jovetic only just returning from a long layoff, City's squad depth certainly will be tested in the coming weeks.

Bizarrely, Monday's defeat, it's worth remembering, is the first in over two months and makes it just one loss in 21 matches (18 of which were won) -- might have come at exactly the right time for the Blues. It halts any thoughts of invincibility that may have begun to creep into the minds of both the players and the fans when on such a good run of form. But it also meant that City just barely stay ahead of Chelsea and remain within touching distance of Arsenal, both of whom face tricky ties this weekend -- with the former hosting Newcastle and the latter traveling to Liverpool. Any of the top three could be in first position come Saturday evening.

Norwich have been having a difficult time of things lately, too: a 1-0 win over Hull and a goalless draw with Newcastle are all they have to show from their last five games, which includes a 3-0 FA Cup defeat to a less-than-impressive Fulham side.

City's haul of 115 goals in 38 games in all competitions this year leaves them in a healthy position to break all kinds of records; an article on the official website confirmed that netting eight more in the remaining matches will beat the club's "personal best" tally of 122 in a single campaign.

Given recent meetings with Norwich, there's a good chance of that 115 goals total leaping upward. Since returning to the Premier League under Kevin Keegan, the Blues have netted at least three when travelling to Carrow Road, with Carlos Tevez bag a hat trick, Aguero secure a brace, and Adam Johnson round off the scoring in a 6-1 win during the 2011-12 campaign. Last season, they scored four, despite a red card for Nasri before half-time.

Over their seven meetings in the Premier League since returning in 2002, City average four goals a game against Norwich -- and that's taking into account a 1-1 draw in November 2004. And, so far this season, the Blues have scored four or more on 14 occasions; a feat the Canaries have achieved once, when they put six past Bury in the League Cup.

While February presents difficult matches in the FA Cup and Champions League for City (as both Chelsea and Barcelona make the trip to the Etihad), the Premier League fixture computer has given the club a "kind" run of games -- one where the winning pattern could easily be re-established. As the table stands, only one of the Blues' next six opponents in the league is in the top half of the table; that’s Aston Villa, currently in tenth.

A big win against Norwich on Saturday could spark some more big wins in the coming games, and it would be the perfect pick-me-up for the club after the disappointment against Chelsea.

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