Manchester City vs. Norwich City: 6 Things We Learned
Coming right after a trip to Stamford Bridge and (as it happened) right before a vital Champions League match with CSKA Moscow, some home cooking and a visit from a side favored to fight against the drop had to suit manager Manuel Pellegrini just fine.
Except, well, it is never that easy for Manchester City, is it?
There were other changes in the XI, as well, from the side that labored through City's 2-0 win over Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup midweek.
Unfortunately for Manchester City, one of those changes was not the insertion of centre-back Vincent Kompany. Nor is he expected back anytime soon.
Manchester City faced not only a desperate Norwich City side. They faced questions about their championship aspirations.
After Chelsea's earlier result, Manchester City were given a giftwrapped opportunity to regain some ground lost in the Premier League table. To their credit, Pellegrini's men grabbed the chance with both hands.
The 7-0 victory over Norwich City will buy Manchester City peace.
For a day or two, anyway.
Manuel Pellegrini Is Managing with Supreme Confidence and Fear All at Once
There is no point in further discussing whether Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini did the right thing in benching embattled keeper Joe Hart in favor of Costel Pantilimon. That subject was worn out in the run-up to the Norwich City match.
It does bear discussing, though, what the significance of that decision is to Pellegrini and his still-young tenure as Manchester City's gaffer.
Hart had started 123 consecutive Premier League matches for Manchester City before sitting against Norwich City. That streak was, in no small part, due to former manager Roberto Mancini's staunch faith in Hart.
It was also due, though, to Mancini's palpable fear of ever losing points he needed with Hart off the pitch. That fear was evident when Mancini reversed course and selected Hart over Pantilimon for the FA Cup final against Wigan Athletic in May.
Pellegrini's decision to sit Hart after nine Premier League games, then, can be seen as both supremely confident and a bit scared.
Confident because Pellegrini was able to pull the trigger that Mancini never could.
Scared because Pellegrini, obviously, felt that if he did not make the change now, the Premier League chase could get away from him.
Manchester City's Defense Is Still Manuel Pellegrini's Sisyphean Rock
As long as Vincent Kompany is out of commission, Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini will be compelled to make his back line up from match to match hoping to find any combination that works.
Against Norwich City at the Etihad, Pellegrini had a handful of defensive options, but none of them were all that promising.
Particularly at centre-back, Pellegrini had no one he could really rely on. Matija Nastasic was supposed to be that man with Kompany out, but his contribution to the deciding goal at Chelsea last week rendered him as questionable as all the others.
Martin Demichelis looked all of his 32 years against Chelsea, so he was not exactly an exciting option either.
And Joleon Lescott and Javi Garcia (forever out of position at centre-back) were "break glass in case of emergency only" choices.
But Pellegrini keeps pushing that boulder up that hill, picking a back line and crossing his fingers.
For the Norwich City match, Pellegrini went with Nastasic, Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy as the starting back line.
Fortunately for Manchester City, their offensive output was such that just about any four back-liners would have sufficed.
All eyes will turn now to which four Pellegrini will choose for Manchester City's upcoming Champions League match with CSKA Moscow, where a win would virtually guarantee Manchester City a place in the knockout stage.
Norwich City Have a Real Battle on Their Hands to Avoid Relegation
For Norwich City fans, the revelation that Manchester City keeper Joe Hart was being replaced for this match had to be very welcome news.
Manchester City were still reeling a bit from the prior week's pratfall at Chelsea. Now they were putting in Costel Pantilimon for his first-ever Premier League start.
Imagine what the Etihad would have sounded like if Norwich City had scratched out the first goal of the match. Imagine how tight Manchester City's players would have become.
Instead, Manchester City had control of the match from the opening whistle and never let it go.
Norwich City forced Pantilimon to make one save—one—despite the fact that Manchester City began the second half up, 4-0, and really did not need to force the issue any more.
Manchester City Continue to Be Something of a Flat-Track Bully
Manchester City have a scoring gear that few Premier League clubs have. Unfortunately, they only seem to have it at the Etihad.
The Citizens rang up four against Newcastle United, four against Manchester United and seven against Norwich City at home. Not surprisingly, they lead the Premier League in goal difference (plus-17).
Conversely, Manuel Pellegrini's charges managed but one at Chelsea, two at talent-starved Cardiff City and none at moribund Stoke City.
And let's just agree never to speak of the blood-letting Bayern Munich committed on Manchester City at the Etihad in Champions League play.
If the Sky Blues have legitimate Premier League title hopes, they will need to start brutalizing teams away from home, too.
Football Is, in Fact, a Funny Old Game
At the moment Manchester City lost the point they so dearly fought for at Chelsea, the loss felt like the sort of incident that could irreparably damage City's Premier League title hopes.
A week later, that loss feels like it maybe never happened.
Think of it this way: If Chelsea had drawn with City, they probably would have gone to Newcastle United and taken care of business with a win. Four points. At the same time, City would have drawn with Chelsea and probably would have hammered Norwich City. Four points.
Instead, both teams picked up three points from two matches. And City are back to one slim point behind Jose Mourinho's Blues.
Apparently Mourinho's son does not have season tickets behind the Magpies' bench at St James' Park, since the Special One did not launch himself into the stands against Newcastle United.
Manchester City's Keeper Question Is No Closer to Being Answered
Manuel Pellegrini's bold move to replace incumbent Joe Hart with Costel Pantilimon in Manchester City's goal against Norwich City went too well.
Granted, any 7-0 win is a good 7-0 win. But Pellegrini learned absolutely nothing about Pantilimon's ability from a match where Manchester City had 69 pecent of the ball and put the match irretrievably out of Norwich City's reach by the interval.
So now, Pellegrini has to go through the same analysis—Hart or Pantilimon—for a match with far bigger stakes. Manchester City will face CSKA Moscow with (more or less) a trip to the knockout stage of the Champions League tournament in the balance.
At some level, Pellegrini would probably have preferred a 1-0 win with a few Pantilimon highlight-reel saves tossed in.
But you can't have everything, now, can you?