LONDON: Manchester City are now five points behind Liverpool at the top of the Premier League after only five rounds of matches. This time last season Jurgen Klopp & Co held only a two-point advantage over Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions. Back then Liverpool were within reach. Not now.
On top of that City’s transfer policy, surprisingly, has come under critical focus after the defensive blunders responsible for their 3-2 defeat away to Daniel Farke’s Norwich, the most high-profile victory in the 42-year-old’s coaching career.
The Canaries, missing seven players through injury and denied the use of City loanee Patrick Roberts, took the lead in the 18th minute. Kenny McLean headed home a corner at the near post and then Teemu Pukki set up Todd Cantwell for a second.
City hit back before half-time when Sergio Aguero headed home Bernardo Silva’s cross. After the interval a mistake by Nicolas Otamendi allowed the outstanding Emiliano Buendia to provide the assist for a third goal from Pukki. City, for all their pressure, did not manage a consolation until the 87th minute through Rodri.
The in-form Pukki has been involved in eight goals (six goals, two assists) in his first five Premier appearances; he is also the first player to score in his first three home Premier appearances since Alexandre Lacazette in 2017 and the first Finn to do so since Jonatan Johansson in 2000; Buendia is the first midfielder to assist as many as four goals in his first five Premier appearances since Eden Hazard for Chelsea in 2012.
Aguero’s goal made him only the third man to score in each of the first five games of a Premier League season. His record this season is seven goals and one assist and his City career tally over eight years is 170 goals and provided 44 assists.
Defeat was not the platform from which City wanted to launch a busy post-break sequence with a Champions League visit to face Shakhtar in Ukraine on Wednesday.
Guardiola refused to blame his players. He said: “People cannot expect us to pick up 100 points. It’s only September, so we won’t be saying: ‘Congratulations Liverpool, you are the champions’. These things happen. I’m happy with my players because we created more chances and Norwich had fewer.”
City have injury worries with Leroy Sane in attack and Aymeric Laporte in central defence absent until the new year. The surprise is that such a rich club did not act more decisively to strengthen defence during the summer after the departure of influential Vincent Kompany. John Stones has been out of form since last spring and Otamendi had a disastrous game at Norwich. More, City continue to rely on Oleksandr Zinchenko as a makeshift at leftback.
The loss of Laporte is more important than the loss of Sane. City’s squad is packed with fine attackers but not defenders. Guardiola has been reduced to talking up the match prospects of youngsters Eric García and Taylor Harwood-Bellis as well as the emergency conversion of Fernandinho.
City are the first club to invest more than €1bn in the transfer market to assemble their squad. Oddly, perhaps this was not quite enough if they want to both win the Champions League and overhaul Liverpool in the Premier League yet again.
Farke dedicated victory to Norwich’s husband and wife owners Michael Wynn-Jones and TV celebrity cook Delia Smith. He said: “I couldn’t ask for better owners. They’re committed, have kind hearts and they deserve a night like this.
“Our spirit, togetherness and the way we stuck together was crucial. It was a difficult week for us with injury after injury plus having to play differently against such a quality team. But we found the right words and we made the right decisions.
** Mesut Ozil enjoyed his first 70 minutes of term as sloppy Arsenal drew 2-2 at bottom-of-the-table Watford. Ozil was influential in midfield in his first game after a pre-season security incident. He helped create the second of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s two goals only for the Gunners to drop a two-goal lead.
A mix-up between Berno Leno and Sokratis presented Tom Cleverley with Watford’s first goal and David Luiz conceded a penalty from which Roberto Pereyra equalised.