After the false start came the perfect introduction to the Manchester City public. Jack Grealish had lost in each of his first two games for his new club. His home debut had a happier ending, not to mention a happier beginning and a more enjoyable game in between.
The record signing’s name was announced last and applauded loudest before kick-off. He felt a crowd-pleaser before he had struck a ball. A chorus of “Super Jack Grealish” rang around the Etihad Stadium when he opened his City account, 22 minutes in. Admittedly, it was scarcely in the manner he might have envisaged, his maiden goal for his new club bouncing in off his left knee.
But Grealish is up and running and so, following defeat to Tottenham, are City. Eighteen months after they had last played in a packed Etihad Stadium, they reveled in their return. Much like the last game on this ground, against Everton in May, and Norwich’s previous visit, in July 2020, it ended 5-0. The first two goals contained an element of fortune but, even in the absence of the injured Kevin de Bruyne, the performance was one of dominance. This was a demolition job. “The result is the consequence of the many good things we did,” said Pep Guardiola.
After three successive 1-0 defeats, he could savour a response. The hunger in City’s camp was apparent when Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, who dropped to the bench after the loss at Tottenham, came on to score. By the end, their centre-backs were doubling up as attackers, with Aymeric Laporte scoring the third and Ruben Dias making the fifth.
Yet the outstanding individual was nowhere to be found on the scoresheet. Gabriel Jesus felt an unexpected choice on the right flank but proved an inspired one. He set up three goals as well as providing the pass when Ferran Torres had a strike chalked off. “An incredible, important performance,” added Guardiola. “I am so happy for Gabriel. In life he deserves the best because he is so generous. He never complains.”
The manager could claim an assist, too. The opener came courtesy of Norwich but also because of Guardiola’s changes. Two of those the City manager brought in combined, Rodri chipping a pass for Jesus to volley a low cross. Grant Hanley’s attempt to prevent it from reaching Ferran Torres instead sent the ball cannoning in off Tim Krul.
Jesus’ capacity to supply similar low crosses proved Norwich’s undoing and gifted Grealish a moment to savour, even if he knew relatively little about it. The Brazilian’s teasing centre struck his knee and rolled in. Jesus’ outclassed opponent Dimitris Giannoulis was substituted at half-time and if the youngster Bali Mumba fared better, he still set up Sterling for a tap-in.
It prompted Guardiola to challenge Grealish, who had scored from a Sterling-like run to a similar position, to become as prolific as his England team-mate. “If he gets the mentality to score goals like Raheem then [he can],” he said. “Raheem, when I arrived here four or five years ago, didn’t have the goal in his mind. That changed.”
Norwich’s poor marking did not. “To concede four times the same goal is difficult,” said manager Daniel Farke. “I am bit disappointed with the way we conceded.” Mahrez was left unmarked when he ghosted in to meet Dias’ delightful pass and cap his cameo with a classy goal. Nor did Norwich’s defence acquit themselves well when City scored in scruffy style from a corner. Ilkay Gundogan took it, Pierre Lees-Melou had blocked Laporte’s header but he reacted to drill in the rebound.
It left Norwich pointless, beaten by three goals by Liverpool and five by City. “If they play with confidence, City is the best team in the world,” rued Farke while Guardiola issued a warning to the rest. “Still we are not in our top,” he said. “Still we have many things to do.”