How Norwich upset Man City to claim the Premier League season's most shocking win
NORWICH, England -- What happened at Carrow Road on Saturday is one of the reasons we are all in love with football, even if fans of Manchester City might feel a little differently.
By contrast, disbelieving Norwich supporters must pinch themselves to believe what they saw, as their team's 3-2 win marked the biggest sensation of the Premier League season. The newly promoted side were supposed to be complete no-hopers, with British bookmakers quoting them at 20-1 in a two-horse race. Their injury-ravaged team, with the worst defensive record in the division, could surely not compete with the champions' lethal attack, who were unbeaten in the league since losing at Newcastle in late January.
The Canaries spent just £1.4 million ($1.75m) in the summer transfer window -- the lowest of any team in the top flight -- and faced a Man City squad that, according to a recent study, cost almost £1 billion to put together.
But the mission impossible became reality in one of the most dramatic games I have covered in recent years.
How did it happen? Were Norwich that good or Manchester City that bad? The answer was possibly a bit of both, although most of the explanation lies in the remarkable performance of the home side, who pulled off a tactical trick most of us thought was not in their repertoire.
Usually, Norwich are a bold, front-foot team that moves the ball quickly to set up chances for their ace scorer Teemu Pukki. Defence had often looked an optional extra, but perhaps fearing a morale-sapping mauling, manager Daniel Farke asked his depleted team to defend deep and close down all the avenues in which Man City operate.
This called for heroic contributions from three players making their first league starts of the season because of the injury crisis: Sam Byram, unwanted by West Ham; Ibrahim Amadou, on loan from Sevilla; and veteran midfield man Alex Tettey, who was with the club during its last Premier League adventure, some four years ago.
Norwich's concentration and covering were so exemplary that Pep Guardiola's team looked flat, possibly even complacent. Once Kenny McLean, another man who probably would not have been playing but for the absentees, put Norwich ahead in a rare foray forward after 18 minutes, the underdogs from Norfolk started to believe.
The front four of Pukki, Emiliano Buendia, Marco Stiepermann and Todd Cantwell, ensured that breaks were made with craft and menace, and when Pukki set up a second for Cantwell, born 20 miles from Norwich in Dereham, the atmosphere became even more frenzied.
When Sergio Aguero pulled one back just before half-time, it seemed as if normality would return. It did not. A shocking error by Nicolas Otamendi led to Pukki scoring again, five minutes after the break. The score was 3-1 and a sense of the surreal pervaded the East Anglian night.
Man City threw on Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez, but Norwich -- inspired by 21-year-old defender Ben Godfrey -- repelled everything until a long-range effort from Rodri pulled Man City within one again and set up a nerve-shredding finale.
Norwich fans boomed out their quaint "On the ball, City" anthem and the final whistle was greeted with a roar that was ear-splitting. Outside, supporters taunted their away rivals with playful chants of: "Champions of England, you're having a laugh."
Nobody should write off Guardiola's team on the back of one bad night, but the game raises questions about how good Man City's defence is without the commanding Aymeric Laporte, who is out until February with a knee injury. In his absence, Otamendi and John Stones were far from convincing.
Few slip-ups will be allowed by a Liverpool team that continues to rack up the wins and already enjoys a five-point lead at the top of the table.
As for Norwich, this was a highly improbable win that defied all logic, but which was well deserved and earned with a lorry load of sweat. It is nights and results like this that make the Premier League such a compelling spectacle.
As I write, while sitting on a train back to London, the fans in yellow and green cannot stop smiling and talking about what they just saw. Man City have many great days to come, but this one belonged to Norwich.