As finishes go, it was more Shaun Goater than Kevin De Bruyne but Jack Grealish will not care. His first Manchester City goal may forever remain his worst but he and they are off the mark.
His £100m fee owed rather more to the silky magnetism of his right foot than an uncertain touch with his left knee but as the ball bounced in off his leg, Grealish became the most expensive scorer in Premier League history and the prospect of a fourth successive defeat, something Pep Guardiola has never suffered in management, vanished as the champions instead ran riot. Norwich’s last Premier League away game was a 5-0 defeat at the Etihad. They should not savour the symmetry on their return.
The wingers Guardiola dropped, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, both came off the bench to join Grealish, who started on the left flank, on the scoresheet. The catalyst, however, was the one wide man who did not score: Gabriel Jesus, who provided the crosses when City had the ball in the net four times, with three standing.
However for Grealish, it was a first win since he was the substitute who was substituted in England’s Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark. A stylist scored in scruffy style but the ends justified the means and the grin betrayed a sense of relief: after losing to Leicester and Tottenham on successive Sundays, perhaps he is not a curse after all. A chant of “Super Jack Grealish” echoed around the Etihad when he scored and he was substituted to a standing ovation. A home debut offered early indications he may assume the status of the people’s champion for his new club.
They may have envisaged another signing (one not yet purchased) getting off the mark against opponents as outclassed as Norwich. City instead underlined that they can source goals from plenty of others. Grealish became their first player to score since the previous incumbent of the No 10 shirt, Sergio Agüero, delivered his 260th and final goal against Everton in May, albeit after the champions’ account for the campaign had been inadvertently opened by the ill-fated Tim Krul.
The great Manchester City goal drought had spanned three games in as many competitions, but goals arrived in a torrent. City’s wait was ended inside six minutes, even if the last two touches came courtesy of Norwich players. Grant Hanley’s desperate intervention sent the ball in off a powerless and luckless Krul. The previous two showed more precision, the recalled Rodri chipping a pass and Jesus volleying a cross.
There were certain similarities when the lead was doubled. Jesus delivered another cross into corridor of uncertainty for defenders. The ball struck Grealish and bounced past Krul. Ungainly as the finish was, it was the sort of position from which Sterling became prolific and Guardiola, something of a sceptic of many a striker, can specialise in making wingers and midfielders more potent. Indeed, Sterling capped his cameo with a trademark strike, sliding the ball in from Jesus’s low centre.
Yet while Grealish showed some deft touches, the other winger exerted a greater impact. Jesus had been the supplier when Ferran Torres had a goal chalked off. Demoted to the rank of an afterthought first by City’s prowess with a succession of false nines last season and then in their pursuit of Harry Kane, Jesus was recalled on the right. It is a position he has occupied for his country more than his club. On this evidence, it may allow him to reinvent himself at City, even if Kane arrives to take the striking role. Tormented by Jesus, the Norwich left-back Dimitris Giannoulis was removed at half-time, a substitution doubling up as an act of mercy.
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Norwich nevertheless conceded three more. Ilkay Gündogan, captain for the day, took a corner, Aymeric Laporte met it and while Pierre Lees-Melou blocked his header, the Spain international stabbed in the rebound. The other centre-back could concentrate on attack, too, with Rúben Dias chipping a pass for Mahrez to sidefoot in the fifth.
Before Sterling scored, Ederson made his only save to spare Gündogan an own goal. After losing 3-0 to Liverpool, Norwich let in four against City. Unfavourable as the fixture list has been, theirs is a wretched start.