Alarm bells, VAR calls and late changes – Six things you might have missed from City’s heavy home defeat to Villa
After a home humbling in the Premier League, David Freezer picks over the bones of Norwich City’s shock 5-1 loss to Aston Villa at Carrow Road.
1 - Thrashing triggered alarm bells
This was a grim afternoon for the Canaries, when their injury crisis came to a head, exposing a team lacking in top-flight experience and leadership.
Yes, those injuries are not to blame for the slack marking, sloppy passing or lack of intensity displayed by the players who were on the pitch, but this under-staffed shift was a big ask of some young players.
Ben Godfrey, Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia have achieved a lot in their young careers but being over-run by a vibrant Villa saw the pressure spill over, with some angry words exchanged at points during the 5-1 loss.
The influence of Tim Krul on those young men all of a sudden becomes clearer and the experience of players such as Timm Klose, Grant Hanley or Alex Tettey is conspicuous by its absence.
Conceding five at home for the first time since January 2016 and the joint heaviest defeat of the Daniel Farke era has alarm bells ringing.
2 - Defensive midfielder is needed
Villa's midfield were very impressive, with Kenny McLean and Moritz Leitner overwhelmed at times.
The majority of Premier League teams include a defensive shield to try and protect against the array of attacking talent at this level, even Manchester City have had Fernandinho at the heart of their title successes.
Daniel Farke has had little choice but to deploy Ibrahim Amadou at centre-back and with Grant Hanley due to see a specialist about his groin injury, that may have to continue for a while yet.
Marvelous Nakamba made a crucial interception ahead of Villa's third goal and you can look at Fabinho at Liverpool or Declan Rice at West Ham among plenty of other good examples - with neither Leitner or McLean having defensive instincts.
Tettey or Tom Trybull returning will not provide a magic fix, City's defensive work has to improve across the pitch, but a visiting team having 12 shots on target is a truly worrying statistic.
3 - At least there was a positive
At least there was one very thin silver lining to the grey cloud over Carrow Road, thanks to a first Canaries goal for Josip Drmic.
The Switzerland striker has struggled to make an impact since arriving on a free transfer this summer, partially due to injury.
However, within three minutes of replacing Teemu Pukki in the 84th minute the 27-year-old reacted first to a misplaced back-pass from Tyrone Mings and managed to beat Villa keeper Tom Heaton to the loose ball.
Thankfully he made no mistake when slotting the ball into an empty net in front of the Barclay, scoring his first goal since helping Monchengladbach to win 4-0 at Nurenberg in the Bundesliga in May.
In a 5-1 defeat any kind of positive is welcome. City will be hoping Drmic gets some minutes with Swizterland during the break now, so he can try to build on that goal, during Euro 2020 qualifiers against Denmark and the Republic of Ireland.
4 - Handball claim for penalty
There was a call for a City penalty shortly before the visitors moved 2-0 ahead.
It was clear that the ball had twice hit Villa defender Tyrone Mings while he was on the floor, as Teemu Pukki tried to turn a Todd Cantwell cross goalwards, sparking a goal-mouth scramble.
It was waved away by the referee and seemed to be checked by VAR - although still that was unclear in the stadium - with the clarified handball law perhaps providing the answer.
Essentially it is stated that goals being scored with the use of the hand is not in the spirit in the game, but some protection has been provided for defenders, as long as the arm is not in an unnatural position, such as above shoulder height.
This also includes for a player to 'put their arm between their body and the ground for support when falling'. So with Mings having his arms close to his chest, it appears to have been judged that his arms were in a natural position.
5 - VAR calls need to be made clear
Talking of VAR, there was finally evidence of a notification to spectators at Carrow Road.
Buendia caught Ezri Konsa with a late tackle as he tried to win possession during second half injury-time and play had continued, only for an announcement over the PA that a VAR check for a red card was under way.
We were swiftly told that there wouldn't be a red card but at least there was some communication of the incident, which had been expected since the start of the season.
VAR wasn't needed for the penalty decision given against Kenny McLean, only for Wesley's hat-trick to be foiled by a fine save from Michael McGovern, but it was a step in the right direction for telling fans what is happening.
As it came during the dying embers of an emphatic defeat, it felt more like rubbing salt in the wound, but with Buendia escaping punishment at least things didn't get even worse.
6 - Changes were left too late
It wasn't until the 76th minute that Farke made his first City change, despite Villa extending their lead to 3-0 in the 49th minute.
Patrick Roberts was the lucky player to be coming on at 4-0 down, replacing Marco Stiepermann with the game already over as a contest, with Dennis Srbeny and Drmic following soon after.
Criticising a head coach for making late substitutions in the wake of a defeat usually seems an easy accusation to me, but on this occasion it was frustrating to see no attempt to change the flow at 3-0 down, with Villa having missed a penalty and hit the crossbar as well.
Injuries may have severely limited Farke's options at the moment but it felt like a more proactive approach could have at least brought some control, such as switching to a 5-4-1, knowing the game was already lost.
That doesn't mean having to abandon the style of play totally but sometimes realism is needed, especially during a horrid injury crisis.