NORWICH, January 9 – Sergio Aguero kept Manchester City firmly in the hunt for silverware on four fronts with a sparkling strike in their 3-0 victory over Norwich in the FA Cup third round on Saturday.
Aguero waltzed through the Canaries’ defence to open the scoring at Carrow Road and then set up City’s second for Kelechi Iheanacho.
Kevin de Bruyne added City’s third in the closing stages as Manuel Pellegrini’s side moved into the fourth round draw and maintained their bid to win a quadruple of the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup.
The last time the two sides met in the FA Cup was back in 1981, when Norwich lost 6-0 at Maine Road, and there were times when it looked like Pellegrini’s men could hand their hosts a similar thrashing.
Both sides made seven changes to their starting line-ups and left their current first-choice goalkeepers on the bench. But those proved minor details, as Aguero led City to only a second away win in their last eight attempts.
As for Norwich, there were only occasional signs of Alex Neil’s in-form Premier League outfit that had won three of their last four games and been unbeaten in five at Carrow Road, conceding just twice.
Instead, this was Norwich’s fourth third round exit in the last six seasons and they could have few complaints.
Neil had little to cheer about in the FA Cup during his modest career as a player in English football, and his first game as a manager in the competition offered little better.
Norwich made the brighter start but the visitors always looked the greater threat.
Iheanacho forced John Ruddy into the game’s first meaningful save following a sloppy error from Sebastien Bassong and they did not have to wait much longer for their 16th minute breakthrough.
– Moment of magic –
It was Aguero who picked up the ball 25 yards from goal following Raheem Sterling’s back-heel, and the Argentine striker burst past Graham Dorrans and Bassong, jinked away from Russell Martin and slotted past Ruddy with ease.
It was a moment of magic that said everything about Aguero’s importance to City.
The striker had already forced another save from Ruddy with a low volley, before making City’s second thanks to Norwich’s generous defending.
Centre-back Ryan Bennett handed Aguero far too much room from a long ball on 31 minutes, and the forward coasted to the edge of the box before teeing up Iheanacho, who slotted past Ruddy.
Those goals appeared to kill the game as a contest, as well as nullifying Norwich’s five-man defensive line –- a system that had gone close to earning a point at Eastlands in the Premier League earlier in the season.
Norwich chased the game sporadically after the break and did manage to have the ball in the net through Cameron Jerome after Jonny Howson’s good work, only for the offside flag to end their celebrations.
Only a superb Bennett tackle on the edge of the six-yard box denied Iheanacho his second goal of the afternoon.
Pellegrini even had the luxury of withdrawing Aguero 20 minutes from the end, with the inspirational Argentine’s departure drawing applause from visiting and home fans alike.
There was still time for substitute de Bruyne to skip through on goal and slot home between Ruddy’s legs from a tight angle to provide the polish to a dominant display.