City midfielder Andrew Surman knows exactly what lies in store for the Canaries in Manchester this weekend – and just how important it will be for all 11 City players to win their personal duels in the heat of that Etihad battle.
The Premiership league leaders have yet to lose a game this season; on current form, they look to be playing on another level again from the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and, of course, neighbours Manchester United who they disposed of in such extraordinary fashion with that 6-1 humbling at Old Trafford.
Now it is the turn of the Canaries to try and halt the Sky Blue Army in their tracks and for that everyone has to out-match their opposite number – be it a Silva, a Barry, a Milner or a Toure.
“Everyone has got to win their personal battles – whoever they’re playing against,” said the 25-year-old, who returned to Paul Lambert’s starting line-up in last weekend’s crucial 2-1 home success over Queen’s Park Rangers.
Everyone, however, acknowledges that this weekend’s contest is something else again as City – the Manchester version – threaten to run away with this year’s Premiership title.
“We’ve got to go there and try and be strong and solid – and if we do get chances, try and take them.”
The fact that Norwich’s hosts have a key Champions League game against Bayern Munich the following mid-week will, said Surman, be of little relevance with a squad the depth of City’s.
“You’d like to think that they’d maybe take their eye off the ball, but I’m sure they won’t,” said Surman, whose immaculate corner-kick delivery helped set up Russell Martin for Norwich’s opener last weekend.
“They’ve got some very good players there, they’re all professionals and even their second string will be very tough anyway.
“But to be playing against these kind of players is what you aspire to,” he added. “To be as good as them, to play against them and compete against them. We’ve earned the right to play in the Premiership and have earned the right to play against players like that this season.
“And when we went to Manchester United, you saw how well we played and if we can repeat that against a big club, at a big stadium and at the top of the league, then I’m sure we’ve got a chance.”
A chance is what Surman himself was handed last weekend as Lambert and his No2 decided to shake things up a bit on the back of the back-to-back defeats against first Aston Villa and then Arsenal. The proof of the pudding came in the result and the three points as the likes of Surman, Simeon Jackson and Andrew Crofts left the Wes Hoolahans, the Elliott Bennetts and the Kyle Naughtons on the bench.
Naughton could yet return due to Ritchie de Laet’s back troubles; Surman is clearly hoping that he has done enough to keep the manager’s favour after a frustrating autumn on the bench.
“I think anyone will tell you that when you’re not playing it is very frustrating – especially when playing week in, week out last season. It’s difficult going to being sat on the bench every week.
“But you’ve just got to try and stay mentally strong and know that when you do get your chance that you’ve got to try and take it.”
As for their hosts, Gareth Barry and Mario Balotelli are both back from suspension with boss Roberto Mancini expected to make 11 changes to the side that beat Arsenal 1-0 in the Carling Cup in mid-week.
One of those due to return is full-back Micah Richards whose surging runs deep into the opposition box is just one of the deadly threats Norwich will have to counter tomorrow.
He is, he told the Manchester Evening News, getting better defensively too – courtesy of training every day with City’s fearsome strike force.
“When you are up against David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and the rest of them, it is hard,” said Richards, whose strength and pace in that full-back position has prompted calls for his swift return to the England set-up.
For now, however, Richards is just enjoying the ride as Mancini set out his stall this week to make City into one of the top four club sides in the world.
“It kind of makes you better as a player facing them every day in training,” added Richards.
“You have got to concentrate all the time and now and then give them a crack! It is just good to be playing with such quality players and it is helping my game as well, for sure.”