Cut. Copy. Paste. From any of the games from two years ago. An all too familiar script, and all too familiar outcome.
Daniel Farke retained the formation from the midweek game with Liverpool, Kabak coming in for Omobamidele, Williams in for Giannoulis. But it was immediately obvious that this was far more a 5-3-2 than 3-5-2.
City were very sitting very deep and compact, all 11 players in the City defensive third, stifling Everton and denying them the chance to hit hard and fast on the wings as Benitez loves to do.
The tone was somewhat set on 3 minutes though. City doing well to play out from the back only to concede possession as the ball moved infield. As the cross swung in, Hanley met it with what must have been a confidence-boosting header after recent weeks.
City moved forward slowly, maintaining possession for a few minutes. The ball was played outside to Williams who weakly conceded the ball to set a counter in progress but he recovered to head the ball out for a corner, which was easily defended.
On 11 minutes, Lees-Melou played a lovely ball with the outside of the boot to Williams but he was unable to keep it in play. Whilst City were unable to cause Everton problems, the same was also true at the other end and on 12 minutes, with the locals silent, the first strains of On The Ball City echoed around Goodison.
On 18 minutes, Williams gave the ball away again allowing Everton to break, across the pitch but the cross from the left was straight at Krul.
As an exercise in pragmatic football, all was going relatively well. City had nullified the weakened Everton front line. If they had been better able to retain possession in the attacking half of the pitch then they may well have asked some questions of the Everton defence.
And then the inevitable.
A ball forward into the box, Allan tumbled theatrically and the referee waved away claims for a penalty. But this is the Premier League and this is Norwich.
A lengthy VAR review showed that Kabak’s high booty had caught Allan on the thigh. To my mind, the ball was long gone and there was no way Allan would have got to it, but after a pitchside review, the decision was overturned. Krul dispensed every trick from his penalty playbook but couldn’t stop Townsend.
And that felt like game over.
Neither side seemed willing to take further risks and it took a further 10 minutes before City created a spell of meaningful pressure, which ended with a weak, speculative McLean shot.
City continued to play the ball about but their approach play was summed up by a diagonal ball to Sargent, who was on the back foot and unable to claim it. Finally, Normann took matters into his own hands with a rasping that Pickford pushed wide for a corner.
There were no substitutions at halftime and at first, nothing else had changed. City were still surrendering possession far too easily as they played the ball out of the back into midfield. But slowly, oh so slowly, they began to discover some rhythm.
It was Normann who began to run the midfield, despite still being pushed off the ball way too easily on occasion. City possession came to Pukki, he twisted inside and played it to Normann who unleashed another good shot.
Everton were the team now sitting deep, challenging City to hurt them, waiting for a chance to counter. Aarons beat Digne for pace and was hauled down, earning the Toffees Captain a yellow for his efforts. The free-kick came in and Gibson should have done much better with his header – a golden chance gone to waste.
In the meantime, Kabak was awarded a harsh yellow for what looked like a clumsy tackle, replays showing he took only ball and no player. The former Liverpool loanee had been doing well, looking very comfortable in possession, with only the penalty incident to spoil his.
Ultimately it was the yellow card, and a subsequent foul by him that led to his substitution on 66 minutes. The crowd were getting restless, but, crucially, Normann looked to succumb to a hamstring tweak and had to leave the pitch, just as he was growing in influence in the game.
Tzolis and Rashica entered the fray as City switched to a back four.
The game began to open up a little as City pressed, Everton broke forward but lost possession, Aarons drove forward but he lost the ball and Everton struck back into the yawning gap left by the full back’s foray forward. The subsequent cross was blocked and went out for a corner.
City struck back. A good move saw Tzolis deliver a cross that was just too heavy for Rashica. As he crossed it back in, it was handled for another free-kick. With Pickford struggling with a shoulder injury, it needed a good delivery. You didn’t have to speak German to translate what Farke thought of McLean’s delivery of the subsequent free-kick.
And then the inevitable – even despite a lack of meaningful Everton pressure. The ball was played to McLean in midfield. He was weakly brushed off the ball and Gray played in Doucoure who rifled past Krul.
And that was that. A late substitution of Giannoulis for Williams injected a little momentum down the City left but it was way too late.
What to make of it all?
City were better defensively – no doubt in part to a lack of threat from the home team, but as a unit they looked much more solid. They were able to play around the half-hearted Everton press but that is where the problems began.
Too often City conceded cheap possession, both in midfield and up front. Sargent worked very hard but his first touch was poor all day. Williams too gave the ball away too often and provided a limited attacking threat.
What was encouraging was the way that Normann grew into the game. The severity of his injury could be key.
Last week against Watford felt like two steps forward, and three back. Midweek was a massive stride backwards. Yesterday represented a small shuffle forward. I hesitate to describe it as better, but it at least feels like there are at least the beginnings of a foundation being laid.