Very soon, Manchester City's schedule gets thorny.
In a four-week stretch beginning Feb. 15, City will play:
- a fifth-round FA Cup match at the Etihad against a Chelsea side that has eaten the Sky Blues' lunch twice this season
- both legs of their Round of 16 Champions League tie with Barcelona
- a Capital One Cup final at Wembley Stadium against Sunderland, who are resurgent under Gus Poyet
How Manchester City's season is viewed in June will depend largely on the results they achieve in these crucial matches.
It is tempting to look at Manchester City's coming fixture list and call this visit to Norwich a trap game. But there are too many negative factors in play for Manchester City to believe they could look past the Canaries.
Above all, Manchester City are missing too much quality to take any team lightly right now. When Samir Nasri went down at Newcastle, it was a fluke. When Sergio Aguero limped off against Tottenham Hotspur, it was a shame.
Now Manchester City are going to be without the indispensable Fernandinho for a month, which is a message. The message is this: Even mighty Manchester City can look ordinary when three of their preferred XI are out injured.
They certainly looked a step slow against Chelsea earlier this week.
Moreover, Manchester City's loss to Chelsea drew Jose Mourinho's club level with the Sky Blues on points and restored Arsenal's two-point cushion at the top of the Premier League table. Manchester City's margin for error in the league is nearly non-existent now.
These are three points against Norwich City that Manuel Pellegrini's team positively must have.
Manchester City's XI at Carrow Road should look like this: Joe Hart, Gael Clichy, Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Jack Rodwell, Jesus Navas, Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko.
Ironically, the XI that Pellegrini chose for the recent Chelsea match, with Matija Nastasic at centre-back next to Kompany and Demichelis in the midfield, would probably work just fine against a relatively skill-deprived Norwich City side.
After the way Eden Hazard, Willian and Ramires tormented Demichelis and Yaya, though, it is hard to imagine Pellegrini running that XI back here.