It was a triply significant goal in an irrelevant game, statistical proof of the brilliance Manchester City have produced in between the setbacks that mean they have finished far behind Liverpool. When Kevin de Bruyne slipped a pass behind the Norwich defence for Raheem Sterling to tuck a shot under Tim Krul, it was City’s 100th league goal of the season.
For the third time in seven seasons, they are centurions. For the first in his career, Sterling has 30 goals in a club campaign; that 20 of them came in the top flight means that he has replaced Brian Kidd, now their 71-year-old assistant manager, as the last Englishman to reach that mark for City. And yet the most momentous landmark may have been De Bruyne’s.
A 20th Premier League assist of the season equalled Thierry Henry’s 2002-03 record. If it is worth mentioning the Frenchman scored 24 league goals that year, De Bruyne’s 12th and 13th were both something special, the sort only a virtuoso can produce. He was briefly credited with a record-breaking 21st assist: challenging Kenny McLean, he tackled the ball into Riyad Mahrez’s path when the substitute scored a fourth. Then the assist was removed. What was not in doubt was De Bruyne’s brilliance.
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But for some defiant Norwich defending, with Ben Godfrey making a series of blocks, and some heroic goalkeeping from Tim Krul, the scoreline would have been bigger. As it was, it served as a reminder of City’s capacity to rout lesser sides, even if their September defeat at Carrow Road was a reminder of their costly inconsistency.
For Norwich, it was goodbye to the Premier League. Once touted as the best team to finish bottom, they have departed with 10 straight defeats. This was not the most ignominious of them and they can console themselves with the thought they will not have to face players of De Bruyne’s calibre next season.
For David Silva, it was a more permanent farewell to the division. There was a standing ovation from the City substitutes and staff when the captain came off, replaced by his namesake Bernardo. City had tried to tee the Spaniard up for a valedictory goal but perhaps it was fitting that the understated maestro, who had scored in his three previous games at the Etihad Stadium, did not find the net. He has always preferred to blend into the background.
De Bruyne was more eye-catching and impossible to ignore. His goals were sensational. First, he tormented Marco Stiepermann with his skill before whipping a 20-yard shot into the top corner. He looked nonplussed by his brilliance, his pursuit of the assists record not helped by that display of class. He curled in a second off the far post in the last minute, City’s 102nd goal of the season.
The 98th came from Gabriel Jesus, taken from close range after two Norwich defenders failed to clear Sterling’s cross. Briefly, however, Norwich thought they had scored and that they had doubled their meagre tally of league goals since February. Onel Hernandez found the bottom corner of the City net but was eventually ruled offside. Inevitably, they were behind two minutes later. Ederson, who made a brilliant save from Teemu Pukki, ended with a clean sheet and the Golden Glove. Yet the more notable milestones belonged to City’s attackers for their goalscoring, and creating, prowess.