Tough week for City full-back Aarons despite tenacious efforts

Norwich Head Coach Dean Smith gives instructions to Max Aarons of Norwich during the Premier League

Norwich boss Dean Smith gives instructions to Max Aarons during defeat to Manchester City - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

There’s been much praise of Max Aarons during his mostly upward trajectory with Norwich City but the right-back could have a fight on his hands to retain his starting role next week. 

Since breaking into the Canaries’ first team as an 18-year-old, Aarons has rarely been taken off during games, with only the very occasional injury issue keeping him off the pitch. 

Yet during Saturday’s frustrating 4-0 defeat to leaders Manchester City, Aarons found himself being replaced by Sam Byram in the 63rd minute after being involved in the reigning champions’ opening two goals. 

It should be stressed that Aarons – and City generally – need to be given a degree of leeway after playing one of the best teams in the world who are funded by billionaires. 

It’s also clear that the England Under-21 international actually had plenty of good defensive moments during both Wednesday’s 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace and Saturday’s comprehensive defeat to Pep Guardiola’s cast of stars at Carrow Road. 

Just as with the tricky Wilfried Zaha in midweek, Aarons was showing tenacity and battling hard, winning plenty of defensive duels as he was put under pressure. Just as Przemek Placheta had struggled to do so against Palace, it was Josh Sargent finding it hard to offer resolute protection in front of him on this occasion. 

While it was Placheta at fault for allowing Zaha to cut inside and score his wonderful equaliser on Wednesday, Aarons had been let off the hook when he fell on Tyrick Mitchell to concede a penalty after being doubled up on – only for Zaha to make a mess of the spot-kick. 

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Against the elite class of Manchester City, however, mistakes are punished. 

Things had started positively, with a weaving run from the 22-year-old ending in a shot being blocked in the area. 

Max Aarons of Norwich and Raheem Sterling of Manchester City in action during the Premier League mat

Max Aarons and Raheem Sterling were engaged in a real battle at Carrow Road - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Aarons had thwarted Sterling’s attacking urges on three occasions, blocked two of the England star’s crosses and cleared the danger after Ben Gibson could only head down into his own area under pressure - also getting to the bye-line thanks to a Kenny McLean back-heel but seeing his cross evade everyone in the penalty area. 

There was relief in the 25th minute as Angus Gunn denied Sterling with his feet, after a Grant Hanley clearance had left Aarons outnumbered and unable to prevent Ilkay Gundogan finding Oleksandr Zinchenko, whose cross found the winger near the penalty spot. 

Treatment followed for the right-back for what appeared a dead leg, having tried to tackle Gundogan and been clattered for his troubles. 

The tide turned in the 31st minute though, when he misjudged a Kyle Walker cross and missed the opportunity to clear. The miskick was seized on instantly by Sterling and a classy shot was curled past the despairing dives of Aarons and Gunn into the top-right corner. 

Aarons put his hands to his head in exasperation after a slip in confidence had proved costly. 

The regular battles with Sterling continued and the full-back continued to stand his ground – although he needed a few seconds to compose himself after blocking a Zinchenko cross in a way that left all men feeling his pain. 

There was another misjudgement before the break though, trying to see the ball out of play and shoving Sterling over in the corner in fear of being dispossessed. Thankfully, Gunn could claim the Gundogan delivery from the wide free-kick. 

Oleksandr Zinchenko of Manchester City and Max Aarons of Norwich in action during the Premier League

Canaries right-back Max Aarons closes down Oleksandr Zinchenko of Manchester City - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

As the half-time whistle was blown with the Canaries only 1-0 down and with hope despite being dominated, Aarons had been in the thick of the action and battling well, only to be punished for an error. 

That hope lasted just over two minutes after the restart. The visitors’ movement pulled Norwich out of shape, allowing Sterling to thread Gundogan behind Aarons and his cross was put in at the second attempt by Phil Foden after an initial Gunn save, with goal-line technology ruling Hanley’s clearance had arrived just too late. 

Soon after, the academy product beat Sterling in the air and Sargent found Billy Gilmour, who switched a lovely pass to Milot Rashica on the left, who couldn’t beat Kyle Walker for pace. 

However, three concerning moments quickly followed, with Sterling cutting inside him and Gunn beating Bernardo Silva to the resulting cross to the back post, and Aarons inadvertently turning a Walker cross on to the roof of his own net. 

Then, in the 57th minute, he came dangerously close to conceding another unfortunate penalty after being twisted inside and out by Sterling and doing his best to avoid clipping the speedster’s ankles as he stumbled to the floor. 

Dean Smith decided it was time to make a change and brought on Byram six minutes later. for the 28-year-old's seventh appearance since the end of his injury nightmare. 

It proved a relatively uneventful experience for Byram, in comparison, with the former West Ham defender not at fault for either goal that followed and the champions largely happy to see the game through to a steady conclusion as they kept possession. 

VERDICT: The miscued clearance was a simple error that Aarons may have been struggling to shake off and was ruthlessly capitalised on by a top player. Yet after initially good signs, Sterling won the battle.  

It’s difficult to imagine that many supporters will be calling for the right-back to be dropped completely, as he had played his part in the recent resurgence. Yet with another daunting game approaching, the defensive instincts and experience of Byram could prove tempting as Smith schemes for the Anfield challenge – which would give the fit-again defender a chance to stake his claim. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 

- You can listen to the Pink Un Podcast review of the defeat in the audio player above

NCFC EXTRA: Gilmour sure he can prove his doubters wrong at City