Centre-back Ben Godfrey and goalkeeper Tim Krul started for Norwich despite fitness concerns, with Grant Hanley on the bench despite being injured himself as cover for the former – and two goalkeepers alongside him in case the Dutchman, who grimaced his way through a warm-up, broke down.
Krul gathered an early Rodri header without alarm as City weaved intricate patterns with their quick passing. The underdogs in yellow kept shape and discipline however with Sterling, especially, getting little joy down the left.
And then, suddenly and against the run of play, Norwich were ahead. It came from a corner, in the 18th minute, won by Alex Tettey, the sole survivor from the previous top-flight team. Midfielder McLean, having outjumped Rodri, met Emi Buendia’s delivery to the near post with a header that flashed high past Ederson. Carrow Road thundered its appreciation.
Aguero had been quiet but came close to an equaliser in the 27th minute but his header, after Sterling had picked him out at the back post, was too high.
Norwich’s response was as stunning as it was immediate. A move that started with Krul saw Marco Stiepermann send Pukki racing away down the inside right channel. The Finn, played onside by Kyle Walker, resisted the temptation to go for goal number six and instead produced a diagonal ball for the onrushing Cantwell to tap in at the back post.
Sterling thumped a header against a post at the other end within seconds but fortune favoured the champions when the ball clearly hit Stones on an arm in the box only for referee Kevin Friend, one VAR check later, to rule that the England defender’s posture had been nothing un-natural.
Guardiola’s side last found themselves 2-0 down against Swansea in the FA Cup quarter-finals in March and recovered to win that one.
The chances of a repeat increased just before the break when Aguero ghosted away from his markers to nod Bernardo Silva’s cross past Krul.