Manchester City’s Premier League game against Crystal Palace went down how most people expected, with the Blues coming out with a 5-0 victory at the Etihad. Pep Guardiola’s team continued their impressive form, showcasing the fluidity and cohesion we have become accustomed to.
There wasn’t much of a surprise in the way each team approached this game. City dominated possession (72%) and were able to build up play comfortably. Palace actually used an intelligent tactical gameplan to thwart the City attack, but was only able to hold off Guardiola’s team for so long.
City deployed a familiar formation from recent matches, coming out in a 4-3-3 with Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané flanking Sergio Agüero in the attack. Benjamin Mendy provided width down the left wing with Sterling tucked inside while the right side was inverted, with Sané staying wide and Kyle Walker drifting inside.
The full-back roles shifted after Mendy’s injury in the 24th minute. With Danilo as the left-back, he operated as more of the reserved, inverted defender while Walker pushed forward down the right wing.
These roles obviously maintained a very loose structure, as City allowed the flow of the game to dictate player movement.
Palace came out with a very cohesive counter-attacking gameplan that worked very effectively for most of the first half. Unlike some recent opponents City have faced, Roy Hodgson’s team looked to develop the counter through the midfield and did not rely on booting the ball forward to the head of Christian Benteke. Palace deployed a traditional 4-4-1-1 with Ruben Loftus-Cheek as the midfielder sitting behind or next to Benteke without the ball.
Hodgson’s gameplan differed from previous opponents because Palace looked to maintain possession when they recovered the ball if a good opportunity didn’t present itself. Palace tried to find the balance between not committing enough to the counter and over-committing to it, two sides of the spectrum that City have lethally exploited in recent games.
Palace were actually able to create a couple of quality chances thanks to this strategy, with Loftus-Cheek narrowly missing wide in two opportunities, one of which came off the post. Palace’s methodical buildup on the counter allowed them to take advantage of a City team that expected this game to come with ease. Palace did sacrifice some quality opportunities when they turned the ball over before being able to move the ball out from their own backline.
But they did successfully transition from defense to midfield several times throughout the first half and it appeared to frustrate the Citizens. The City defense often seemed impatient and lunged into unnecessary tackles, allowing Palace attackers to beat defenders off the dribble. Nevertheless, the defense bent but didn’t break, though City were in danger of going down in this game if Palace finished their chances.
However, as the first half wore on, City’s ruthless buildup play weighed on the visiting team. Palace became increasingly reserved as the half went on and instinctually packed the defense tighter as City applied pressure. You could tell Hodgson was trying his best to push his team forward but there was simply too much gravity pulling towards the Palace goal.
The Citizens were able to get the ball in dangerous places with relative ease, but showed some inconsistencies in their passing in the final third. Despite this, it was just a matter of time before the inevitable happened. The chances started to come in bunches late in the first half for City and the Eagles were unable to hold on any longer on Leroy Sané’s goal in the 44th minute.
Sané’s goal was a beautiful combination play between the German winger and David Silva. The Spaniard played a chipped ball over the top off a one-two combination with Sané, who was able to flick the ball over the defender’s head on his first touch and calmly slide the ball past Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey.
The first goal released the pressure of meeting the expectations of this game and City’s played really opened up. Palace became less active after City’s goal and stagnantly sat in their defensive shape without any attempt to apply ball pressure. You got the sense that Palace’s goalless, pointless streak to start this season is burdening this team heavily.
City’s domination strengthened in the second half and they were able to take advantage of an opponent desperate to get a goal and mentally worn down after nearly surviving the first half without conceding. When the Blues are given space to stretch their legs, this is when they are their best.
Two goals by Raheem Sterling and one by Sergio Agüero came about from tremendous buildup play topped off by quality balls into the box. Though he won’t be credited with an assist, Kevin De Bruyne was heavily involved in City’s second half scoring.
On Sterling’s first goal, De Bruyne received the ball with space and time to move the ball forward to a streaking Leroy Sané. City caught Palace stretched thin and Sané was able to cross the ball without opposition for Sterling for a tap-in. The next goal came from a City corner that was worked backed towards the midfield, once again leaving De Bruyne with more space than a player of his caliber should ever have. He played a perfect ball over the top of the defense to Agüero, streaking outside the Palace right back; Agüero was then able to drop it off his first touch right in front of goal for Sterling for another easy finish.
City made goals four and five look too easy, and Palace had lost any assemblage of competent defending at this point in the game. Agüero’s goal in the 79th minute came out from a casual buildup that developed down the left wing. Leroy Sané was given time to settle and pick out his target while the Palace defense nonchalantly closed out on him. His cross was perfect and Agüero was so open that he literally didn’t feel the need to jump, heading it home with two feet planted on the ground.
Fabian Delph put the cherry on top with a beautiful strike into the top corner of the goal from outside the box. Once again, Delph and David Silva were able to waltz through the midfield while the Palace defense did their best to keep up appearances. Delph was able to find a comfortable spot in the heart of the defense where Silva played the ball back to him and he took a few touches to settle before picking his spot.
City did not exhibit any significant flaws in this game and a number of players put on exemplary performances, though Sané, Sterling, and Silva stand out particularly in my mind.
Ultimately, this game does not tell us anything about City we don’t already know. They came out and did what was expected of them, giving more confirmation to the ability this team has shown over the past couple of weeks. This game will definitely be beneficial for Pep Guardiola’s men in the long run, as Palace deployed a variation of a gameplan that City haven’t seen much of but will surely see down the line.