To be honest with you, I don’t care all that much about the winning streak. It’s something we should all be able to easily get over given that City were bound to drop points at some point and Palace have been on a really strong run of form recently. A scoreless draw against a team sitting at 17th in the table looks bad superficially, but Palace have only lost one of their last 10 and have recovered from a disastrous start to the season thanks to the appointment of manager Roy Hodgson.
The much, much greater concern comes from the injuries to Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus. If either or both are forced to miss considerable time, Pep Guardiola will be challenged to adjust his tactics. Without Jesus, City will be left with Sergio Agüero as the only natural central attacking option. Agüero is obviously a world-class striker but no one is able to play 90 minutes every single game, and Pep may be forced to try Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling centrally, potentially as false nines with wingers making diagonal runs towards goal.
Regarding De Bruyne, there is really no player that can adequately replace the impact he has on the game. Ilkay Gundogan is a tremendously talented player who City fans have the utmost confidence in, but De Bruyne is simply on another level and has easily been the best player in the Premier League this season. Especially given the uncertainty surrounding David Silva right now, we all have our fingers crossed that this injury looked worse than it actually is, and apparently it’s really not a serious thing.
Granted, the January transfer window will be open (may already be open depending on when you read this) soon and Pep may look to fortify these positions if De Bruyne and Jesus are out for a while. The Alexis Sánchez rumors will definitely be back in full swing with the diminished central attacking depth. City haven’t been linked to many midfielders in recent weeks but it will be interesting to see if they are in the coming days.
As far as the Palace game goes, frustrating is the word that most accurately describes it. Crystal Palace deserve a ton of credit for how they played and they could have easily come away with 3 points from this game. For a team that set the Premier League goalless streak earlier this year, they were incredibly well-organized and opportunistic. Roy Hodgson definitely got his tactics right and City never looked comfortable in possession despite having 74% of it throughout the game.
Palace came out in a 4-4-2 formation with Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha up top. The Eagles did a fantastic job of disrupting City’s flow and making every pass challenging. City buildups down the wing were defended with two or three players, leaving Bernardo and Leroy Sané little time to make decisions.
Hodgson was sending full-backs Timothy Fonsu-Mensah and Patrick van Aanholt to cut off runs down into the corner while the wide midfielders would drop in to cut off passes into the center of the pitch. Forwards Benteke and Zaha would often bracket from the top and create a situation where City were forced to attempt low percentage passes and dribbles.
Palace were willing and capable of countering efficiently, and unleashed Zaha to do so. The pacey winger naturally plays on the left and operated there for much of the game. With City pushed well forward into Palace’s half, any turnovers would be played into space behind Kyle Walker for Zaha to run onto. Similarly, long balls played to Benteke would be flicked on towards a streaking Zaha, often with Andros Townsend offering support.
It must be noted, however, how great Kyle Walker was in this game. Wilfried Zaha is a difficult man to contain and Walker matched him for pace and strength time and time again. Walker was able to get upfield and contribute to the attack, but was never out of position where he was unable to recover to a Palace counter. He was so good in fact, that Roy Hodgson moved Zaha to the right wing to get him away from Walker.
It was during this portion of the game that Palace really looked dangerous and had three fantastic chances. The first of which was obviously the penalty, which Zaha drew trying to dribble past Raheem Sterling. A few minutes earlier Zaha once again found space on the right wing and played a ball through the defense to Townsend on the left side of goal for what should have been at the very least a clear shot on target, but he instead sent it well over the bar. Finally, Zaha won a corner for Palace in stoppage time that found Benteke (who was somehow being marked by Yaya Touré) for a clean, strong header that was sent wide.
Injuries aside, I’m torn on how I should view this game because City obviously should have done more with their chances, but Palace created the more clear-cut chances in crunch time. Ederson came up with a big penalty save in stoppage time to preserve the draw and City have given themselves enough of a cushion that an away draw against a tough opponent won’t have them looking over their shoulders just yet.
It’s unfortunate that City have a quick turnaround with Watford coming up on Tuesday. I think Pep had this game in mind when he decided to rest Sterling and City definitely missed him out there. They seemed to click after he came on and though Bernardo is a talented player, he brings different skills than Sterling. Not having Sterling’s pace on that wing gave Palace one less headache to worry about.
I anticipate City bouncing back strong against Watford on Tuesday. Pep Guardiola is the best manager in the world not only for his tactical mind, but also his ability to make sure his team is always ready to play. It’s going to have be all hands on deck with some key guys certainly missing and it will be challenging to maintain this unbeaten record and avoid another game without a win.
But some players (Gundogan and Bernardo) find themselves with greater responsibility moving forward and can certainly improve if given the chance to spread their wings a little. Hopefully they make the most of the opportunity.