Sergio Aguero looked to have rescued the blues, equalising Cenk Tosun’s debut goal for the Eagles, but Fernandinho put through his own goal give to Palace a share of the spoils.
In fairness, it was no more than Palace deserved as they looked to follow up on last season’s victory in Manchester with a second straight win, which would have been the first time in their history in this fixture.
Strangely, and possibly with a trip to Sheffield United on Tuesday in mind, manager Pep Guardiola decided to bench Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus. With the former playing outstandingly well at Villa Park, seeing his name as a substitute was very much a surprise, while Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, both unused substitutes last weekend, got the nod to start.
Palace held City at bay, despite not moving very much out of their own penalty area and even had luck on their side when Kevin de Bruyne’s free kick hit the underside of the bar with the score still goalless.
The visitors defence was well organised – during one City attack they had nine players in the box as opposed to City’s four - and had clearly seen what over visiting teams had achieved recently at the Etihad, and when Tosun headed the Eagles in front six minutes before the break, it was a question of whether Palace could stay as organised and keep the inevitable City onslaught at bay.
And the answer was yes, they could do it, although they had to face defeat firmly in the face first. After VAR denied City a penalty for handball despite the referee pointing to the spot, Aguero levelled with eight minutes remaining when he converted an excellent pass by substitute Jesus, before finishing Benjamin Mendy’s cross to put City in front.
Other opposition would have given up, but Palace are made of stern stuff these days and Zaha took advantage of plenty of space behind Joao Cancelo and his cross was diverted by Fernandinho.
Blues Pay The Price At The Back Again
It has been well documented that City’s failure to replace Vincent Kompany has been one of the factors leading to City’s dismal campaign. The Belgian was solid in defence and the fact that Guardiola plays the ageing Fernandinho alongside either John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi together, is telling as he refuses to play the English and Argentine defender together. And City’s poor defence was evident again against the Eagles.
On a rare foray forward, Palace won a corner and from that, Palace took the lead. The corner was headed back across goal where Tosun stood completely unmarked, and his only job was to simply head beyond Ederson for 1-0.
Ederson could have cost his team a second goal just after that, when he raced out of his box, only to change his mind and it was only a foul on Fernandinho that prevented Palace from going two goals up. The keeper really didn’t need to come out so far as it was a 2 on 1 situation in City’s favour, but maybe it’s a sign of how little trust Ederson has in his own defence that he has to take such risks.
VAR Gets Involved Again But What Is The Rule On Handball? Anyone?
No City match these days is ever complete without VAR getting involved and when the referee spotted a handball in the Palace penalty area, he immediately pointed to the spot. The Palace players surrounded the referee to claim it was accidental. The ball had fallen to Aguero as the whistle went, however a VAR check agreed with Palace that the ball accidentally struck the defender on the arm and ruled it wasn’t a penalty.
Now, we all understand that accidental handball by a defender does not automatically result in a penalty, but there’s also the rule about the arm being in an unnatural position. So while the ball did accidentally hit the arm (it came of his foot first), was Jairo Riedewald’s arm in an unnatural position and should the spot kick still have been awarded? I really don’t know anymore.
It’s not just VAR that’s the issue though. Even though it did its job in disallowing the goal (we think), surely the rules have got to make it clearer. And the length of time it is taking to do a VAR check really should be 30 seconds maximum. If something cannot be defined as clear and obvious within 30 seconds, it’s not clear and obvious in my book.
Late Show ruined By Own Goal
City were not to be denied and you can’t say they didn’t try, maybe just didn’t try hard enough. It seems to be when the blues go a goal down their heads seem to drop, rather than fighting back. Is that just me being harsh, or does anyone else think that? It’s like the fight instantly disappears. It’s great when we score first and we’re two, three or four up at half time, but the longer the game goes on, it seems like the desire is withering away.
At least on Saturday, we almost pulled it out of the fire, only to allow Palace to drag us back into it and there was some sense of relief when Aguero levelled. Jesus looked like he’d been taking tips from de Bruyne as his superb cross from the left evaded everyone except City’s all time record goal scorer, who found the net from close range. It was actually amusing to see a Palace hand go up for offside once the ball hit the back of the net, but there was no disputing that the striker was clearly onside when the ball was played – unless the rules changed at half time!
And City looked to have secured an unlikely three points when Mendy’s cross from the left found Aguero completely unmarked to head home, and Palace’s hard work had all been undone by stupidly allowing the striker so much space. Aguero diverted the cross and City were heading for three points.
But City’s defensive frailties surfaced again and Zaha’s cross was turned into his own goal by Fernandinho to rescue a point for Palace. The winger found space behind Cancelo down the City right and Ferna got in front of the oncoming palace striker, but could do nothing as the ball bounced off his foot and past Ederson.
It was harsh on the Brazilian but defeat would have been more harsh on Palace, and the reality of it was that City were just not strong enough on the day to break down the visitors and City drop yet more points in an increasingly disappointing league campaign.
Final Score: Manchester City 2-2 Crystal Palace