Manchester City rode out 4-0 winners against Crystal Palace on Sunday to go 2nd in the table, jut two points behind United with a game in hand. It’s a far cry from their position earlier in the season when some pundits, and fans it must be said, were already writing off our title chances
But Sunday’s win, together with an unbeaten run and clean sheets aplenty has reignited City’s challenge, and on that performance against Palace, there may now be no stopping them. Of course, there’s a long way to go yet and talking about winning the league at this stage is crazy talk. However, even the most biased of opposing supporters will admit that City’s chances now look good.
The blues didn’t dismantle Crystal Palace in the same manner of three seasons ago, where almost every team were blown away by a relentless siege of blue. And two seasons ago when the title race was much closer, City were still dispatching teams with ease, especially at home where the bleus won 18 out of 19. And the only ‘blip’ was a match against a certain Crystal Palace.
I’m not sure if it was mentioned on the TV last night, but Palace beat City 3-2 in December, so any apprehension before the game from the faithful would have been justified. But rather than go gung-ho at Palace in the same way they attacked West Brom, City were patient and used the ball well.
Now I’m not a fan of passing the ball back to defence and City are on the attack; it really irks me when the ball is on the edge of their penalty area and two minutes later it’s with John Stones on the halfway line. But again, we saw against West Brom the difficulty of breaking a team down when they throw the whole team and bus behind the ball, and against Palace, it was a similar story.
But instead of throwing everything forward hoping to see the cracks, City probed away at the Palace defence, creating the cracks themselves, and when they found them, the visitors were ruthlessly exposed. John Stones was given acres of space for both his goals, while Gundogan and Sterling’s strikes came from defender mistakes, forced on them by the blues simply applying pressure.
But what was very impressive, and continues to be so is the defence. Dias and Stones have got a great partnership, and it’s hard to believe that not so long ago, manager Pep Guardiola was forced to deny he wanted to sell the former Everton man.
The pair have turned into rocks at the heart of the City defence and it shows. Palace didn’t have one solitary shot on target, leaving Ederson pretty much free to check his Twitter account when he felt like it. There were times in the past where the faithful would hide their eyes when the ball was with any of the back four, such was the trust we had in the defence. But these days, City play it across the penalty area with such composure, it’s like they’re playing 5-a-side.
On Sunday, City had a lot of impressive performances. Raheem Sterling didn’t have much luck down the left so switched too the right where he looked like he was enjoying himself. Ilkay Gundogan, so often a figure of hate amongst some supporters, worked tirelessly to win the ball, play the pass and his goal came after hassling the Palace defender, before robbing him off the ball and curling a gem of a goal into the top corner.
City had over 70% possession at the end of the 90 minutes and limited Palace to just two shots overall. 12 months ago, Palace had 5 shots with 3 on target, just like they did the season before, only this time, they were up against two solid defenders, both outdoing themselves to be the next Gandalph!
The Good, The Bad And The Ridiculous
Let’s take a look at some of the brilliant, not so brilliant and a couple of “WTF” moments of yesterday’s game.
We can talk about Kevin de Bruyne’s delicious pass with the outside of his boot, but what doesn’t get mentioned is the pass before it that found him. From a City corner, Palace cleared but only as far as Sterling. The winger looked up, spotted the Belgian is space and played a de Bruyne-esque pass to the Belgian, with such precision that all de Bruyne had to do was take a touch to control it. The rest, as you know is history as the ball ended up in the back of the net moments later.
And while Stones and Dias are the defensive duo, Sterling and de Bruyne are rapidly turning into the midfield maestros. Sterling won the ball in midfield and played in de Bruyne, who tried to return it to the England man, only for the ball to be cut out for the corner which led to the goal.
Ferna’s New Role – Stop The Celebrations!
Fernandinho is a true character and when Gundogan scored his goal last night, the team gathered around the German to celebrate. That was until Ferna caught up with them all and can be seen in the background telling everyone to separate. I wonder if that picture will ever be used by the media?
There wasn’t much wrong with the performance. For a while it looked like being another of those days, but City dug deep to get the win. City’s passing was pretty much excellent all afternoon, which is why I’m at pains to highlight this incident. Fernandinho’s pass to the invisible City player fell to Ayew, and the Palace man raced forward, only to be tackled by Ferna. It was a great tackle and you may be asking why that was so bad, but it’s not the tackle, it was the situation.
Ferna is an experienced pro and that sort of mistake you wouldn’t expect from him. Must do better Ferna or get yourself to Specsavers (other opticians are available).
When I was a kid, ridiculous meant something, or someone was stupid, just like the way the word sick was when you weren’t well and gravy was a Sunday lunch accompaniment. But thee words now have dual meanings, highlighted as below.
Kevin de Bruyne’s outside of the boot cross to Stones was ridiculous, meaning it was amazing, fantastic, incredible. He made it look so easy; none of us could do that with such flair!
N ow for today’s WTF moment as we look at the other ridiculous, in this case, used to describe a refereeing decision. No, he wasn’t super, smashing, great, just plain old ridiculous. In the second half, Gundogan was brought down and the referee blew for a free kick…to Palace.
It seemed that, when Gundogan was fouled, he inadvertently took out another Palace man and the referee deemed his uncontrolled fall was intentional. It was a surprise to everyone except VAR, who was busy tweeting Ederson at the time!