Manchester City eked out a 1-0 win away to Crystal Palace on Saturday evening to move two points behind Arsenal at the Premier League summit.
Erling Haaland’s second-half penalty decided a game of precious few open-play chances. Haaland himself was guilty of squandering City’s best openings on either side of his spot-kick while Palace became the first team in recorded Premier League history to go three successive matches without registering a single effort on target.
City started rapidly, winning a corner which led to a crisp shot on target from Rodri before Palace had completed a single pass. But Patrick Vieira’s hosts weathered City‘s storm amid the swirling rain in south London, clogging up the central slice of the pitch by man-marking each of the three visiting midfielders.
Pep Guardiola’s wily players combatted the velcro attention by rotating positions. City’s left-back Nathan Ake took the inside role of Bernardo Silva midway through the first half, popping up in the box and squaring for Haaland who surprisingly spooned over from seven yards out.
However, try as they might, City couldn’t replicate the spinning carousel of floating forwards from years past. Guardiola injected Julian Alvarez’s direct running into the endless spells of stodgy and sideways passing shortly after the restart. It almost worked instantly. Within two minutes of his substitutions, Alvarez pirouetted into Palace’s box but leaned back as he opened up his body, placing the ball over the bar.
After such a stubborn resolve for 75 minutes, Palace gifted City a chance to take the lead through the first collective lapse in concentration. Vieira’s side had conceded a league-low five set pieces going into the contest but switched off when preparing to defend a City corner.
Ilkay Gundogan was wide open to receive a short pass in the box nudging the ball ahead of Michael Olise who came barrelling across to make amends but only succeeded in giving away a penalty which Haaland nervelessly stuffed into the bottom corner.
The reigning champions managed to withstand the first whispers of sustained attacking from Palace in the closing stages but hung on to close the gap at the top and extend the winless start to 2023 which Vieira’s side have endured.
GK: Vicente Guaita – 7/10 – Alert and alive to the efforts which fizzed his way.
RB: Nathaniel Clyne – 4/10 – Often outnumbered as City enjoyed their best forays forward down Clyne’s flank.
CB: Joachim Andersen – 6/10 – Aerially impressive when City resorted to crosses.
CB: Marc Guehi – 4/10 – So concerned about the threat Haaland offers that he followed the big Norwegian over to the dugout while Guardiola was giving his striker instructions.
LB: Tyrick Mitchell – 6/10 – Uneasy when Phil Foden ran at him but limited these scenarios well.
CM: Albert Sambi Lokonga – 7/10 – Diligently stuck to his task of following Ilkay Gundogan wherever he roamed.
CM: Luka Milivojevic – 3/10 – Reckless in his attempts to unsettle Rodri, showing the rust of a player making his first Premier League start since October.
CM: Jeffrey Schlupp – 7/10 – Plugging a myriad of gaps in the lines of midfield and defence.
RW: Michael Olise – 5/10 – Peppering the contest with only fleeting glimpses of his evident skill before undermining his team’s hard work with one lapse.
ST: Wilfried Zaha – 6/10 – Like a sprinter crouching in the starting blocks, perennially poised to break away on the counter.
LW: Jordan Ayew – 6/10 – As ever, Ayew’s industry dwarfed his attacking productivity but he battled for Vieira’s side valiantly.
Naouirou Ahamada (61′ for Milivojevic) – 5/10
Joel Ward (71′ for Clyne) – 5/10
Ebere Eze (80′ for Schlupp) – N/A
Odsonne Edouard (80′ for Ayew) – N/A
Patrick Vieira – 4/10 – The Frenchman set his side up to frustrate which they most certainly did. Unfortunately, they frustrated Vieira as well.
GK: Ederson – 6/10 – Like so many opposition goalkeepers at Selhurst Park, Ederson was given very little to do.
RB: John Stones – 5/10 – Stepped into midfield when City had the ball but didn’t seem to have the confidence of his teammates to always receive a pass in tight spaces.
CB: Manuel Akanji – 4/10 – Too often too rash when confronting Zaha, giving away multiple needless free-kicks.
CB: Ruben Dias – 6/10 – Proactive on and off the ball as he stepped into tackles and punched passes forward.
LB: Nathan Ake – 7/10 – Did not look out of place when venturing further up the pitch than he is normally accustomed to.
CM: Bernardo Silva – 6/10 – Caked in mud almost from the first whistle, Bernardo scrapped and scrounged around for space all afternoon.
CM: Rodri – 7/10 – City’s deepest midfielder was on the end of some of the team’s most threatening attempts in the first half but orchestrated his side’s play throughout.
CM: Ilkay Gundogan – 4/10 – Knocked out of his languid stride but Palace’s physical approach.
RW: Phil Foden – 3/10 – Unusually sloppy as his normally immaculate first touch repeatedly let him down.
ST: Erling Haaland – 7/10 – Missed a glaring first-half chance as he largely spent more time scrapping than shooting. But ultimately kept his nerve when it mattered most.
LW: Jack Grealish – 4/10 – Always more threatening when he had friendly neon shirts near him but lacked cutting edge with his final pass.
Julian Alvarez (58′ for Foden) – 5/10 – Sparked a change in shape to a 4-4-2 but, like Haaland, was guilty of squandering a clear sight of goal.
Kevin De Bruyne (79′ for Bernardo) – N/A
Kyle Walker (89′ for Stones) – N/A
Pep Guardiola – 6/10 – Constantly tried to change the game from the bench with a myriad of tweaks and changes but ultimately relied upon a cheap penalty.
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