No strikers? No problem. David Silva scored a second half double and Yaya Toure added a third in an inspired second half performance which catapulted Manchester City level with Chelsea.
The reigning champions struggled to break down the organised Crystal Palace defence and were lucky not to be behind by half time, but made the visitors pay for not capitalising on their chances with a much improved second half performance. The visitors were wrongly denied a regular goal at 2-0 down when the assistant referee ruled McArthur to be in an offside position prior to scoring.
Manchester City’s injury crises forced Manuel Pellegrini to start James Milner as the false number nine with Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic all out injured. The Sky Blues have shown good form in the Premier League lately, taking all three points in five consecutive matches and cutting the lead of table toppers Chelsea to three points. The Eagles on the other hand have won only one game in their last ten Premier League matches and are balancing just above the relegation zone thanks to a better goal difference. On top of that, Crystal Palace have not won in Manchester in 24 years.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men started the game brightly as expectedand their first chance came after Zabaleta cut the ball back from the byline and Nasri’s first time effort rolled wide of the right post. The Argentine was to be a constant threat down the right flank throughout the game. Nasri got his second chance to threaten Julian Speroni in the Palace goal ten minutes later when a training ground free kick routine came back to him to the spot from which he sent his team to the Champions League last 16 against Roma, but this time his shot flew wide of the left post.
The visitors reminded themselves through a nice combination between Campbell and Bolasie on the left side, the latter whipped a low cross which McArthur could not reach and Joe Hart did well to beat it away. That was the first warning sign for the hosts. Just minutes later, Puncheon’s inswinging corner caused even more trouble. Joe Hart left his line probably with the intention to collect the ball, but in the end did really well to deny Jedinak, who got to the ball unmarked just before the England keeper could get to it, but he still managed to deny the Australian’s header.
The biggest chance of the game to that point came from another of the visitor’s set pieces. Puncheon’s free kick into the box was headed again by Jedinak and cleared by the home sides defence but only as far as Bolasie who sent a header to the six yard box where Campbell was left absolutely alone just next to Joe Hart’s right post. He went for the spectacular but the attempted overhead kick went inches wide of the far post. The home side were claiming offside but the assistant got his decision spot on, as Campbell was played onside by Demichelis.
The hosts responded with a nice combination which saw Silva, Nasri and Milner combine in the visitor’s box to find Yaya Toure on the edge of the box but his fist time effort went over the crossbar. Nasri and Silva were showing some great understanding for one another and their next action was City’s biggest chance. The Frenchman exchanged a pass with Silva before showing good strength to keep off Ward and cutting the ball back to the edge of the six yard box for the Spaniard who somehow sent his effort wide of Speroni’s left post.
The third of City’s chances in the space of five minutes came down the left side for a change. Yaya Toure played a one two with Kolarov, the Serbian sent a low cross behind Milner but the ball bounced off Jedinak to Toure who once again was more of a threat to the fans seated above Speroni’s goal than to the keeper himself. Ten minutes before half time, another one of the Eagles’ free kicks had Hangeland flick the ball on to Bolasie and his half volley from a big angle only went into the side netting. The very best chance of the first half came after 43 minutes. Yaya Toure spotted the run of Zabaleta and produced an inch perfect pass right into his path. With only the advancing Speroni to beat, the Argentine went for the chip from just behind the six yard box and sent his effort inches wide of the left post when he should have scored.
Despite failing to score and register a single shot on target in the first half, it took the Citizens just one minute to get going in the second half. Kolarov’s low cross from the left took a very slight deflection and was heading for the far post but was cleared by Joel Ledley before more damage could be caused. The visitors had their deserved breakthrough three minutes later through Silva and a very big deflection off Dann which lobbed Speroni in goal. Not for the first time, Zabaleta made another perfect run, was found by Fernandinho with a great pass. The pull back squared the ball to Silva who took a first time shot which took a defining deflection off Dann who was attempting to block, over the hopeless Speroni and into the back of the net and the Etihad Stadium erupted with joy for the first time.
Aleksandr Kolarov obviously did not want to fall behind his fellow full-back Zabaleta and prepared the second goal for the tricky Spaniard in the 61st minute. His great low cross almost from the corner flag was redirected behind Speroni by the Spaniard’s left foot to give the hosts a welcoming security goal and himself a second of the afternoon.
The controversy every game needs came in the 68th minute. The visitors were looking to dramatise things and Bolasie’s cross found McArthur on the edge of the six yard box and he left Joe Hart with no chance after heading into the bottom right corner. However, the linesman put his flag up for an offside, which was never there as McArthur was level Demichelis when Bolasie crossed. This left the home side only to seal the victory after a quick effective counter attack which was lead by Navas found Milner on the left edge of the penalty area who spotted the run of Yaya Toure. The Ivorian took a touch and absolutely thumped the ball into the net with his left foot to mark his 150th Premier League appearance and effectively send the game to bed.
Crystal Palace almost got a consolation goal in stoppage time when Zaha’s low cross from the right was met by a sliding Demichelis attempting to clear and the ball ricocheted agonisingly close to Hart’s left post.
Despite lacking a clear cut striker, City dominated for most of the game and cruised to a well deserved victory, which puts them level on points with Chelsea. Manuel Pellegrini’s men were finding themselves in the first half without a focal point in attack and their struggle is reflected by the fact the failed to produce a shot on target in the first half. However in the second half, the home side were much more direct and effective. Their full-backs exploited the width of the pitch which resulted in two goals for David Silva who played a more offensive role and was the finisher today. It is important for Manchester City’s title bid to get as many points as possible in this busy Christmas period especially without Sergio Aguero who is expected back later in January. They have taken the first three steps well and they have to continue putting pressure on Jose Mourinho’s men who are still favorites.
Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandr Kolarov were the key to Manchester City’s victory today. It was their offensive quality and desire to constantly get forward to the byline behind opposition’s defence and whip the ball into the box that created the first two goals. They got an assist each and combined they created more chances than Nasri, David Silva and Yaya Toure all together. Their heat map shows they both spent more time in the final third of the pitch than anywhere else. Without a natural striker the Citizens didn’t finish off combinations in the box but found another way to open up the visitor’s stubborn defence.