City sitting pretty after 1-0 Palace win

Posted by Simon Curtis

For those people who like to put two and two together and get seventeen, this would be the match where Manchester City would break the all-time Premier League scoring record, sending poor Crystal Palace into a tailspin of self-doubt that could only finish with relegation and deep shame sometime next May.

That the game finished 1-0 -- the closest score of any home game so far this season at the Etihad -- and that Palace provided a staunch and well organised defence of the 0-0 draw they hoped to earn, says a lot about the character that Tony Pulis has instilled into his ranks.

Palace arrived in Manchester having sneaked a late win at Villa Park but with little hope of repeating it at City's expense. To refresh your memory, the scores of league encounters at the Etihad so far this season look like this: 4-0 vs. Newcastle, 2-0 vs. Hull, 4-1 vs. Manchester Utd, 3-1 vs. Everton, 7-0 vs. Norwich, 6-0 vs. Spurs, 3-0 vs. Swansea, 6-3 vs. Arsenal, 2-1 vs. Liverpool.

The one-nil scoreline in this match thus takes on another light when put against this incredible list of goal-scoring prowess.

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Nevertheless, despite the changes in personnel, despite the sometimes slow-moving attempts at forward impetus and despite everything else, City have scaled the heights and now sit top of the table at last. Only a few days ago, experts with large brains were wondering what an Arsenal win in Manchester, and the subsequent nine-point gap that would open up, would do to the morale of the "chasing pack."

But things change quickly in football and Arsenal now form part of that pack. The nine-point gap never did arrive. Instead, thrashed 6-3 by City, they now play catch up themselves as the Sky Blues sit pretty at the very top of the pile.

Whilst this game delivered little in the way of the excitement and breath-taking skills that Etihad crowds have become accustomed to this season, it did allow a list of important milestones to be passed. 10 wins out of ten for City at home in the league; Edin Dzeko's 50th goal for the Blues; 60th successive goal scoring home match for City; three different right backs in the space of one game (Dedryck Boyata, James Milner and Gael Clichy); Jason Puncheon maintaining his record as the Premier League's most un-prolific taker of chances (31 shots, no goals) and Dzeko beating the world record for misplaced shinned passes back into midfield from a promising advanced position.

It was that kind of game. City, with key personnel rested, didn't quite fire on all cylinders. Palace, on the up under new management, seeming happy to run until they dropped. Manuel Pellegrini's decision to play a kind of 4-1-4-1 with the conspicuous absence of Yaya Touré left the side with less bite in midfield. Fernandinho found himself further upfield than usual and Javi Garcia was asked to bring his unspectacular sideways passing to the engine room.

Missing the drive of Zabaleta down the right -- in his place, Boyata attempted to bring loping into fashion -- City often appeared sluggish to get forward and when they did, they were constantly thwarted by darting Palace interceptions. By the end, with bloodied goalkeeper Joe Hart named man of the match for a number of excellent saves, City were relieved that the one goal did finally fall and that -- immediately after -- Hart remained alert to the unlikely threat of Joe Ward, who first brought out a classic diving save from the goalie and then missed with a header from the resulting corner. Ward has never scored for Palace and he will never have a better chance to put his name up in lights than he did 68 minutes into Saturday's match.

City now look forward to a New Year packed with bright things: the start of the FA Cup campaign at an already sold out Ewood Park, a Capital One Cup semi-final date with West Ham, the small matter of a Champions League trip to Barcelona and five away Premier League games in January alone.

This run begins at Swansea on New Year’s day and continues apace from there. If City have shown their true colours with a blistering run of form in a packed December programme, they must now maintain it through an equally dense January and February. Those same soothsayers, who predicted an avalanche of goals against Palace, might well have been expecting City to win the league back in August too. That they have climbed into a position to do this after a rocky start under Manuel Pellegrini speaks volumes for the courage and application of the Blues staff so far.

As they head towards 2014 with all fronts still open, Manchester City will be the team to finish ahead of those still in the hunt for honours come May.


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