MANCHESTER -- In a tight game, Edin Dzeko's second-half goal gave Man City a 1-0 win at home to Tony Pulis' Crystal Palace. Some quick thoughts from the Etihad Stadium...
Dzeko shows both sides of his game
The scoreline suggests that Edin Dzeko was Manchester City's hero, but the reality is a little more complicated. Certainly, there was a sense of relief at the Etihad Stadium when the Bosnian collected Jesus Navas' cut-back and drilled an unstoppable shot past Julian Speroni to end Crystal Palace's brave resistance while extending City's impeccable home record -- it is now 10 wins from 10 league games.
Yet Dzeko was a cause of frustration for the first 65 minutes. Rather than pressing his case to start more often in Sergio Aguero's absence, the target man appeared off the pace. It was a reason for City's uncharacteristic impotence as manager Manuel Pellegrini's decision to rest Alvaro Negredo, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure threatened to backfire. Squad rotation only works if the squad players step up when required and, for an hour, Dzeko did not.
- Wrap: City win, go top
Nevertheless, it was a landmark goal for him as it brought up a half-century for the Bosnian in City colours. The most famous was his injury-time equaliser against QPR in May 2012 that preceded Aguero's title-deciding winner, yet while that ensured a place in City folklore for him, he remains an enigmatic figure, ineffective at times and unstoppable at others. His 50 goals came in just 76 starts -- plus plenty of substitute appearances -- which is a terrific return but, as with his November strike against Viktoria Plzen, the latest camouflaged a nondescript performance overall.
Yaya's absence keenly felt
Only a few weeks have passed since Manchester City beat Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena without the suspended Toure. It was a result to serve as a reminder that no one is indispensable. Nevertheless, removing Toure -- something both Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini have been reluctant to do -- leaves a huge hole in the midfield.
With the Ivorian granted a rare rest, Javi Garcia came in and Fernandinho surged forward to fill in as the attacking midfielder. The Brazilian was twice close to breaking the deadlock, a sign of how intent he was on replicating the 11-goal Toure's contribution, but City still missed their talisman as Palace presented obdurate opposition.
Toure's contribution is not merely a matter of goals or a question of his obvious physical power. His quick, one-touch passing helps explain why the regular front four of David Silva, Nasri, Aguero and Negredo have been so deadly this season -- it is Toure who facilitates their devastating combination play.
It's also the reason why Toure's tally of three assists is deceptive: he has been involved in many more goals, though just not providing the final pass. The speed and accuracy of his supply line was what City really needed and it was telling that Toure was about to come on when Dzeko finally broke the deadlock. Once the goal went in, he sat down and Aleksandar Kolarov came on instead.
Palace are building from the back
Many assumed that Crystal Palace, who had lost nine of their first 10 league games, were doomed before Tony Pulis took over as manager. The combination of a dreadful start and a lack of Premier League pedigree seemed to condemn them to the Championship. Under Pulis, however, they look less a lost cause than a side with renewed hope.
In a way, their plight helped him: arguably Pulis operates better with inferior players. A sergeant-major of a manager constructs well-drilled teams. It is about teamwork, not talent.
Palace were impressively well organised considering they had played 48 hours earlier and also switched shape to incorporate an extra midfielder. Because of their shortcomings in possession, Pulis' sides have long played without the ball. They took that approach to extremes as City had 77 percent possession over the 90 minutes. Yet while the title favourites had the ball and a series of shots, few were clear-cut chances.
Unlike many other visitors to the Etihad, Palace were not cut to shreds -- many of City's attempts were from distance as Palace's back four attempted to erect a barrier around the edge of their box. And as they built on solid foundations, they began to threaten an unlikely win. Both Jason Puncheon and Mile Jedinak drew fine saves from Joe Hart. Even in defeat, they achieved a distinction: City had scored at least twice in every other home game, yet Pulis' side restricted them to one goal.
It is instructive that Palace have kept clean sheets in all of their wins under Pulis. Each came against a relegation rival -- West Ham, Cardiff and Aston Villa -- and they face a fourth, Norwich, on New Year's Day. It is a game they could very well win 1-0.