Manchester City dropped two vital points on Wednesday night against Everton, who stopped the Blues from scoring at the Etihad Stadium for the first time in a year. Manuel Pellegrini’s side had averaged 2.9 goals-per-game in the league, ahead of the game against the Toffees, but they just could not breach Tim Howard and the Phil Jagielka-led backline. Yes, there was a refereeing howler that deprived City of still going on to pocket all three points, but the normally imperious Cityzens looked below par, overall.
Crystal Palace visit the Etihad Stadium later today, having hit a poor run of form recently. Alan Pardew’s men have won just one of their last quintet of league games and will be desperate for revival. They have lost both their games against the 2013/14 English champions so far this season, conceding five goals on their last visit to the Etihad in the pre-quarters of this season’s Capital One Cup.
From City’s point-of-view, will they be able to secure all three points against Palace? What should they do to make sure points are not dropped for the second consecutive home game? Read on…
Manchester City v Crystal Palace
Statistically, Palace have been a better side away from home, than at Selhurst Park, where four of their nine victories in the league have come this season. Although marginal, what does that piece of stat tell you about Pardew’s side on the road?
They are an incredibly organized and hard-working side that thrives on quick transitions when a turnover in possession takes place. And, playing away from home allows them to play their type. City, in recent seasons, have had problems against teams that play this way. Pellegrini, though, can have no ‘big team, small team mentality’ complains tonight. He has to make sure City are far more incisive enough than they were against Everton, and get that first goal as soon as possible.
I, for one, have been critical of the tempo at which City have played in the last couple of months. They have started games far too slowly, and tried upping the ante only in the second-half. Their opponents, therefore, have been afforded the breathing space to get organized and feel their way into games, making it harder for City as the match progresses. That is another area where City need to improve tonight, when a dangerous side as Palace can make them pay if the first goal does not come soon enough.
Against Everton, Pellegrini did not play his strongest possible City side, despite the one he put out being a formidable outfit in itself. Of the five players who missed out on Wednesday, none – Fernandinho, Eliaquim Mangala, Vincent Kompany, Wilfried Bony and Samir Nasri – are available for selection tonight.
The City manager, speaking in the press conference on Tuesday, did say that someone like David Silva, who played only for 16 minutes on Wednesday night, may not be able to play two full games in the space of less than three days. I expect the Spaniard to start tonight, most probably in place of Kevin de Bruyne, who had a poor game against Everton. That would be one of the three changes I would make, if I was Pellegrini.
Aleksandar Kolarov for Gael Clichy would be the second of three changes. The Frenchman completed just one of his four attempted crosses, providing little to nothing to City’s attacks. Bacary Sagna has been one of the few best City players this season, but deserves a rest tonight. Pablo Zabaleta played in the FA Cup third round victory against Norwich City last Saturday, and can come in for the former Arsenal right-back. Jesus Navas and Raheem Sterling, with their searing pace and ability to beat players, should be retained in City’s starting lineup from Wednesday’s game.
Against what will be a double decker Palace bus, City and Pellegrini need the aforementioned changes in personnel to overcome the South Londoners. Tonight’s game may not be an exciting one from supporters’ perspective, with City expected to dominate ball possession and Palace looking to pounce on a mistake from the home side. To win, City need to start brightly and get that first goal as soon as possible.