Two goals in each half helped secure an eventually comfortable victory for Manchester City over a struggling Crystal Palace side. In inflicting the Eagles’ third straight defeat, City also became the fifth straight side to prevent the South London outfit from scoring as well.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though; certainly not to start with. City began nervously, sloppily conceding possession in dangerous areas. Joe Hart made an excellent save from Delaney only minutes in, and superbly stopped Yohan Cabaye’s free-kick later in the half. Crystal Palace’s fight waned significantly as the game went on, caused by City’s ability to score timely goals. First, the dynamic Delph struck from distance before Agüero thumped one home, with a little help from the forehead of Scott Dann. The mercurial Argentine struck again, and then selflessly laid one on for David Silva to seal the deal.
So what can we make of this from a tactical perspective? Pellegrini shuffled his hand considerably to start with, and it produced a number of things that will please City fans.
Return of 4-4-2 and a start for Kelechi
Kelechi Iheanacho has been one of the stories of the season so far for City. He announced his arrival on the first team scene with a last ditch winner at Selhurst Park when the two sides met in September, and was rewarded for his continued good form with a start. Averaging a goal every 72 minutes, it was a start that was richly deserved.
Additionally, the Nigerian’s inclusion saw a return to the 4-4-2 system that was so successful in the 13-14 title winning season. The formation was originally ditched last season after a tough run of results, but it was hard to argue that revisiting it would do anything other than rejuvenate an attacking unit that was out of sorts. Agüero, and Bony, have cut isolated figures on occasion this season, often lacking support. The combination, and system, was effective at Norwich in the FA Cup and was more than worthwhile testing today.
It is perhaps fair to say that it didn’t click fully, but it was evident that there is definitely something there. A fledging partnership. Many players, Agüero included, are still in the process of finding their best form, and he was sometimes guilty of trying to do too much alone, but he was enlivened after getting on the score sheet. The Argentine’s involvement in the third and fourth goals were vintage Sergio Agüero, and if the tandem are given the opportunity to continue building their partnership City are on to a good thing. Iheanacho’s effervescent style perfectly complements Agüero, and both look to be hitting excellent form. Sergio’s reaction to Kelechi’s withdrawal shows how much he enjoyed having a strike partner. A frustrated glance to the sky as if to say ‘why?!‘.
Toure on the Bench
How do you solve a problem like Yaya Toure? Nobody in a Blue shirt has split opinion quite like the Ivorian has this season. It is becoming progressively more clear that he is not the force he once was in the central midfield role that he made his own over the last four seasons. This, in part, has caused some of City’s problems to date. Fernandinho has regularly worked overtime in midfield to compensate for Toure’s tendency to flit in and out of games, leading to many fans calling for him to see a reduced role.
That’s exactly what happened against Palace, and it worked. If City as a whole were solid yet unspectacular, one individual who was particularly outstanding was Fabian Delph – Toure’s replacement. Tenacious, dynamic and nimble, Delph’s performance had it all and he capped his performance with a fine goal.
Another benefit of having Toure amongst the substitutes was the ability to bring him on when the game is stretched and there are 20+ tired minds and bodies out on the pitch. It is apparent that this is when Yaya is at his most effective as he ages. He replaced Kelechi, who ably chased back to support the four man midfield defensively, with just over half an hour remaining, and found space aplenty. We saw a couple of his trademark forward surges, and he had time in possession to dictate the play. He also played an important role in the third goal, which ultimately killed the game.
All of these things are positives, and should result in a slightly decreased role for Toure moving forward. He can still be a substantial asset for Pellegrini this season, and using him in situations that allow his undoubted quality to shine will only add to that. A midfield pivot of Delph and Fernandinho, with two of Silva, Sterling, De Bruyne and Navas providing the attacking support to Agüero and Kelechi is an exciting prospect. Just imagine that in full flow. Mouthwatering for City fans, terrifying for anyone else.