For a short while at least, Manchester City resumed their position at the head of the table. That was until the Scousers eased past Chelsea to restore their position albeit having played a game more.
For City it was a visit to bogey team Crystal Palace with their tight-knit stadium and the full-on noise and support that their fans give their team.
City knew the importance of this and every other Premier League fixture and they have to work out a way to overcome tricky opponents, especially as they have to negotiate Tottenham and Stretford over the next 10 days or so, while the Scousers enjoy whipping the likes of Huddersfield and Cardiff. We should see them close the goal difference over that period too.
Let’s not take anything away from the importance of beating Palace. The Seagulls have an under-estimated amount of competence in their line-up and have proved tricky customers for City both last season and earlier this.
This time, however, the Blues put on the burners from minute one, and despite an earlier miss, Raheem Sterling was on hand to put city ahead. He was spotted in motion by De Bruyne whose slide-rule pass went straight into Sterling’s stride and from a tight angle he squeezed it past Guaita to claim the lead.
Although Palace have generally been better on the road this season, they are still no mugs at home and gave City some discomfort, at least until just after the hour when David Silva looked to be in a blind alley but somehow threaded the ball to Sane. His first-time daisy-cutter found Sterling lurking at the back post to tap home.
The relief around the away section could be felt and City were at last in full control. Guardiola had been going nuts at the chances squandered, but at last looked as if he could enjoy a sit down. At least until, with ten minutes left, a “typical City” free kick was needlessly given away by Gundogan on the edge of the box and penalty expert Milivojeciv stepped up to beat Ederson from the edge of the box. There were question marks over the Brazilian’s positioning for the shot but it was well taken by the Palace man and city’s “wall” looked a bit ragged.
Cue the home onslaught, as they hunted for an equaliser. But it was City who finally earned the rewards. De Bruyne on the counter-charge saw de Jesus on his left, played him in and he drilled home from just inside the box, just inside the post. The relief was there for all to see and City crossed another awkward match of their to-do list.
Raheem Sterling was quite simply sensational and did his quest for player of the year no harm at all. But can City shake Liverpool off? They have a run-in of relatively easy matches, all winnable, while City still have a couple of “big” matches, two of which are in 4 days of each other.
I’m seeing an excitement in Guardiola, in the Premier League matches, that I don’t see in the Champions League and wonder if his preference isn’t to retain the title over success in Europe. I would love to see city retain the title more than anything, but I have respect for the lady on Twitter who announced that if city should win the quadruple, she will have a blue empty seat tattooed on her bottom.