Date: 21st December 2014 at 12:53pm
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Eleven man Manchester City powered their way back towards the summit of the Barclays Premier League with a systematic dismantling of Neil Warnock`s Eagles of Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium yesterday.

Well lead by their valuable additional resource in the shape of the Stretford Steak and Kidney Pie Scoffer with the whistle, Palace made it difficult for City in the first half despite becoming strangers to the ball, but despite the efforts of the Equaliser, Phil Dowd, and one glaring error by his assistant, their work was always going to be unsustainable.

City were forced to play without a recognised striker and their 4-6-0 line up looked destined to be a midfield toil, especially in that first half when the Palace back line at times struggling for things to do and people to mark, managed to keep City`s overloaded midfield?in midfield.

But once the chances arrived it was only a matter of time before the deadlock was to be broken and it was always going to be City who broke it.

As always with a Neil Warnock side, the opposition were set up to repel anything City could throw at them, but they also had the ability to counter at pace with Bolasie, Puncheon and ex-Stretford, Campbell ably prompted by MacArthur.

For their part City fielded an usual looking line-up with Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala and Kolrove shielding the largely redundant Joe Hart, with Navas, Fernandinho, Yaya, Milner, Silva and Nasri perming any two-from-six providing a combination of midfield and attack.

City were easily able to get off on the front foot with Silva back in harness and looking like he hadn`t been away. Crowned ahead of the match of having taken over from the legendary Colin Bell as having the most international caps of any City player in history, having already achieved a half-century, the Magician went on to use some of the play he had used in his more recent appearances for Spain..namely taking opportunities to have a shot on goal.

Despite the restrictions of having no out-and-out striker, once the initial confusion was over, City set themselves into a pattern of ball retention, probing and creating chances from deeper positions. The natural outlet became Kolarov who time and again made himself available on the overlap to feed a variety of dangerous crosses into the Palace penalty area. Combining well with Milner and Nasri, this tactic was used to good effect to ensure that the defensive line was stretched, inviting Silva and Yaya into whatever spaces their markers surrendered. And there was enough of it but it was the mystery of the 45000 in attendance that the scores were level at half time. Yaya had twice used his pitching wedge to sky acceptable chances into level two and there were near misses too from Silva, Milner, Zabaleta and Fernadinho. But with the scores level at 0-0 there is always the danger that opposition can hit you on the break. Fernandinho time and again closed those options down for the Eagles and Mangala looked untroubled as his sustained, enforced inclusion in the starting eleven has seen his performance levels grow in stature.

It was only going to be a matter of time before City took the lead. If you can`t get out of your own half and can`t get the ball, you are not going to score and Warnock`s protegees were to discover this throughout the match. True, they get a couple of looks in on Joe Hart`s goal, but not to the extent that they were going to trouble the scorers, apart of course from a momentary lapse during the second half.

As soon as the second half got under way things started to happen and as if often the case it was a scruffy looking goal that set City on the pathway towards to the top of the league. The build-up started down the right with a series of passes between Yaya, Nasri and Navas before Zabaleta was unleashed into the box. With the Palace defence expecting a shot and trying to close that option down, Zaba played a delightful reverse pass into the path of Silva, who shot hit Dann the defender and then bounced in a way that confused Speroni before crawling in almost slow motion into the net.

Ten minutes later almost an identical move, this down the left ended in the same conclusion. It started with a corner on City`s right which somehow found its way to Milner, whose options were closed off. He turned and probed, drew two men and played in Nasri, who quickly shipped it to Yaya received it back and moved it rapidly on to the overlapping Kolarov. City`s speed of movement created an element of surprise especially when Kolarov`s pin-point low cross found Silva in space and the Canario promptly slid the ball across Speroni and into the net. This was pure poetry in motion.

It should now have been a question of how many, but City were happy to get themselves over the finishing line although two more goals would have seen them sit at the head of the table at least until Monday night.

But Palace, having replaced Campbell, who spent much of the match like a bad boxer – on the floor – with another ex-Stetford, Zaha, suddenly found themselves in City`s half down their right. Good work by the replacement found Bolasie, whose excellent cross was headed home by MacArthur. Inexplicably the nearside linesman flagged him offside, despite a City player immediately in front of the very same assistant clearly playing him onside by at least two yards. This was clearly going to cause some consternation from the effervescent Neil Warnock, at least in his post-match comments.

That said this was just about the only decision City got all afternoon with Phil-the-Red obliging like Santa Claus in giving Palace everything they asked for as if they`d sent a “Dear Santa” letter, but ruling that goal offside was just about as unjust and unforgiveable as it gets. But City were in no mood to remain charitable and with ten minutes left another masterclass in goal creation and execution lit up the Etihad.

The evergreen Lampard had come on to allow Silva to have his ovation and as Palace tried to attack, Frank got a foot in and broke down their efforts before immediately releasing Navas who sprinted into the opposition half, drawing most of the cover. He in turn found Milner in the inside left position. He drew the remaining two defenders and slid the ball into the path of the rip-roaring Yaya who had time to set his sights and hammer the ball home to conclude the scoring for today.

This was simply a goal of outstanding beauty and ruthless delivery. The Blues easily saw the match out without trauma and in the end were to sit one goal off the top of the division. Back where we belong.

Pellegrini, looking at his depleted resources engineered a first class game plan to overcome issues in the striking department. There was clear determination to take things earlier than normal in the box and to confuse the Palace defence with pace and precision. At times the back four seemed to look around as they had no one to mark, but then suddenly their penalty area seemed to overload with what I often call the ground attack, as Blue shirted opponents poured in from every direction.

The return of Silva accentuated this. Continually able to take two steps and end up in an acre of space, the Magician used this to maximise the use of Nasri who once again forced me to tear up previous Ped Reports and turn in another quality display. Last season we saw him become almost telepathic in terms of his combination football with Yaya and those signs, disturbing for the rest of the Premier League were much in evidence yesterday. So it gives them another player to target. Yes they will kick out at Aguero and at Silva, but now Nasri has showed that he is as important as the rest. Yes, Alphie, I did say that! Silva deserved to be named man-of-the-match as he had the crowd licking their lips every time he went near the ball.

Despite the pace on display from Palace, including a trio of performers that put the final nail in Liverpool`s coffin last season, City`s back line didn`t look in too much trouble. Mangala, with Demichelis leading, looked much safer and Zaba and Kolarov used a combination of attack and defence to create problems for Palace and to keep them at bay for much of this match. No doubt having reminded Sue of that, I will be joining Brendan in the binning cupboard!

Ahead of them, Fernadinho was simply superb. Not only did he protect the two centre backs, but at times get forward to supplement the more forward-thinkers alongside him. The two centre backs and Fernadinho became the axis that laid the foundations for an attacking performance that at times was mesmerising as well as at times frustrating. Either way this was an excellent performance by City against an opposition that is more than capable of creating upsets. Pellegrini`s men were not going to allow that to happen in this match.

The Blues will be reasonably confident that they can collect points at home against Burnley and Sunderland. West Brom away is a tricky match but they don`t look as resilient as they have in previous years and only Berahino looks to be a threat. If City can emerge from the overloaded festive period with maximum points, then the table could start to look different by mid-January and ahead of the eagerly awaited return match at Stamford Bus Station.

City are in a different place since they defeated Bayern Munich and Pellegrini seems to have applied the liquid engineering in terms of Premier League performances. Chelsea are still dangerous, but I suspect the Blues are not fearing anyone at this point in time and the belief has returned. With Silva back, the creativity has improved and so has his goal tally. It would be perfect if this proves to be the catalyst that enables him to become a true legend in terms of the number of goals he scores. He has started doing this for his country and maybe this match was the starting point for similar in a City shirt.

 
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