Australia markets closed

    +28.60 (+0.41%)

    -0.0031 (-0.41%)
  • ASX 200

    +28.80 (+0.43%)
  • OIL

    -0.23 (-0.35%)
  • GOLD

    -10.30 (-0.61%)

    -932.66 (-1.40%)
  • CMC Crypto 200

    +72.94 (+7.73%)

Man City underline title credentials with dominant win against Crystal Palace

James Ducker
·14-min read
John Stones celebrates after making it 1-0 to Manchester City - NMC POOL
John Stones celebrates after making it 1-0 to Manchester City - NMC POOL

He has been bending the rules of physics for so long in a sky blue shirt now that it was fitting Kevin De Bruyne should find a quite outrageous way to bring up a century of assists for Manchester City. A cross dispatched with minimal backlift yet pinpoint precision with the outside of his right boot - as easy as you or I might swipe our credit card - even as two Crystal Palace players bore down on him. Gary Cahill jumped but felt the same pangs of frustration as so many opponents on the wrong end of De Bruyne’s beautiful trail of destruction: the ball, despairingly yet perpetually, just out of reach. John Stones, in reality, could not miss, although he took his header as confidently and cleanly as Les Ferdinand used to do, not a man claiming his first Premier League goal for City. He obviously liked what he tasted because he scored a second, and his team’s third, later in the match.

“Kevin has done that over the years he has been here, some outrageous passes where you think, ‘I don't know how he's done that.’,” said Stones. “It came straight to me - it’s something we can only dream of and he can do it when he wants.

“I put pressure on myself to score goals, I need to contribute and bring that to my game. Today it clicked and the hard work on the training pitch on set pieces is paying off.”

This game was over long before Stones got his second, in truth. Once this relentlessly efficient City side get their noses in front, opponents are in trouble and Palace - missing half a dozen first teamers and struggling for goals - were horribly out of their depth here.

This may have been the moment City started to score more freely, and their fixture list between now and the trip to Anfield on Feb. 6 is certainly favourable enough to suggest a return of those goal gluts may once again become more commonplace. Yet City are collecting win after win thanks predominantly to a formidable defensive structure, lots of control, and flashes of sublime quality, despite not having any strikers who are scoring.

Against Brighton last Wednesday it was Phil Foden, here it was De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan, who curled a stunning finish into the top corner to make it 2-0, and Raheem Sterling, who did similar with a fine free-kick late on.

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates after scoring the 4-0 lead during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace in Manchester, Britain, 17 January 2021. Manchester City vs Crystal Palace, United Kingdom. - Dave Thompson/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates after scoring the 4-0 lead during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace in Manchester, Britain, 17 January 2021. Manchester City vs Crystal Palace, United Kingdom. - Dave Thompson/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Make no mistake about it, the biggest beneficiaries of that goalless draw between Liverpool and Manchester City earlier in the day, were Pep Guardiola’s men. It presented the chance for City to move up to second in the table, two points behind United with a game in hand, and there never looked any danger of them wasting that opportunity. City’s dominance was total, confident, composed, clinical. It was hard to remember Palace straying over the halfway line bar Ruben Dias blocking a shot from Jordan Ayew.

Gabriel Jesus’s goal against Liverpool on Nov. 8 was the last time a striker scored for City in the Premier League but with midfielders and defenders stepping up time and again to breach that void, it does not matter.

This was City’s seventh clean sheet in their past nine league outings and their centre-half pairing have had much to do with that. Yet Stones - who also scored in the 2-0 Carabao Cup semi-final win over United this month - and Dias are obviously not happy just forming a largely impenetrable back wall.

They want to get in on the act at the other end of the pitch, too. Dias must have thought he had scored his first goal for City when he thumped a header from De Bruyne’s corner at Vicente Guaita. The Palace goalkeeper saved by Stones was the grateful recipient of the rebound, thrashing it into the net. Poacher for the second time on the night, Stones’s renaissance is one of the stories of the season given that he looked as though he could be on his way out in the summer. “It's tough when you're not playing or don't perform to your best,” he said. “I went back to basics, looked at myself first and what I could improve. I had to keep fighting and keep believing in myself, I did that, kept the faith and kept grinding away. I dedicated everything to get back into the team.”

As accomplished a team performance as this was, De Bruyne was still City’s beating heart. Jesus may be enduring a drought, Sergio Aguero may be absent but the brilliant Belgian just keeps on doing what he does best and as long as he stays fit and in this form City will be a threat to anyone.

To put De Bruyne’s particular brand of creativity into some perspective, his 100th assist in City colours dating back to 2015 is 31 more than any other Premier League player has managed over the same period. Drink that in for a moment. Stones may not score many but, as he said, he knew full well where that cross was going in the 26th minute.

It should not be overlooked that City’s upturn has also coincided with a marked improvement in Gundogan. The German’s season, like that of his team, was slow to get going, largely as a result of being struck down by coronavirus, but he is back to his best now, benefiting from a more advanced midfield role and retains a nose for goal.

Luka Milivojevic headed De Bruyne’s cross out to Andros Townsend, who, unable to get the ball under control, was pickpocketed by the wily Gundogan, who got it down, side-stepped Ayew and bent a superb finish into the top corner.

Sterling would later find exactly the same corner when he bent home lovely free-kick to add some extra gloss to the scoreline.

That’s eight successive wins in all competitions for City now. They may well be the team to beat.

09:06 PM

Full time, Manchester City 4-0 Crystal Palace

City were much improved in the second half and deserved to win comprehensively.

Palace offered nothing, really, ending the match with zero shots on target and very few positives to take back to London with them.

09:04 PM

90+1 mins

City win another free kick, Cancelo lifts the ball into the box and Fernandinho gets on the end of it, but can't direct a header on target.

09:02 PM

GOAL! Manchester City 4-0 Crystal Palace

Torres wins a free kick right on the edge of the area under pressure from McCarthy.

Sterling steps up and places an inch-perfect free kick into the top corner. The technique, the accuracy, the vision, *chef's kiss*.

08:56 PM

83 mins

Foden almost gets into a scoring position after a mix-up in the Palace defence, but Guaita mops up.

08:52 PM

78 mins

Hodgson tries to inject some energy into his flagging side, bringing off Townsend for Michy Batshuayi.

That's his second change of the night, having hooked Milivojevic for Jairo Riedewald a little earlier.

08:49 PM

75 mins

City are stroking the ball about at half pace, having a breather.

In the lull, Fernandinho makes a mistake and Ayew sprints forwards before going down in the area. He wants a penalty, naturally, but replays show that Stones and Fernandinho won the ball fairly.

08:45 PM

70 mins

Guardiola makes a double change, Joao Cancelo coming on for De Bruyne and Ferran Torres swapping in for Gundogan.

Another word for De Bruyne, who was genuinely magnificent tonight. Never change, precious cherub.

08:41 PM

GOAL! Manchester City 3-0 Crystal Palace

Luka Milivojevic strokes a languid ball out from the back and De Bruyne intercepts, sending Sterling through with a first-time pass.

Sterling wins a corner, Ruben Dias heads straight at Guaita but Stones is there to score his second on the follow-up. That's three goals in his last four appearances now.

08:34 PM

62 mins

Jesus tees up De Bruyne on the edge of the box and he takes it on himself, shaping to shoot and curling just wide of the far post.

08:34 PM

59 mins

Guardiola makes his first substitution, bringing on Foden for Silva.

De Bruyne almost sends him one-on-one immediately. Palace need to switch on.

08:31 PM

56 mins

Guaita takes a risk with the ball at his feet and is very nearly punished by Jesus.

Palace are in danger of a thrashing if they keep making mistakes like that.

08:30 PM

GOAL! Manchester City 2-0 Crystal Palace


City win a corner, Silva gets a decent delivery into the box and Palace clear as far as Gundogan. He takes it down, shimmies and whips a shot into the top right hand corner. Kablammo!

08:24 PM

50 mins

City win two corners in quick succession, but De Bruyne can't quite pick out a teammate.

Normal service has resumed, with Palace pinned back in their final third and defending doggedly as City come at them.

08:19 PM

Time for the second half

... with the players walking back out onto the pitch.

Will City run away with this? Or will Palace magic up an equaliser and make it interesting?

08:06 PM

Half time, Manchester City 1-0 Crystal Palace

It wasn't a great half of football, but it'll do as far as City are concerned.

Where there were moments of quality, they invariably came from De Bruyne. His assist for the opening goal was ridiculously good and, for that alone, the first 45 minutes were worth watching.

Kevin De Bruyne has been City's standout player so far - GETTY IMAGES
Kevin De Bruyne has been City's standout player so far - GETTY IMAGES

08:00 PM

43 mins

Ayew wins a soft free kick from Fernandinho and Palace pump it forwards, but Cahill only gets the slightest of touches.

City charge back up the other end and Sterling gets in behind on the left, but his cut back is scrambled away.

07:57 PM

41 mins

De Bruyne threads an eye-of-the-needle pass to Sterling in the area, but James Tomkins gets across and hoofs the ball out of play.

Contrasting styles, there.

07:55 PM

38 mins

Silva clips a ball to Gundogan who gets a flick-on to Jesus, but his header is straight at Guaita.

07:51 PM

34 mins

De Bruyne wins a free kick in a good position and Gundogan takes it, but shoots high and wide.

07:44 PM

GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Crystal Palace

James McArthur makes a loose pass in midfield and De Bruyne hares forwards, winning a corner.

He takes it himself and the ball eventually comes to Sterling, who loops it back to him. De Bruyne then hits a beautiful cross with the outside of his boot which falls for Stones, who heads past Vicente Guaita.

Stones wheels away after scoring the opener - REUTERS
Stones wheels away after scoring the opener - REUTERS

07:41 PM

22 mins

De Bruyne has City's best chance of the match so far, blasting at goal from the edge of the area only for Tyrick Mitchell to make a crucial block.

From the ensuing corner, he has another crack from distance. It's blocked again, with Palace defending the set piece well.

07:39 PM

21 mins

Andros Townsend roars forwards after a mistake from John Stones and Palace suddenly look dangerous.

Eze ends up with the ball on the edge of the box, but loses possession.

07:35 PM

19 mins

Eze sees Ederson off his line and goes for the spectacular, but his effort floats harmlessly over the crossbar.

07:34 PM

17 mins

Ilkay Gundogan tries to pick out Bernardo Silva on the right, but his cross-field ball floats out of play.

City have had 83 per cent possession in the last five minutes but have nothing to show for it, which says everything about the game.

07:30 PM

14 mins

Eberechi Eze nearly gets onto a long ball into the box, but it's slightly overhit.

07:29 PM

10 mins

Jesus has a couple of half chances, but Palace defend well.

It's not been a classic so far, this. There have been zero shots on target and the pace is reminiscent of a training game.

07:22 PM

5 mins

City have dominated the ball so far, but they've made a deceptively quiet start.

They win their first corner of the match, Kevin De Bruyne takes it and Palace get it clear.

07:19 PM

Teams out on the pitch

... and we're underway at the Etihad.

07:16 PM

City to go second?

With Liverpool and Manchester United thrashing out a goalless draw at Anfield, City can go second with a win here.

Guardiola might not worry about the table but, for the players, that might be the little bit of extra motivation they need.

06:48 PM

Team news

Palace are without key man Wilfried Zaha as they take on City in the final game of the day.

Zaha didn't even make the bench as manager Roy Hodgson named only seven of the permitted nine substitutes. Jordan Ayew, James McCarthy and Gary Cahill all came into the side that drew with Arsenal on Thursday with Christian Benteke – who was among the replacements – and Cheikhou Kouyate the others to make way.

City make four changes following their midweek victory over Brighton with goalscorer Phil Foden dropping out along with Joao Cancelo, Rodri and Riyad Mahrez. Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho and Kyle Walker start instead.

Guardiola isn't interested in results elsewhere

Pep Guardiola insists he hasn't even thought about the wider significance of Manchester City's current unbeaten run.

City have moved into Premier League title contention on the back of eight games without defeat, six of which have been victories. It has been a strong statement of intent by Guardiola's side, but the City manager claims he doesn't think about it that way.

"When we have had incredible runs I have never thought about how many wins or how many marathons we have to do to win something," said Guardiola, whose team host Crystal Palace on Sunday evening.

"When we won 18 games in a row in the season we got 100 points, after the win in the second game we said: 'OK, let's try to win the next one'. Then the next one, then after that the next one.

"I never expect my players to win a lot of games. I want to win the next one, and the next one is Crystal Palace.

"This is the best way. When you dream you want to be top of the league – you want to be in a better position when you don't play good – you are not going to achieve it.

"I don't care how many games we are able to win or not win in a row – absolutely zero. It is just Crystal Palace – Zaha, Eze, Benteke, Roy Hodgson, Milivojevic."

Similarly, Guardiola says he has not thought about what result he might prefer from the top-of-the-table clash between rivals Liverpool and Manchester United which takes place before City's game on Sunday.

He said: "Crystal Palace – it's the only thing I want, I want to beat them. The rest, honestly, I don't care. We will play knowing the result because they play earlier than us, but I don't know.

"The last two seasons against Crystal Palace at home we got one point. That's why the only concern I have is winning against Crystal Palace."

City are again without striker Sergio Aguero, who continues to isolate as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Defenders Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake are out with muscular problems.

Pep Guardiola gestures to his players from the sidelines - AFP
Pep Guardiola gestures to his players from the sidelines - AFP