Manchester City eked out a 1-0 win away to Crystal Palace on Saturday evening to move two points behind Arsenal at the Premier League summit.
Erling Haaland’s second-half penalty decided a game of precious few open-play chances. Haaland himself was guilty of squandering City’s best openings on either side of his spot-kick while Palace became the first team in recorded Premier League history to go three successive matches without registering a single effort on target.
City started rapidly, winning a corner which led to a crisp shot on target from Rodri before Palace had completed a single pass. But Patrick Vieira’s hosts weathered City‘s storm amid the swirling rain in south London, clogging up the central slice of the pitch by man-marking each of the three visiting midfielders.
Pep Guardiola’s wily players combatted the velcro attention by rotating positions. City’s left-back Nathan Ake took the inside role of Bernardo Silva midway through the first half, popping up in the box and squaring for Haaland who surprisingly spooned over from seven yards out.
However, try as they might, City couldn’t replicate the spinning carousel of floating forwards from years past. Guardiola injected Julian Alvarez’s direct running into the endless spells of stodgy and sideways passing shortly after the restart. It almost worked instantly. Within two minutes of his substitutions, Alvarez pirouetted into Palace’s box but leaned back as he opened up his body, placing the ball over the bar.
After such a stubborn resolve for 75 minutes, Palace gifted City a chance to take the lead through the first collective lapse in concentration. Vieira’s side had conceded a league-low five set pieces going into the contest but switched off when preparing to defend a City corner.
Ilkay Gundogan was wide open to receive a short pass in the box nudging the ball ahead of Michael Olise who came barrelling across to make amends but only succeeded in giving away a penalty which Haaland nervelessly stuffed into the bottom corner.
The reigning champions managed to withstand the first whispers of sustained attacking from Palace in the closing stages but hung on to close the gap at the top and extend the winless start to 2023 which Vieira’s side have endured.
GK: Vicente Guaita – 7/10 – Alert and alive to the efforts which fizzed his way.
RB: Nathaniel Clyne – 4/10 – Often outnumbered as City enjoyed…
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