Pep Guardiola’s 200th Premier League game turned into a magnificent triumph for one of the division’s all-time greats. Just not him.
The days when Patrick Vieira was a colossus in the Arsenal midfield have long since been consigned to the past but more results like this and he could be a constant in the dugouts for years to come. Just Crystal Palace’s second win since Roy Hodgson’s departure was a particularly prestigious one.
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Manchester City’s first home defeat was inflicted by Vieira, their former player, football development executive and academy team manager. His gameplan – particularly installing the scorer Wilfried Zaha as a centre-forward – was pivotal, along with his signings, with the second goal coming from his recruit Conor Gallagher.
But for Guardiola, a milestone occasion proved a miserable one. It was particularly chastening for Aymeric Laporte, who gave the goal away, got sent off and is now banned for the Manchester derby. But while Guardiola’s blueprint can be brilliant, Palace highlighted faultlines that are sporadically exposed.
City can be susceptible to quick breaks while this season they have shown a tendency to veer between boom and bust in front of goal. It is on these days that they needed a poacher, not a rotating cast of false nines, and Palace joined Southampton among probable bottom-half finishers in departing the Etihad Stadium with a clean sheet.
Their opening goal made Zaha the only player to score 50 in the top flight for Palace and was the first City had conceded in the top flight at the Etihad this season. It stemmed from Vieira’s team selection. A fit-again Zaha was restored to the team, but not in his more familiar position as a winger. It was a masterstroke.
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The breakthrough was a product of pressing; the all-action Gallagher excels at it and, as one of the signings of the season closed Laporte down, he misplaced a pass, accidentally releasing Zaha, who surged away to bobble a shot beyond Ederson.
Laporte fared still worse when isolated against Zaha after Odsonne Edouard flicked the ball on, dragging the Ivorian down. Referee Andre Marriner correctly deemed him the last man and dismissed him. City disputed the decision and their loss of composure brought bookings for Bernardo Silva and Ederson on the stroke of half-time.
They had already been riled by Vicente Guaita’s expert time-wasting and their own inability break the visitors down. The penalty box was packed with Palace bodies, many willing to slide in and block anything. City were limited to a sole shot on target before the break, attempted by Rodri and held by Guaita. City were disjointed and subdued then, despite a pattern of possession.
Their task was made tougher when they had 10 men. Teed up by Jack Grealish, Rodri curled a shot over the bar. Gabriel Jesus had an equaliser disallowed, with Grealish offside before finding him. City’s task felt harder again when Kevin de Bruyne came off. Belatedly, Guardiola summoned Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling for the final few minutes but to no avail.
And the defence Vieira bought and built, with his signings Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi twinned, was resilient. With more accurate finishing by Jordan Ayew, Palace would have sealed victory sooner. Ederson parried a shot from the irrepressible Gallagher before the on-loan Chelsea midfielder scored a goal his parent club could also enjoy, firing in off the post after the substitute Michael Olise lead a counter-attack and, after Zaha had appeared to delay for too long, found the eventual scorer.
Photo Credit: Getty