- City’s bench comes through … even Dzeko
- Crystal Palace made this one difficult
- Joe Hart is standing the test
- David Silva will miss City’s next match
Manuel Pellegrini responded to the tight holiday schedule with six changes, meaning a well-deserved rest for key figures. James Miler, Edin Dzeko, Dedryck Boyata, Matija Nastisic, Gael Clichy and Javi Garcia were the newcomers, while Yaya Toure and Alvaro Negredo and a foursome of other starters took their seats for a day.
The newcomers did their parts, retaining almost all of the possession, even if the visitors did turn up some danger moments of their own on limited time with the ball.
Dzeko continues to be something of a mystery man around the Etihad – and certainly a polarizing one. The Bosnian international peeled off smartly to pry himself loose form the marking at the moment that mattered, and his ability to do exactly this – find the space and finish clinically, that is – will check a lot of boxes as City continues to deal with Sergio Aguero’s absence.
But that’s not enough for some people, and it’s not hard to understand why. He sometimes seems to lack the all-out commitment, and way too many attacks disintegrate once they reach his feet.
Once again, we saw an afternoon where Dzeko asked too few questions of the defense – and yet managed to make the difference with a critical goal. And in the end, isn’t that all a striker needs to do, make the difference in the moment that matters most?
Palace did make this one quite difficult; but what would we expect from a Tony Pulis side? And he has certainly injected some quality and a lot of stubbornness upon his arrival into Selhurst Park.
We are talking, after all, about a City team that has scored 37 at home while conceding just six measly goals, a stunning plus-31 goal difference at home. Plus, that’s a tad more than four goals a game at home.
So for Palace to walk away 1-0 losers is hardly a shame. Plus, Pulis’ bunch of hard-trying types had a couple of late chances to level the game. And if not for a big, stretching save off Joe Hart’s left palm, the Palace man probably would have.
In fact, speaking of City now-and-again No. 1 in goal …
Pellegrini keeps nailing the bullseye with his personnel decisions; it seems that a benching for Joe Hart – he’s certainly strengthened his spot as England’s No. 1, too, eh? — has done the trick. Hart seems to be back at his best, all the better for the time out of City’s starting lineup.
He has been an absolute rock in City’s goal since returning to the lineup two weeks back, and especially so over the last three days. Hart was excellent when called upon in the big win over Liverpool and (ironically) even better and braver Saturday against the far less heralded Palace.
His save on Jason Puncheon’s well-aimed volley from just beyond the 18 was the veteran keeper’s best stuff. It came after a real worry for City faithful, having seen their top backstopper take a bad cut below his left eye in a no-nonsense collision with Cameron Jerome.
It left Hart looking as if he’d been on the wrong side of a barroom brawl, but he was clearly still on top of things.
The City playmaker’s cynical, late challenge will prove costly. Coming in the 89th minute as it did, we can ask a couple of questions.
First, was the challenge even necessary? Yes, Jonathan Williams was running through midfield at a hardy pace, but City seemed to have its defensive house in order behind the ball. Vincent Kompany is back there, you know?
Second, should Silva have been on the field? Pellegrini had seemed to be toying with the idea of removing the Spanish creator, surely considering that Silva was sitting on four yellow cards and was, in fact, just one bad challenge from missing his next match. The manager chose other switches instead and, well …
Silva’s fifth booking means he misses City’s New Year’s Day match at Swansea.