What we learned from Manchester City’s squeaker win over Crystal Palace

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  • City’s bench comes through … even Dzeko

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.

(MORE: Highlights and recap as City tops Crystal Palace)

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?

  • Crystal Palace made this one difficult

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 …

  • Joe Hart is standing the test

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.

  • David Silva will miss City’s next match

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.

Rapids name Robin Fraser as head coach

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) The Colorado Rapids have named former Major League Soccer player and longtime assistant Robin Fraser as their head coach.

Fraser steps in for Conor Casey, who’s been the interim coach since the team fired Anthony Hudson in May. Colorado is 7-14-6 and at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Fraser’s first match in charge will be Saturday at the New York Red Bulls.

The 52-year-old Fraser has served as an assistant coach at Toronto FC since 2015.

Fraser was the fourth overall pick in the 1996 MLS player draft by the Los Angeles Galaxy. Over his career, Fraser suited up for the Galaxy, the Rapids and the Columbus Crew. He said in a statement Sunday he considers Colorado home because he’s so familiar with the soccer community.

Rapids general manager Padraig Smith said Fraser has a “deep knowledge of what it takes to be successful in MLS.”

Pochettino upset with attacking stars, speaks on Eriksen status

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Mauricio Pochettino might’ve understood Tottenham Hotspur dropping points last week at Man City, but he didn’t plan on not taking anything from Newcastle United on Sunday at home.

“You need the capacity to step up in this type of situation but we didn’t show that quality today,” Pochettino said. “When the ball arrives in the last third you need something from the talent and quality we have there and today we didn’t have that.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle | Bruce reacts ]

So that’s pretty straight forward, but Pochettino was less happy to answer the question of why he didn’t start Christian Eriksen. Some (read: this writer) have questioned the philosophy of putting a man you may sell for $50 million on the bench. Either put him in the Starting XI and risk him, or leave him off the 18.

“When you lose, the players who don’t play are the best. With Christian we win and we lose a lot of games. I accept that situation is like this. If we won 3-0 today no one talks about different names.

“I cannot find excuses about the transfer window being open to justify that performance or the result. We cannot find the way to be solid and to have consistency for different reasons. I am going to be happy in 10 days after we play Arsenal when the transfer window closes in Europe and to have the player involved until the transfer window again in January.”

We’re not gonna read too much into it, but it does sound a bit like Pochettino is daring teams to bid for Eriksen. Would it make sense for him to hold onto Eriksen until January before cashing in?

Newcastle’s Bruce heard criticism, happy to beat Spurs

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Steve Bruce heard a lot of the criticism from fans upon his hiring at Newcastle United, and it rang out louder after the Magpies started 0-2 including a loss at newly-promoted Norwich City.

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle ]

He may well hear plenty more down the road, but the childhood Newcastle supporter was feeling relieved and maybe redeemed after a fortunate and wonderful 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“We came to this fantastic stadium, this fantastic club and we performed. I mean, to say I ‘cannot even do a warm up’ is mad. I have managed 900-odd games and over the years you would think there would be some sort of respect but I go back to the fact that whoever took over from Rafa Benitez was going to get the abuse.”

Newcastle faces struggling Watford at St. James’ Park next week, and another result will ease a lot of nerves (though certainly not all of them.

Wolves snatch late point versus Burnley

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Raul Jimenez’s penalty seven minutes into stoppage time gave Wolves a point with a 1-1 draw against Burnley on Sunday at the Molineux Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Wolves now have three draws in three matches, while Burnley has four points.


Three things

  1. We’re paying rent in Ashley Barnes‘ world — Known most for his combustible, some-would-say dirty nature, the Burnley striker now has four goals this early season and more than one, including Sunday’s opener, have been bangers.
  2. Nuno’s men could use a break — Wolves fought well, but you can tell the Europa League schedule has heavily taxed their spirit. How tired are they? Here are the thoughts of an exhausted Raul Jimenez, and you can read the “Thank you, God” inside them –> “I think [the penalty] is the right decision. When I get in possession he tried to kick the ball, then he kicked me. It came at a good moment for us.”
  3. Don’t ever bet against Sean Dyche — We’ve written it 100 times. The big man can get a result from anywhere, at any time.

Burnley was easily the better unit over the first 45 minutes, and was rewarded with a goal even after VAR ruled one out.

Barnes chested a neatly-headed flick into shooting position and unleashed a missile that zipped past Rui Patricio for a 1-0 lead.

Both sides began the second half brightly, with Morgan Gibbs-White lashed a shot offf the outside of the netting and Barnes unable to get purchase on a ball over the top of the Wolves back line.

But Erik Pieters cut down Jimenez in the box late to set the Mexican international up for a win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]