Back from the penultimate international break of the year, Manchester City begin a fresh pursuit of leaders Liverpool as the Champions head to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace on Saturday evening.
Manchester City have been handed a major boost ahead of game as Pep Guardiola confirmed both John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne have returned to first team training. The Catalonian also revealed that Benjamin Mendy is also back in contention to play after recovering from a hamstring injury. Any worries regarding the fitness of Sergio Aguero were quickly settled by Guardiola as he described the Argentinian as “fine” after the striker was involved in a car crash earlier in the week.
Leroy Sané and Aymeric Laporte remain longterm absentees.
Crystal Palace will be without defender Mamadou Sakho and midfielder Connor Wickham due to injury while Roy Hodgson also said that “a couple” of players will be assessed on Saturday ahead of the game.
Head To Head
City are unbeaten in 9 of the last 10 meetings against Palace with the only defeat coming in December of last year. That being the shock 3-2 defeat at the Etihad, which at the time looked to be a major blow in City’s title pursuit. Overall the blues have won 32 of the 61 meetings between the two sides with 13 draws and 16 defeats. City have scored 30 goals since 2015 against the Eagles.
Crystal Palace are only 2 points behind the Blues, sitting in sixth place with 14 points from their opening 8 games. Man City are second with 16 points but have lost 2 of their last 5 league games including the 2-0 home defeat to Wolves before the international break. Palace have lost once, drawn twice and won twice but have struggled to find the net, with the Blues having a goal difference 18 times superior to Roy Hodgson’s side.
The Managers Thoughts
Pep Guardiola said that Crystal Palace have “made a really good season” and that “they have incredibly talented players.” Guardiola was also questioned about racism in football following the awful scenes in Bulgaria on Monday. He said “the players and the manager are not alone everybody is involved. Whatever we decide, we can do.”
He gave his reaction to the Christmas fixture list in which City will playing twice in less than 48 hours. Pep said “It is what it is” and that “We have to play, we’re going to play.” Pep also congratulated Zinchenko after he proposed to his girlfriend while on international duty saying “congratulations to Aleks and his future wife”
Anthony Taylor will have the whistle on Saturday evening while Gary Beswick and Adam Nunn will have the flags. Michael Oliver is the VAR and Andy Haliday the assistant VAR back at Stockley Park.
Under Roy Hodgson, Palace have been utilising a versatile 4-5-1 formation. Ever-present Vicente Guaita may not be a ball-playing goalkeeper, but he’s a solid presence between the sticks for the Eagles and should start on Saturday. He’s usually got the experienced duo of Martin Kelly and Gary Cahill ahead of him, both masters of physical defending. Full-backs are key to Palace’s system- in particular, Patrick Van Aanholt, who has 20 Premier League goals in the last five seasons- more than any other defender and only three fewer than Mesut Ozil. The importance of Van Aanholt and the more conservative right-back Joel Ward is highlighted by the fact that they are the only two outfield players to play every single league minute for Palace this season.
Hodgson likes to deploy a tough-tackling midfield, with the heart being captain Luka Milivojević. The Serb is an underrated passer and a prolific penalty taker, meaning City will be more careful than ever when defending in the box. Milivojević may be the key to stopping Palace- City may nullify them if they can prevent him keeping things ticking over in their midfield. He plays slightly deeper than two more midfielders, generally Cheikhou Kouyaté and James McArthur, who have the job of providing energy while still covering defensively. In effect, Palace play with eight defensive-minded players, making scoring past them a trial.
Dynamism comes from the Eagles’ front three. By far Palace’s most talked-about star is Wilfried Zaha, but I want to focus on Jeffrey Schlupp. The Ghanaian will take huge advantage of City’s problems defending pace if too much focus is directed at Zaha. Last season it was Van Aanholt who undid City in the 3-2 home defeat, and Schlupp has it in him to play a similar role if we’re not careful. The central striker will likely be Jordan Ayew, who I don’t anticipate will be a problem for Stones and Otamendi, while Christian Benteke is another option off the bench.This isn’t news to anyone, but Palace are all about defending. At least, they are against the top teams. Take their trip to Manchester United in August- they sat back determinedly and only had 3 shots on target all game, but it was enough. A passing accuracy in that game of just 61% suggests that City can expect Palace to make a lot of clearances on Saturday- they’ll need to keep close to Ayew and Zaha, Palace’s two most forward players, to stop counter-attacks.
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