It was frustrating afternoon at the Etihad as a lacklustre Manchester City side found themselves a goal down at half-time, fought back in the second half to get in front, only to allow Palace an equaliser at the death.
Here’s what we learned from another difficult match, where further points were dropped…
Back to 4-3-3
After experimenting with Manchester City’s formation to varying success in recent months, Guardiola elected to revert to one most used during his time in Manchester. It was a mistake.
Some of the problems Pep’s side have encountered with 4-3-3 this season are a slow build up in midfield, a lack of space to break down a low-block in the final third, and being susceptible from a counter-attack – all of which happened again here.
A midfield three including David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan is too slow to move the ball around at the pace needed to break down a side waiting to block the attack.
Once Tosun put Palace ahead, their game-plan was only to defend. With so little space to move into, the blues were forced into shots which would ricochet off defenders’ legs, or to provide endless crosses that were cleared with ease. Sound familiar?
After recently seeing new and more innovative formations used to break teams down, it was exasperating to see City take a step back tactically.
Suffering from Set-Pieces
It’s been joked in recent weeks that Mikel Arteta’s departure might actually lead to us seeing better set-pieces. If anybody genuinely thought that, this game was an eye opener.
City had a total of 14 corners and used none of them to their advantage. Not even coming close to scoring from one. You would think that with the amount of corners they tend to get game to game, this might be a priority. Compare this to the two corners Crystal Palace won, one of which they scored from.
It’s true that City don’t have the height that some teams have, but the goal they conceded here was down to a complete inability to deal with the attacking threat from a well worked set-piece. It’s a problem that has plagued City for years and needs to be dealt with.
More VAR Controversy
Before the game, there were signs held up in the South Stand proclaiming VAR to have killed football, and at half-time more signs appeared around the ground.
At least the decision making using VAR was relatively quick comparatively to other matches, but it feels like we’re at the point of no return with it now. Aside from the courteous ‘Checking Goal’ message displayed on the scoreboard, fans in the ground are left in the dark as to why decisions have been made. City’s overturned penalty was due to a flawed handball rule which allows defenders an advantage over attackers, but no fan at the game was to know this.
It’s no wonder fans in stadium across the country are left more and more vexed by VAR as the weeks go by. The way it’s chosen to be used has left them behind.
A serious investigation needs to be undertaken of all VAR’s failings this season and how it can be implemented better moving forward, if at all. This however would require an ounce of humility from the Premier League and the F.A., so it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.
The Man, the Myth, the Serge
How many more glowing epithets of praise can be written about this guy? As the balls that leave his boot continue to hit the back of the net, he becomes ever more a legend for Manchester City and the Premier League. On Sunday, he scored his 250th and 251st goal for the club.
More importantly he dragged City kicking and screaming into the lead. He didn’t have a perfect performance. His pressing of the Crystal Palace defence in the first half lacked the urgency the game needed. Once Gabriel Jesus came on, it allowed Segio that extra bit of room to operate in and he took full advantage.
His header for the second goal was a thing of beauty. Even the lanky, well placed, time hoarding Guaita could do nothing about the placement. It’s just a pity that for all Aguero’s effort, he wasn’t rewarded with three points.
We Fight ‘Till the End, We Just Don’t Focus
Despite having a torrid time of it, City dug their heels in and got the goals they needed. We’ve seen this many times over the years where City fight ’till the end and are rewarded, but not today. Not for their effort at one end of the pitch, but for a lack of focus and leadership at the other.
Wilfred Zaha was allowed to stroll into City’s box and pass the ball across the face of goal which was unwittingly turned in by Fernandinho. This wouldn’t happen to most Premier League teams, let alone the Champions. They would have the ability and in-game management to stay switched on and see out a game where the board was about to be raised for injury-time.
Instead, Cancelo found himself too far up the pitch, allowing Zaha the space he needed, and Stones, too fearful to put a tackle in, allowed the ball to get away from him. If Manchester City had a commanding presence at the back, with the voice and the intelligence to recognise danger and instruct his team-mates, this wouldn’t happen. Unfortunately for City, that player left last season.
By no means does this mean I think we should scapegoat John Stones. While he was culpable for a few errors, he shouldn’t have to own that late equaliser. It was due to being part of a cohesive defensive unit, which has cost City heavily this season. It does however mean that John Stones is not the leader at the back that’s needed, Laporte is. And the sooner he’s back in side, the less likely mistakes like this happen.
All of this overshadows what we should be really be talking about; the tremendous bit of trolling by Ederson who mimicked the Palace goalkeeper by taking his sweet, sweet time with a goal kick after City took the lead, which received a standing ovation from the Etihad.
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