This was a well earned victory for City over a Palace side who typically make like difficult. There was much talk about City lacking a fit striker but City learned to adapt and overcame a slow start to blow Palace away with two David Silva goals and Yaya Toure sealing a deserved win that put City temporarily level on points with Chelsea. Not even the perenially cacophonic Neil Warnock’s latest hard done act can deny that City deserved this ultimately comfortable win.
Backed by a perennially noisy following, Palace started off stronger and might have taken the lead early on but Campbell hooked his overhead kick wide from Bolassie’s head on.
After being pushed back for a while, City gradually got into the game and played some intricate passing moves. Yaya fired over a long range shot and was too high with a second attempt from closer in after some clever interplay down the left. Then at the end of a well worked move Nasri cut the ball back for Silva who forced a save.
The game ebbed and flowed as City struggled to maintain a stranglehold on the match in the first half, and for all James Milner’s sterling work as our furthest man forward, we lacked a true focal point in our attack that either Kun Aguero or Edin Dzeko give. Joe Hart didn’t have much to do but he was twice called upon to deal with strikers running onto dangerous through balls and both times he used his judgement and physique to deny them.
The best move of the first half came a couple of minutes before the break. Yaya threaded a superb through ball down the inside right channel and into box for the advancing Pablo Zabaleta, who lifted a the ball over Speroni but agonisingly, just wide. It was almost a carbon copy of Zaba’s superbly taken goal at Sunderland. City missed having an out and out striker in the first half and Palace deserved to be level at the break.
City upped the tempo in the second half and Palace couldn’t live with the speed at which we moved the ball.
The second half was only four minutes old when Fernandinho threaded a perfect pass for Zabaleta, and instead of shooting, he cut the ball back for Silva whose goal bound strike cannoned into the net via a defender and a bounce on the lush green turf. Every outfield player mobbed Merlin in front of us in the Colin Bell/North Stand corner.
City fizzed the ball round the pitch too quickly for the massed ranks of red and blue defenders. Nasri was in his pomp, leading the play, prompting and probing, sharing the creativity with the returning Silva who was relishing being back on the pitch and Yaya was all poise and elegance in central midfield. Navas was at last profiting down the right flank with support from Milner and the marauding Zabaleta. Whilst Milner doesn’t make the runs of a natural striker, he pressed and harried.
The second goal arrived when Silva deftly swept in Kolarov’s pinpoint cross after good work from Nasri. It was a beautifully taken goal of great precision from start to finish. Simply splendid.
Palace had the ball in the net after McArthur headed in Bolassie’s cross but it was ruled offside. There was a bit of merriment as we mocked the Palace fans with mass impressions of their goal celebrations. For once though the ever hard done to (in his mind anyway) Warnock had a point as TV replays revealed that McArthur had been played onside by a City player on the near side (Colin Bell Stand), but he was stretching a point if he seriously thought that a goal would have changed the course of a game, where City were outclassing Palace.
Can you imagine Warnock at Christmas Dinner: “It’s not fair! I had to carve the turkey last year…and our Tarquin’s got more Brussels Sprouts than me. It’s a disgrace!”
Yaya rounded off the scoring with a terrific left footed finish from Milner’s pass, after a swift break.
That was pretty much it as far as meaningful action and City ran out comfortable winners. This was an impressive second half when we moved the ball quicker and troubled Palace. Nasri was man of the match for his dominant play making and intelligence. Silva and Milner did well as rotating strikers, but in the end the whole team can take credit for a good start to the Christmas period. Well done City.
Now we need to continue with this form, firstly at The Hawthorns.
Come on City. Happy Christmas to all.
Goals: Silva 49, 61, Yaya Toure 81.
Hart: This was a very mature performance even if he had little to do He did very well to use his body to force Campbell wide when many other keepers would have brought the Palace striker down. His distribution was decisive and intelligent too: 7
Demichelis: Read the game well and was classy on the ball as he celebrated his 34th birthday: 7
Mangala: Steady game: 7
Kolarov: Excellent precise cross for our second goal and he was decent going forward. Not really tested defensively: 7
Navas: Took a while to get into the game and enjoyed some success down the right: 6
Yaya: Oozed class. His passing and decision making was very good indeed and his finish for our third goal was top draw: 8
Fernandinho: Worked hard as ever in central midfield and his pass for Zabaleta in the build up to our opener was incisive and precise: 7
Nasri: Yet another game which demonstated that he has come of age over the last 18 months. He took responsibility to lead the way but as a team player, and without ego, which is very encouraging. He worked well yet again with Silva. Showed great determination, persistence and tenacity when he had to: 8 *Man of the match*
Silva: His return from injury will hopefully continue as smoothly as this. Two goals, the second of which was a top class finish, cleverly swept in. Great to see him back. He really appreciated his deserved ovation: 8
Milner: He may not have made the runs that one might expect of a striker but he worked hard and helped occupy the Palace defence. As the game progressed he and Silva worked in tandem as rotating strikers: 7
Lampard (for Silva 69): Won the ball in the lead up to the third goal: 6
Fernando (for Milner 82): n/a
Sinclair (for Nasri 89): n/a
Best Oppo: Bolassie: tricky but often lacks an end product: 7
Refwatch: Phil Dowd: The man who once gave a penalty to Liverpool in a League Cup Semi after the ball hit Micah Richard’s knee then headed towards Mars and hit his hand, hasn’t improved much in his decision making. He got most decisions wrong…YET AGAIN: 1
Footnote 1: Neil Warnock, bless him, has become tiresome bore with his habitual whining and had done by act, but he is revered at Crystal Palace. He turned them from almost certainties for relegation from the 2nd Division (AKA Championship) into a team that reached the play-offs at a time of severe financial hardship. They were doing well under him when they went into administration a few years ago and he went on to get QPR promoted back to the top flight for the first time in 14 years. Look behind the whingeing annoyance, and there is a man who has a great record outside the top flight and he has got seven teams promoted, three of them Notts County, Sheffield United and QPR to the top flight. The trouble is he has never kept a team in the top flight, with Notts and the Blades being relegated at the first attempt (the latter after the Blades were 10 points clear of the drop zone in the Spring), and he was sacked at QPR with them on a bad run, just one place above the bottom three.
I can’t help wonder, if Warnock spent more time focusing on keeping his own team in the top flight and learned tactics that would keep him there, maybe he’d do better.
Footnote 2: The last time James Milner played in such an advanced role on this ground he was a teenager for Leeds United on December 22nd 2003. He was very unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty after he was clearly brought down as he chased a through ball into the City box. There was a collective sharp intake of breath, as we got away with it somewhat, and a tense relegation dogfight was drawn 1-1. Leeds went down at the end of that season and City stayed up, and I’ve wondered if things would have been very different if that penalty had been awarded? What if we had we gone down instead of Leeds? Thankfully we didn’t.