City took an opportunity to get back into the title race yesterday in professional fashion. Liverpool’s ridiculously stupid game plan against Chelsea gave the one chance they’ll get and the players responded perfectly. Here are a few thoughts…
The Stage Looks Set
A chance has presented itself and players really have no excuse not to win the title at this point. In fact to lose it now would be an outright failure.
The mood inside the ground was set to ‘PARTY’ before kickoff. The Liverpool vs Chelsea game was shown in what we’ll generously call the concourse at Selhurst Park and when Willian scored the place went mad. Beer was sprayed around, a smoke bomb went off, the singing started. One kid had to be taken outside because the noise was so overwhelming.
The away end was wild for 90 minutes. There was even a nice concrete plinth halfway down in between the old wooden seats and the newer plastic ones for the fans to dance around on. The aggressively happy atmosphere clearly filtered down to the players who responded perfectly. Dzeko’s celebration, Hart punching his chest, and Zabaleta screaming at us after the game showed us that the players were feeling exactly the same way we were. If they carry on playing like this then none of the teams left this season will be able to stop them.
But let’s not fall into the type of hubris that some Liverpool fans have been guilty of recently. Please, for the love of god, play it cool until Kompany has that trophy lifted over his head.
Big Occasions, Big Players
For all the talk of City bottling the title, this is a squad of players who are often at their best when staring into the face of adversity. They possess a pleasing level of belligerence and a can-do, f*ck-you sort of attitude when in the mood.
Both goals were splendid. It is always a pleasure to be able to praise Dzeko, because when he gets it right he really gets it right. A high octane performance of chasing, harrying, hassling, showed us the proper striker we know he can be. His run in between the Palace defence and then the header past Speroni to open the scoring was simply outstanding, a fine example of vision, timing, and lethality in the moment which effectively won the game in the fourth minute.
However it takes two people to score a goal like that. Step forward Yaya Toure, our hero. In a season full of memorable games, yesterday’s trip to beautiful South East London might well have been his best. It is saying something when such a perfect cross was not his high point of the game. That honour goes to his goal where he ran through a few Palace players, embarrassed a few others, outmuscled everyone and then curled it past the helpless goal keeper with the nonchalance that has become his calling card. Only two days after returning to training he was untouchable. We were also treating to one of his lung bursting run down the length of the pitch in the second half, followed by a slow, suffering jog back to the centre circle which never fails to raise a smile.
It would be very easy to write 2,000 words about how good Toure was yesterday. The case for him being City’s best, most influential central midfielder of all time grows stronger every season. We will look back on him as one of the men who defined this era of success and performances like yesterday will live long in the memory.
But Let’s Not Forget…
…Everyone else. Everyone was brilliant yesterday. Winning a title can’t be done with just an in form front line. It has to be a team effort, and City, if nothing else, play for each other in the manner that proper teams have to.
Players who have been much maligned this season such as Garcia and Demichelis are standing up to be counted in the run in. Both were excellent yesterday. It is fast becoming one of my favourite sights in football to watch Garcia, the king of the tactical foul, plough into someone and then get up with that little grin on his impossibly good looking face knowing that he will probably be booked but that it was worth it. Pound for pound City’s worst player ever? Jog on.
Demichelis once again strengthened his case for not being the utter liability he was often painted as earlier in the season. As one gentleman in the crowd put it, “he’s got a pony tail, but he’s alright.” His anticipation, artful use of the offside trap, and superior heading ability were well utilised to deny Palace in the air and on the ground in concert with Vincent Kompany who seems to have recovered from his sliced clearance against Liverpool quite nicely.
Aguero hovered around the Palace defence, bothering them with his usual malevolently relentless intent. He tried a few flying volleys which show his confidence is box fresh even if his fitness levels aren’t completely restored as of yet. What I wouldn’t give for him to score the title winning goal just like last time.
Milner and Zabaleta were a constant menace down the right hand side and Nasri and Kolarov did not give the home side any let up on the opposite flank. The Palace defence, in particular Ward and Delaney, have been excellent since Tony Pulis took over but they were simply outmatched by the City attack. In goal Joe Hart did not have a huge amount to do thanks to his defence but when called upon he did his job very well. He made every save he had to make and looked untroubled making them. Encouragingly, he also continued his recent trend of dealing confidently with high balls and corners in the air, either claiming them outright or putting in strong, long punches to clear the ball. The early season flapping for club and country appears to have been mostly eradicated.
And So, Onwards
There are three very winnable games left and we achieved a +4 goal difference swing over Liverpool yesterday to add to the cushion we already had. The talk of a Goodison curse is all well and good, but this Everton team are a different beast than the David Moyes version and are in the midst of a poorly timed drop in form. Home games against Aston Villa and West Ham should be done deals but taking them for granted is a mistake.
Two years ago we almost threw away the title when all that remained was a simple home game against QPR. Hopefully we as fans have learned the lesson that we cannot take anything for granted this time around…
Written by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter