Manchester City continued their perfect start to the season with a thrilling last gasp win against Crystal Palace. 18 year old Kelechi Iheanacho’s 90th minute goal was enough to earn City all three points after a stern test against Alan Pardew’s in form Palace side. Here is a look at the main talking points from the game.
Squad Rotation Shows City’s Strength in Depth
When the team sheets were announced yesterday afternoon some sections of social media were rife with panic. Rather ludicrously, Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to opt for 4-4-2 and start Wilfried Bony alongside Sergio Aguero up front left many feeling less than optimistic for the afternoon ahead. Of course, changes were forced upon the side given the injuries to David Silva and Raheem Sterling and, with the Champions League campaign starting this week, it was inevitable that squad rotation would begin at some point. What the game showed, especially with Aguero being forced off with injury after 25 minutes, is that there is tremendous strength in depth in the squad.
Kevin De Bruyne made his debut from the bench after replacing Aguero and demonstrated why City’s lengthy pursuit of him throughout the summer was worth it. On this evidence, it is easy to see why he managed to get so many assists in the Bundesliga last season. Indeed, his precise and imaginative passing was unfortunate not to wield an assist when he played through Jesus Navas, who did everything right apart from applying the finish into an open net after rounding the ‘keeper.
Wilfried Bony also impressed on only his second start of the season. In the second half, in particular, his hold up play was excellent and his link up with the midfield was impressive. He will find chances hard to come by this season if Aguero manages to avoid any serious injury, so it is encouraging to see him fit in so effectively given the limited playing time he has had so far.
Samir Nasri also started for the first time this season. Some questioned his role in the squad when De Bruyne arrived but there is no doubt in my mind that he will feature regularly. Whilst we are pretty spoilt with attacking talent, Nasri offers something slightly different to his peers. His ability to retain possession is up there with the best and, as such, he can influence the pace of the game. Of course, his calmness in possession when surrounded by Palace defenders which led to his parried shot, which Iheanacho pounced upon, was vital.
City’s Toughest Test Yet
This was City’s toughest test so far this season. For 30 minutes in the first half Palace had control of the game with the pace on their wings causing City’s rear guard all manner of problems. Aleks Kolarov looked unsettled all afternoon as he struggled to deal with Yanick Bolasie in the first half and Wilfried Zaha in the second. Whilst City spurned some excellent chances to take the lead, Palace also had a number of good chances. In particular, Jason Puncheon’s second half header had Joe Hart scrambling. Before the game, Alan Pardew’s side occupied second place in the table and, on the basis of how the game panned out, it is easy to see why. If Palace can continue in this vein of form many teams will struggle to pick up points at Selhurst Park this season, thus making yesterday’s victory all the more sweeter.
Although he has barely played for more than 10 minutes in the first team, Iheanacho has already bagged himself a crucial goal. Chances for academy products have been few and far between in recent years. The quality of the first team has improved beyond recognition since the 2008 takeover and the academy has been playing catch up ever since. As such, there are some City fans who are desperate for any academy player to be given an opportunity, regardless of whether they are good enough or not. Not since Jose Pozo’s goal in the 7-0 thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup in September 2014 has an academy product scored for City. It would have been pleasing, then, for Iheanacho to make the most of his limited chance.
Introduced as an 89th minute substitute it only took him 54 seconds to score the winner. Alan Shearer, normally so banal with his insight, pointed out on Match of the Day on Saturday that Iheanacho’s body position showed that he anticipated a spilled shot which is why he managed to steal a march on the Palace defence, who in contrast, were flat on their feet expecting the ‘keeper to keep hold of the ball. It remains to be seen whether he will be given longer opportunities to impress in the coming weeks, but with Aguero an injury doubt it seems as if Pellegrini may have to rely on the Nigerian youngster.
The Bigger Picture
It was one of those games in which seemed to be petering out to a goalless draw, which given how the game played out, would have been a more than acceptable result. The thrilling nature of the win, though, means that City have maintained their perfect start to the season with 11 goals scored and none conceded. The victory was important in that it alleviates the pressure to win in the so called bigger games against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United. Had City drawn there would be more emphasis on picking up points in the big matches.
Rather unbelievably, City now have an 11 point lead over defending Champions Chelsea. I don’t think anyone would have seen that coming. City fans know all too well that playing catch up all season is tough and often a fruitless pursuit. It is nice to see that, for once, City are in the driving seat, albeit the season in its infancy. That said, it is getting to that point where you start to take a bit more notice of the league table and it is comforting to know that City’s nearest threat, Manchester United, are five points behind.
Written by Rob Toole