City got their season back on track with a comfortably numbing 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think Manuel Pellegrini had spent the latter part of his week scouring Twitter and City forums for team selection advice as Fabian Delph came into the starting XI in place of the increasingly unpopular Yaya Touré, while Kelechi Iheanacho started alongside Sergio Agüero up front.
The Blues took an awful long time to get going and could easily have found themselves a goal down in the second minute when a long ball into their area found Palace’s Damien Delaney unmarked. Thankfully, the Irishman’s tame headed effort didn’t trouble Joe Hart and the score remained at 0-0.
That was how it stayed until Fabian Delph struck a surprisingly powerful 25-yard left-footed shot at goal which squirmed under the hands of Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and into the net in the 22nd minute.
And the teams went in at half-time with the score at 2-0 after Sergio Agüero’s 41st minute shot had deflected off Scott Dann and past Hennessey. You may recall that it was Dann who recklessly hacked Agüero down when the two sides met at Selhurst Park in September, so this was a nice bit of retribution.
Much of the second half lacked both tempo and intrigue but City tripled their advantage when Agüero finished off a lovely passing move from close range in the 68th minute. Then, with six minutes of normal time remaining, the Argentine could have completed his hat-trick when he found himself one-on-one with the keeper. Instead he unselfishly squared the ball to David Silva who tucked it away for 4-0. Game over, and City temporarily found themselves back at the top of the Premier League.
Will Otamendi and Demichelis ever concede another goal?
Well yes, of course they will, but the value of the three consecutive clean sheets those two have presided over shouldn’t be understated. It wasn’t very long ago that it seemed City would never be able to defend properly without Vincent Kompany in the team and the Belgian’s never-ending injury absence looked to be a serious threat to his team’s chances of success this season. However, an injury to Eliaquim Mangala has forced Manuel Pellegrini to pick Nicolás Otamendi and Martín Demichelis in central defence for the last three games and the Argentine duo haven’t let him down.
Both players possess strong positional discipline and City have looked so much more organised defensively as a result. Otamendi has come in for a fair amount of criticism at times this season but appears to be back on the right track now, while Demichelis deserves a lot of credit for arresting his own decline. The thought of him having to start a big Champions League fixture or similar still makes the heart skip a beat but he’s shown lately that he’s still capable of holding his own at Premier League level and we’ve got to take encouragement from that.
Kolarov’s injury is a concern
Manuel Pellegrini says we won’t find out the extent of the injury which forced Aleksandar Kolarov off in the 52nd minute of this match until Monday at the earliest. Gaël Clichy may have recently recovered from his own injury troubles but on a long spell on the sidelines for Kolarov could be really bad news for City.
They may both be left-backs but Kolarov and Clichy are polar opposites in terms of their respective playing styles and though we might well find that City continue to improve defensively with Clichy in the team, having an alternate option in that department would be preferable. Clichy also still looks understandably rusty after such a long time out and a recurrence of his injury would be extremely unwelcome news.
Meanwhile, it was fantastic to see Pablo Zabaleta start and play well on what was his 31st birthday and 200th appearance for the club. He clearly still has plenty to offer to this team and his battle with Bacary Sagna for the right-back spot should be an interesting sub-plot during what remains of this season.
Fabian Delph is rather good but where does he fit in?
His goal broke the deadlock yesterday and he was energetic, sharp of mind and fleet of foot throughout the afternoon. If this were a Player Ratings piece I’d have given him 8/10 for effort, but it isn’t so I’m afraid you’ll just have to assign your own arbitrary number to his performance instead.
Delph’s fine display does provide his manager with something of a selection headache, however. Yaya Touré started this game on the bench but you can bet that won’t happen every week (nor should it) and he and Delph seem too similar and attack minded to play together in a midfield two anytime soon, so what’s the solution?
Perhaps a return to a three man midfield is on the cards for next weekend’s trip to West Ham but I’d be less surprised to see Delph back on the bench.
Sergio Agüero is back!
We’ve all lived through enough Agüero injuries by now to know that it almost always takes him a few games to get himself up to speed again. If his good performances against Norwich and Everton weren’t him firing on all cylinders then his game against Crystal Palace certainly was.
He seems a lot happier and more dangerous with a strike partner alongside him and he buzzed around throughout the match on Saturday, scored two well taken goals and showed Mother Teresa levels of selflessness with his assist for David Silva at the end.
Perhaps expecting him to play in every game between now and the end of the season is far too much to ask, but if he doesn’t pick up any more serious injuries and plays as well as this the majority of the time, he and his team will have a great chance of success this year.
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Written by Dan Burke