Football Features

“He didn’t train one day in that position” – Winners and losers as Pep’s makeshift Man City beat Crystal Palace

By Ollie Thomas

Published: 19:57, 19 October 2019

Pep Guardiola can sleep easy tonight.

His Manchester City side have slipped up against Crystal Palace in the past, but a commanding display saw them run out 2-0 winners at a ground notorious for upsetting the big boys over the past few years.

Palace provided a sturdy rearguard action for the first 30 minutes before a quick-fire double from City seemingly ended the game as a contest before half-time. Gabriel Jesus’ header was followed by a brilliant David Silva volley, carefully crafted by a delicate Raheem Sterling scoop.

Palace nearly made a game of it at the end with the introduction of Christian Benteke but City held on for a win and a clean sheet for their makeshift defence.

Here are the winners and losers from Saturday’s evening game.

Winner: Gabriel Jesus

Sergio Aguero is still as prolific as ever, but Gabriel Jesus could be giving Guardiola a selection headache.

The Brazilian has impressed nearly every time he’s been given a chance this season and he was at it again at Selhurst Park. His opening goal was crucial in breaking Palace’s resistance in a game which was threatening to emulate City’s last outing: their 2-0 loss to Wolves.

It is not just his insatiable appetite for goals which was impressive – he worked tirelessly up and down the pitch all game and offered far more than just an undeniably outstanding poacher’s instinct.

If he can keep up these performance levels, maybe the issue of replacing Aguero won’t be so large after all.

Loser: Wilfried Zaha

Zaha has not kept his desire to leave Palace quiet over the past few months and one gets the impression that this season the Ivorian winger will spend his time trying to impress potential suitors.

However, he has failed to live up to previous seasons so far this campaign and he struggled again against a makeshift City defence. His struggles were summed up in one moment, as Raheem Sterling raced back to tackle the Ivorian just as he entered the penalty box.

There is no doubting the winger’s ability but teams seem to have worked out how to stop him. It doesn’t help that he’s often Palace’s only attacking option, it must be said.

Winner: The goalkeepers

Palace certainly missed Vicente Guaita’s distribution, but Wayne Hennessey did a sterling job in his absence. He could do nothing about either goal – he was unfortunate for the second – and it was his second-half performance which ultimately kept his side in the game.

But it was Ederson, at the other end, who made a more telling contribution. With 15 minutes to go, Benteke powered a header destined for the top corner only for the Brazilian to brilliantly tip his header onto the crossbar. Had that gone in, the game could have ended very differently from how it did.

Some have criticised both goalkeepers’ shot-stopping ability in the past, but Saturday evening provided a timely reminder that both are well up to the test.

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Winner: Pep Guardiola

City may be five points behind Liverpool already (for now), but Guardiola will be very satisfied with his side’s reaction.

Their loss to Wolves was damaging for City and a loss against Palace could have ended the title race in October. However, they turned a game which could have been a potential banana skin (it has been in the past) into a scintillating attacking display. Palace are a strong defensive side, but the likes of De Bruyne, David Silva and Bernardo Silva carved them open on multiple occasions.

A 2-0 win on paper may not seem like a reason to celebrate but the manner of the victory was convincing. Everyone pulled their weight, from back to front, something which doesn’t often happen in City’s side.

City cannot afford another slip up – if they continue like that, it’s hard to foreshadow one coming.

Loser: Christian Benteke

Benteke’s Palace career over the past two years has been a sorry story.

He has relentlessly struggled and was given 15 minutes to make an impression against a formidable City side. His first touch could have genuinely turned his entire Palace career around had it not been for a miraculous Ederson save.

The Belgian can often be wasteful, but he has been thwarted by miraculous goalkeeping on many an occasion. Today it was Ederson, but David de Gea has frequently denied Benteke when he’s done little wrong.

His confidence is shot to pieces and a goal today would have done him the world of good. It was not to be. Whether this moment will ever come remains to be seen.

Winner: Rodri

When the team sheets were released, many raised their eyebrows when Rodri and Fernandinho were at the heart of the City defence.

No recognised centre-backs against a team sixth in the league is a risky tactic, to say the least (Fernandinho has been outstanding there, of course), but Palace will surely have identified Rodri as a potential weak link.

However, the young Spanish defensive midfielder looked totally at home against a dangerous counter-attacking Palace side. He didn’t look like it was his first appearance in the back four – in fact, according to Guardiola, he “didn’t train one day in that position”.

In this defensive injury crisis at the Etihad, Guardiola has had to trust players to do a job outside their comfort zone. Rodri is yet another example of an incredibly versatile squad.

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