Manchester City back in control of title destiny
Yaya Toure returns to inspire victory over Crystal Palace
Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Photograph: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Crystal Palace 0 Manchester City 2: The focus had hardly wavered from Merseyside all day but, by the final whistle here, arguably the weekend’s most ominous statement of intent had been delivered in a corner of south-east London. Manchester City are still third in the Premier League table, peering up at the teams who collided at Anfield, but the title is theirs to lose again.
This had rightly been billed as an awkward fixture, Crystal Palace’s resurgence over an immaculate month of results having carried them into mid-table and guaranteed a longer stay at this level, but it ended up as a reminder of City’s underlying qualities.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team had spluttered against Liverpool and Sunderland, a solitary point from those fixtures having briefly left their pursuit forlorn, but win their last three games – a tricky trip to Everton next Saturday before appealing home games against Aston Villa and West Ham – and, barring an almost freakish swing in goal difference, they will claim the championship.
The sense is they have always boasted the strongest squad, many of whom claimed the trophy two years ago, and it may be that the depth of quality at Pellegrini’s disposal ultimately proves decisive. Yaya Touré returned after a fortnight’s absence here and was a colossus, assisting and then scoring the first-half goals to grant the visitors their leeway.
Fernandinho could rest up on the sidelines for a little over an hour, watching on as Javi García anchored effectively, James Milner and Pablo Zabaleta wounded the hosts down one flank and Sergio Agüero buzzed disconcertingly around Palace’s centre halves. Palace have been much improved in recent weeks but there is still a gulf in class that can be exposed when better opponents find their rhythm. City were ruthless.
It helped that they breached the hosts so early. Palace relish frustrating opponents and biting at pace on the break and, even against those elite teams at the top, they have rarely been pierced during the initial periods of matches. Yet here they were still warming into the contest, the majority in the arena glowing at the reality of top-flight survival, when they were prised apart.
Touré was granted too much time in a pocket of space outside the penalty area, the Ivorian capitalising on the lack of a challenge to conjure a centre which reflected his pedigree. Edin Dzeko duly leapt between Scott Dann and Adrian Mariappa to nod his fifth league goal in eight outings down and in. Those goals have been timely given Álvaro Negredo’s form has departed in the opposite direction.
The concession posed the home side problems, their dilemma whether to chase parity or retain a level of patience. They competed ruggedly for the remainder of the first half without really unsettling Joe Hart, only to be undone again just as the interval approached.
Touré’s exchanges with Dzeko and Samir Nasri bypassed flustered Palace players with the midfielder bursting away, holding off Damien Delaney’s challenge en route, before cutting inside Dann and dispatching a glorious shot beyond Julián Speroni and into the top corner. His celebration, and the fist-pumping of team-mates and coaching staff alike, reflected the wave of conviction suddenly sweeping through this selection.
Speroni did well to deny Dzeko a third, Palace’s urgent desire to haul themselves back into contention offering up space into which City galloped with menace, but the early plunder had settled the match.
City will know a more daunting trip to Goodison Park awaits on Saturday, and they will hope Palace rediscover some of their solidity and composure on the counter against Liverpool two days later, but momentum is with them again. Three wins and, surely, the title is reclaimed.