De Bruyne has De Brains
On first glance, Kevin De Bruyne doesn’t look like a superstar. He may have cost £54 million but Manchester City’s new signing has the appearance of a man who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Why anyone would go round booing geese, we’re not quite sure. Luis Suarez maybe, geese no.
His reluctance to heckle wildlife aside, De Bruyne seems an unassuming chap. He arrived at Selhurst Park with earphones in, seemingly oblivious to the myriad of cameras following his every step. There is no discernable aura but the Belgian showed encouraging signs on his City debut that he can further enhance the ever stronger title credentials of Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
Things didn’t start too well. Named as a substitute, his arrival on the pitch in the 25th minute for the injured Sergio Aguero was briefly delayed when he didn’t have his shirt and shinpads ready. Echoes of Joey Barton’s aborted City debut in 2003, when the 18-year-old didn’t even get on to the field after putting his shirt down in the dugout and then being unable to find it. “He should know better coming from Liverpool,” Kevin Keegan suggested.
But once he was on, De Bruyne’s influence was quiet but consistent. Clever and measured in possession, he was more De Brains than De Bruyne. De Bruyne completed 47 of 56 passes and, impressively, created 5 chances for others.
His most notable contribution was a smart through-ball that allowed Jesus Navas to round the keeper... and then miss an open goal. “He has only worked two or three days with the team but he always had good passing and good movement,” Pellegrini said post-match. “I was very happy with his performance.”
Aguero and Bony? It’s all about Kelechi Iheanacho
City named two strikers at Crystal Palace, with Wilfried Bony starting alongside Aguero on his return from an ankle injury. Unfortunately, two strikers were not better than one in this case, as neither of them did much at all. Aguero was already getting frustrated by the time he was forced off injured after being on the wrong end of a rather robust challenge from Scott Dann, which earned the defender a yellow card.
Pellegrini thought it should have been a red. He didn’t look like he’d enjoyed his afternoon in South London and Bony didn’t make any greater impact. Leading the line on his own once Aguero had gone off, he won only 1 of 6 aerial duels. With only two goals scored since his move from Swansea to the Etihad Stadium, maybe there are occasions when he casts a glance back to the Liberty Stadium - where Bafetimbi Gomis has scored 10 times in the same period - and wonders whether he did the right thing.
In the end, both Aguero and Bony were overshadowed by a largely unheralded figure before this game, Kelechi Iheanacho. The 18-year-old Nigerian forward only made his first-team debut as a substitute against Watford two weeks ago. To make us all feel old, he was born a full four months after Euro 96.
But he clearly has the predatory instinct, pouncing when Alex McCarthy could only parry Samir Nasri’s shot. “If I’m honest I didn’t know who he was, I had to look at his shirt to check when he came on,” Palace boss Alan Pardew admitted. But 54 seconds on the pitch, one goal. Follow that, Aguero and Bony.
Rock solid defence explains City’s surge clear
Five games in, no goals conceded for City. Five games in, 12 goals conceded for Chelsea. Both sides are capable of scoring goals, but their respective defensive records are the biggest reason why City are already 11 points clear of Chelsea, and five points clear of everyone. Not bad given it’s still only September 12.
Chelsea conceded two against Crystal Palace and lost. City kept a clean sheet and won. Chelsea conceded three against Everton. City kept a clean sheet and won. It’s particularly impressive given that £32m central defensive signing Nicolas Otamendi hasn’t even made his debut yet, named on the bench for the first time for this game. If they continue to keep clean sheets, they won’t need him.
Vincent Kompany appears revitalised and back to his best, ably partnered in central defence by Eliaquim Mangala. Palace had their chances, most notably when Dwight Gayle volleyed wide in the second half, but City held firm. Again. They don’t mind mixing it either. After Dann’s foul on Aguero had angered City, Yaya Toure swiftly responded with a challenge on James McArthur that incensed Pardew.
Pardew’s reaction prompted a brief dispute between the Palace boss and Pellegrini, although he held back from calling the Chilean a f**king old c*** this time, as he did during his time in charge of Newcastle. The fuss was over invading technical areas on this occasion, and the pair shook hands a few moments later.
“I was bit incensed by the tackle, I went past Manuel’s box and he wasn’t best pleased about that,” Pardew said. “But I didn’t say anything and retreated back to my box like a good boy.”
Sterling and Silva were missed
Manchester City may have got their goal eventually, but for a long time it looked like they were going to have to settle for a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park. Much of that was down to the absence of Raheem Sterling and David Silva through injury, which denied City supporters their first look at what is now expected to be Pellegrini’s first choice attacking quartet - Sterling, Silva, De Bruyne and Aguero.
Sterling spent the game watching on from the stands beside Richard Wright. Yes, he’s still a footballer. Suffering from a minor hamstring injury, Sterling’s absence was said to be a precaution, perhaps with one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League opener at home to Juventus. It meant that Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas both started, in what was a 4-4-2 at first before De Bruyne came on for Aguero.
Nasri was bright in spells, completing 51 of 57 passes and setting up the goal, but Navas struggled just as he did against Watford a fortnight ago. As in that game, he attempted 7 crosses but only 1 was successful. And the less said about his failure to find an open goal from six yards, the better. City’s attacking play was sometimes too slow and lacked the creativity that Sterling and Silva would have added.
Palace packed a punch, crossing let them down
Pardew felt Palace missed the presence of the injured Connor Wickham up front, and ultimately his side failed to find the net against City. But they still looked like a side brimming with confidence - no surprise, given that they won at Chelsea last time out. Wickham’s absence saw them play Yannick Bolasie as a false nine, with the trio of Bakary Sako, Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha supporting just behind. All four have pace to burn and that exuberance was a real threat on the counter-attack at times, particularly early on.
While City looked to create high up the field with intricate passing, Palace let their attacking quartet run at the visitors. Zaha attempted 6 take-ons, 5 of which were successful, and also made more tackles than any other player on the field. Palace probably had their greatest joy down the right, identifying left-back Aleksandar Kolarov as City’s biggest potential defensive weakness. But, if anything, their delivery from wide areas let them down. Palace’s attacking quartet attempted 14 crosses, but only 3 were successful.
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