The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Man City
Pulis eyes a six-timer to poo-poo Pellegrini’s title hopes.
It’s been quite a ride for Crystal Palace in 2013/14. Back in November the Eagles were favourites to follow their three previous unsuccessful stints in the Premier League with another instant relegation, having lost nine of their opening 10 league games. Yet the south Londoners now bask in the glory of five consecutive wins and are set to play a key role in determining which team lifts the trophy.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- West Ham 0-1 Palace (Prem)
- Everton 2-3 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- Man City 2-2 S'land (Prem)
- Liverpool 3-2 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 4-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-1 Man City (Prem)
Having swatted aside Chelsea, Cardiff, Aston Villa and Everton for the concession of two goals, West Ham were the latest victims of the Pulis pulverisers last weekend, making it a mind-boggling 39 points from 26 games in charge for the Manager of the Year contender.
Now sitting snugly in 11th, the Eagles will be hoping their forward momentum can lift them even higher, with Southampton and Newcastle chuntering their way along to the campaign’s conclusion.
And with two of their remaining three games at home to Manchester City and Liverpool, this once dismal, doomed outfit now represent a stern test of the title chasers’ credentials, with Chelsea already having failed at Selhurst Park.
“This is a different team to the one I had at Stoke,” said Pulis. “We sat down and had a look at the strengths of the team and we worked out a system that we thought would suit them. You have to be strong and resilient but we've got great pace on the break.”
Man City are first up on Sunday, with Manuel Pellegrini refusing to give up on the title after dispatching struggling West Bromwich Albion. Three Argentines scored in the same Premier League game for the first time as Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Aguero and Martin Demichelis all notched before the interval. But the departure of David Silva on a stretcher marred the victory, and the Blues’ fluidity going forward is likely to suffer without the Spanish schemer pulling the strings.
"In the end, if you have a mathematical chance to win, football will never say it is final,” said Pellegrini, who feels the club have been hard done by with their fixture list. "For us all season it has been very difficult to get to the top of the league. If you look at the 34 games we have played, only once or twice were we top of the table.
"With three games being postponed, you don't have nine points, you still have to win them, so it has been very difficult for our team in motivation, to think we were at the top of the table. Since we lost against Liverpool, our future hasn't depended on what we do, but we have a duty to try and win our games."
City’s win over West Brom was their first in three games, their late defeat at Liverpool followed by a coupon-busting draw with Sunderland. They’ll be hoping for a Chelsea win at Anfield earlier on Sunday to keep them in the title race. But even if that does happen, Selhurst Park has been far from a happy hunting ground.
Only two of the last 11 league meetings in south London have ended with victories for the visitors; 2-1 in September 2004 and 3-1 back in April 1991.
Marouane Chamakh is Palace’s only injury concern, after the Moroccan picked up a knock in the win at Everton. As well as Silva, City are expected to be without Jesus Navas and Matija Nastasic but, significantly, may be able to welcome back Yaya Toure from the muscle injury that the Ivorian picked up against Liverpool.
Player to watch: Samir Nasri (Man City)
With Silva sidelined, Pellegrini will be relying on the Frenchman to dictate play in the Palace half and fashion the chances to ensure City leave with all three points. The former Arsenal midfielder topped the passing charts against West Brom after Silva’s premature exit 70 minutes in. Nasri completed 85 of his 91 passes (35 of them made in the attacking third) and set up 3 chances for team-mates in and around the penalty area.
That display came on the back of a better one against Sunderland. Nasri enjoyed a 100% pass completion rate (77/77, 33 in the final third), set up 5 chances and scored, albeit fortuitously, the home side’s late leveller, and his impressive performance would have been capped with an even later winner had he not blazed over.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 1-0 Palace (Prem, Dec 13)
- Palace 0-2 City (LC, Aug 09)
- City 3-1 Palace (Prem, Jan 05)
- Palace 1-2 City (Prem, Sep 04)
- City 1-0 Palace (Div 1, Mar 02)
Pulis has claimed the togetherness of the club has proved decisive in their fight against the drop, saying: “It's a group, even the people who are not in the team have been wonderful and everybody's bought into it, including the supporters, who have really been fabulous. You look at Selhurst Park and the supporters are still getting behind the team so they have to take some credit too." A solitary Edin Dzeko strike was the difference as City edged the reverse fixture in December, with goalkeeper Joe Hart the hero; denying Joel Ward, Jason Puncheon and Mile Jedinak as he played on after sustaining a nasty cut to his eye.
Pellegrini was critical of Palace’s defensive tactics at the Etihad Stadium, claiming his side were the only one trying to win, but Pulis was quick to return fire at the Chilean, snapping: "Was that the team that cost £350 million? I thought our lads were brilliant. They gave Joe Hart man of the match so there you go."
Facts and figures
- 7 of City’s 17 away games this season have had at least 5 goals.
- City have won 8 of their last 12 trips to middle-third teams including 7 win/win doubles.
- 12 of Palace’s last 18 matches have had more goals in the second half than the first.
- 8 of Palace’s 9 defeats under Pulis have been to nil.
City labour without Silva, but Aguero just about keeps them in contention at the top. 0-1.