Debutant Iheanacho scored the only goal of the game, as Manchester City beat Crystal Palace. The hosts had put up a valiant effort, but failed to convert any of their chances, costing them the game.
They say a great team is judged by how good its weakest players are. At Manchester City, it’s hard to call any of the players ‘weak’. After losing Sergio Aguero to injury, early in the first half, Manchester City were starved for creativity without the services of Silva and Sterling. In response to their opposition’s shortcomings, Crystal Palace played with real purpose, however they lacked the finishing touch, which their opposition had.
In light of Manchester City’s tough away game, there were three things that became glaringly evident.
Crystal Palace lack a final product
Many have lauded Crystal Palace’s activity in the transfer market, and rightly so, as they bought Bacary Sako, Connor Wickham and most notably Yohan Cabaye to strengthen their charge ahead of the new season. So far, their investment seems to be reaping rewards,but not where it matters the most.
The fact that Joel Ward, Crystal Palace’s right-back, had been their most effective attacking threat up till the City game, shows how much Palace need to work on their attack.
Alan Pardew’s decision to play Yannick Bolasie as a lone striker did not work in the slightest, and the mercurial winger wasn’t given as much space and creativity with his back to the goal. His wicked turn of pace and lunging runs didn’t do him any good against City’s tight man marking, stifling him throughout most of the game.
While Crystal Palace threatened time and again, during large spells of the game, they only threatened. Dwight Gayle’s miss, from a perfect Wilfred Zaha cross, epitomised Palace’s sub-par finishing as they were left ruing ‘what could’ve been’.
Like champions do, Manchester City ground out a win
Selhurst Park has been a hostile ground for many of the Premier League’s elite over the last few years. Last season’s loss at Selhurst Park was just the shot in the arm that Pellegrini’s men needed, to usher in a spell of form, which has ended since then. Losing David Silva and Raheem Sterling, in addition to Aguero in the beginning of the game, City had their backs against the wall as they fought off the onslaught from second-placed Crystal Palace.
It was peculiar then, that City looked confident throughout the game, carving chance after chance, till Iheanacho scored the winner in the dying stages. Manchester City’s heavy involvement in the market paid off huge dividends in this game, as Kevin De Bruyne took his place and reinstated the movement and creativity, so readily associated with the Argentine. Moreover, Wilfred Bony led City’s charge through the game, breaking through Crystal Palace’s dogged defence.
Every tactical tweak made by Pellegrini added to Manchester City’s arsenal, as Iheanacho’s goal came as a result of effective changes. The pressure that City created finally elicited a brief moment of weakness from the hosts, that was promptly capitalised on by the debuting striker.
In the face of trying odds, Manchester City drew out a win and displayed character which was sorely lacking during the last campaign. Manchester City may herald their 3-0 victory over Chelsea as their finest till date, but it is performances like the one against Crystal Palace, that can win championships.
Iheanacho proves that Manchester City are willing to take a gamble with the youth
Since investing over A?200 Million into their academy, Manchester City have been finding and developing many promising starlets. Their under-21 side won the inaugural Premier League International Cup, and have been in fine form throughout most of the league season.
Much of their new found success has to do with the kind of dedication put into their youth development. Their new, no expense spared, training ground is one of the best in the world. It’s also in the heart of working class East Manchester, while United are not on a public transport network, tucked away amid the fields and electricity pylons to the west of the city. It was a conscious decision on the part of both clubs to be where they are.
Moreover,their trainers have access to their talents for five days of the week, compared to three allowed by most other big Premier League clubs.
Though not bred through the system, Kelechi Iheanacho was bought at seventeen and trained through every avenue of Manchester City’s youth development setup. Having seen him play through the pre-season, Manuel Pellegrini put his faith in the promising Nigerian, promoting him to the first team and affording him a spot on the bench.
Needing a winner, the Argentine could have reshuffled his pack and supplemented Bony with Kevin De Bruyne up top. Instead, in a high pressure situation, without a lead to defend, Pellegrini went for broke and threw on the Nigerian, resulting in a near instant goal. Incidents like these don’t happen to often for Manchester City, but Iheanacho’s appearance along with his winning goal suggest that there may be a chance for City’s promising academy and young players.