The Premier League looks like a three-horse race right now, and both Arsenal and Leicester City are going all guns blazing at the moment, in order to get to the title. Everybody would have expected the latter to slip off by now, but the Foxes have declared their intent by grinding out a 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur.
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The only team in the top three that does not seem to be fulfilling their potential is Manchester City, and that is something they would be looking to improve upon against Crystal Palace, to keep themselves in the hunt, for now. Whatever happens, a win is imperative for the Citizens.
Manuel Pellegrini vs Alan Pardew
Both the managers are in a bit of a soup at the moment, and need to get their teams out of the rut. While Manchester City need to get a move on with their title challenge, Crystal Palace have to ensure that they stop slipping down the table, and fight for one of the European spots.
Pellegrini to ‘Attack, Attack, Attack!’
The Manchester United fans would have been hoping similar headlines about their team, but ironically, it is Manchester City, who do a lot more attacking than their cross-town rivals. As this is a home game for Manchester City, we can expect nothing more than an all-out attacking style of play by the Citizens, who simply need to get more victories under their belts.
Losses to Stoke City, Arsenal, and Everton have brought a lot of criticism upon Manchester City, and by extension on Manuel Pellegrini, who is otherwise quite calm and composed. However, the home game against Palace presents him with an opportunity to show the fans what his side can do against a team that plays good football.
The Blues are expected to keep the majority of the possession, especially because they are at home, and look to the creative trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and David Silva, to wreck havoc in the Crystal Palace defence. Wilfired Bony is not fit, but Pellegrini would use the mobility of their Argentinian star Sergio Aguero for penetration.
Per match, Manchester City tend to play 50 more short passes in their home games, than on their away fixtures, and the return to fitness of Silva will be crucial in to enforce the style of play with the 4-2-3-1 formation. Crystal Palace have been outdone time and again, with creative passing from the middle of the park, and this is something that City would be looking to capitalise on.
Counter attack, the mantra for Alan Pardew
The Manchester City defence has been exposed time and again this season, and Alan Pardew would be hoping to undo the Eliaquim Mangala-Nicolas Otamendi pairing once more. Pardew himself is a favourite amongst the Crystal Palace faitbful, but consistent failure to win against relegation candidates like Bournemouth, Swansea City, and Aston Villa is something that will haunt the former Newcastle United boss.
Especially, the loss against bottom club Aston Villa is something that would not have impressed the fans, and a good result against Manchester City could give the Eagles a huge boost.
Crystal Palace is not a side that minds not having possession of the ball, and would relish launching frequent counter attacks at the unsure Manchester City defence, who seem to be cought between playing a high line, and playing deep. This often confuses the City midfielders, creating a lot of space between the pivots and the back four.
As Pardew also likes to play the 4-2-3-1 formation, this space is something that the three creative midfield players in the form of Wilfreid Zaha, Jason Puncheon, and Bakary Sako can exploit. Palace would miss Yannick Bolasie a lot, as the Congolese winger has been ruled out of the match with a knock.
However, the main problem for the Eagles is the fact that they do not have a proper goalscorer to put away all the chances they create on the counter attack. With five goals, midfielder Yohan Cabay is their highest scorer in the Premier League. It would be interesting to see if they go for any new strikers in the January transfer market.
Sergio Aguero vs. Scott Dann
This would be a really interesting battle in front of the Crystal Palace goal. Scott Dann is in the from of his life at the moment, and is also Crystal Palace’s third highest scorer in the Premier League with three goals. However, this is one day, when Dann would have to be extra careful, as it is not just Aguero, but also the combination of De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, and Yaya Toure, who would be bombarding the Crystal Palace penalty area with shots, crosses, and through balls.
Yaya Toure vs. Yohan Cabaye
This would be a very intriguing battle in the middle of the park. Both the midfielders are of top calibre creatively, and also have the enough tactical awareness and technical ability to defend, when needed. Of course, one expects that it is Cabaye, who would be having to do most of the defending, as Manchester City drive forward into the attack. However, the Frenchman also has the important task of launching the counter attacks for Pardew’s team.
Bacary Sagna vs. Bacary Sako
Sako could be quite a handful for anyone on his day, and would be constantly looking to make driving runs at Sagna, in order to push the Manchester City back four back towards their own goal, on the counter attack. However, Sako himself needs to do the double shift, as Sagna can also cause a lot of damage from the right flank. Sagna might have lost a bit of pace, but he is still quite effective going forward, and Palace left back Pape Souare would need the help of Sako to quench the combination of Sagna and De Bruyne.
- Since Manchester City hog possession of the ball so much, they are bound to use whatever width they get down the flanks. This would give them more space to work with.
- We can expect the Citizens to play with long bouts of possession, in an attempt to break down their opponents with their array of short passing moves.
- If nothing else works out, Manchester City can also make use of the set plays, as they have some big and strong players on their roster, to head the indirect freekicks into goal. The likes of Mangala, Otamendi, Toure, are all more than capable of getting onto the end of aerial balls and causing damage upfield.
- One thing that Crystal Palace are good at, is getting into the lead, and protecting it. An early lead would mean that they can concentrate on protecting it, and not worry about scoring at the other end, something that they are not very good at, currently.
- With the likes of Dann, Hangeland, Zaha and Wickham in their side, Crystal Palace have enough height of their own, to hurt Manchester City from set pieces. Also, with Cabaye delivering the balls, we can expect the City defence to be troubled quite a bit.
- Defence is a huge worry for the Citizens this season. The absence of captain Vincent Kompany seems to have hurt them a lot, and the defence has suffered as a result of that.
- Another effect that might be an indirect result of Kompany’s absence is the link between the defence and the midfield — especially while defending against through balls on the counter attack.
- One key weakness for Crystal Palace is the fact that they find it really difficult to defend against players that play an intricate passing game and are comfortable with the possession of the ball. Palace has an inherent problem of conceding soft fouls against skillful opposition, and this could hurt them against Manchester City.
- Another issue with their defence is the fact that they find it difficult to play the offside trap. Messing up with the offside trap while defending deep can be detrimental, and Crystal Palace would be well advised to pay more heed to thwarting City’s attacks, than trying to play them offside.
- However, the biggest problem for Crystal Palace is up front, where they are genuinely lacking a quality striker. Cabaye is their highest Premier League scorer with just five goals, and that just paints a really sorry picture. They are unlikely to get many chances against City, and need to put away any half chance that they might get.
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