Classic City! Attack the best form of defence for Guardiola’s injury-hit squad


The Premier League champions fielded a team without any orthodox centre-halves against Crystal Palace but cruised to a 2-0 win at Selhurst Park

Under pressure and without any central defenders, Pep Guardiola went on the attack.

Eight points behind leaders Liverpool and in danger of ending the matchday outside of the Premier League’s top four, Manchester City couldn’t afford a third shock slip-up just nine matches into the season.

With his three senior centre-backs unable to start, Guardiola moved Rodri back into heart of the defence alongside fellow midfielder Fernandinho.

The City boss then doubled down by playing the most attacking full-backs he could find in his squad – Joao Cancelo and Benjamin Mendy – to complete his back four.

And screening them was Ilkay Gundogan, who has spent the majority of the campaign as an attacking midfielder.

The result was a classic City performance, the one disappointment that they only won 2-0, given the scale of their supremacy.

What looked crazy on paper was just a return to the game plan that has been played out so many times over the past two, title-winning seasons.

City dominated territory and possession, kept their patience and finally took their chances.

They had seven shots on target in the first 45 minutes, more than in any first half of a Premier League away game since April 2010.

It wasn’t until the 39th minute that they finally found the breakthrough, though, Gabriel Jesus deftly deflecting Bernardo Silva’s cross in off the far post.

Gabriel Jesus, Man City vs Crystal Palace

The Brazilian may have been a surprise starter, with Sergio Aguero dropped to the bench, but it was his seventh goal in seven consecutive starts for City and he was a threat all evening.

In addition, his strike inspired the kind of rapid one-two combination that has floored so many previous opponents, with David Silva volleying in Raheem Sterling’s lofted pass just 93 seconds after Jesus’ opener.

City’s attackers were clearly back to their best, at least from a creative perspective, given they weren’t as ruthless as they would have liked.

Bernardo Silva produced that kind of performance that prompted Guardiola to describe the Portuguese as the best soccer professional in the league last season – forcing two good saves from Wayne Hennessey.

Kevin De Bruyne was back in the side and back at his brilliant best. His display warranted a goal but he was desperately unlucky to see a close-range header come back off the post, while he was visibly upset that Jesus opted to go himself rather than leave him with a tap-in late in the game.

Despite their profligacy, this was the kind of team performance that suggested that City have recovered from their unusually nervy start to the season.

In addition, Guardiola’s decision to ignore highly rated academy defenders Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis in favour of Fernandinho and Rodri turned out to be not such a gamble after all.

Man City celebrate vs Crystal Palace

The Catalan correctly calculated that Palace would not go toe-to-toe in the way Norwich and Wolves had done in their shock victories over the champions this season.

Instead, Roy Hodgson opted for the smash-and-grab, counter-attacking approach that produced their own brilliant win over City at the Etihad Stadium 10 months ago.

But they were mostly penned back in their own third of the pitch for almost the entire 90 minutes, with Rodri and Fernandinho playing like auxiliary midfielders deep in the opposition half.

Wilfried Zaha was unable to concentrate solely on his offensive game, regularly having to track Mendy’s runs forward, while Eagles striker Jordan Ayew spent more time in his own half than City’s.

There were a couple of uncertain moments by the rookie centre-back pairing. They got into a mess passing out from the edge of their own box and gave away a dangerous free-kick that was wasted.

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And an untimely slip from Rodri also gave Zaha a sight of goal but he was rescued by a brilliant challenge from Raheem Sterling.

Even when Palace finally got their shots on target, Ederson produced two wonderful saves to keep them out.

But on a day when City played without defenders, it’s only right that the attackers should take the plaudits.


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