THE Etihad Stadium proved a brilliant host venue for a Premier League classic on Boxing Day when Manchester City were called upon to dig really deep and show just how serious they are about wanting to win the biggest prize in English football.
That they narrowly won was what counted the most for Manuel Pellegrini’s side that moved up to second in the standings and find themselves rather comfortably poised just a point off the leaders. Of almost equal importance on Thursday was the manner in which the Citizens performed, and there can be no better way to describe it than – just awesome.
Liverpool will consider themselves as unlucky not to have left Manchester with at least a point, and to some extent they have good reason for that. The Reds played above and beyond the call of duty, but came up against the most in-form and most potent team in English and continental football – and thus, the result said it all.
Today, City will welcome Crystal Palace as their pursuit switches to a 10th straight victory at the Etihad in the league this season. This fixture, without being disrespectful to Palace, should be a lot simpler, both in terms of performance and execution.
Palace have been on a renaissance of sorts since Tony Pulis stepped back into the Premier League, but coming up against City, in this kind of form, is hazardous to the blood pressure and heart conditions of visiting managers. The Citizens are on a roll and look set to win without much difficulty, although their visitors will no doubt have ideas of their own of spoiling the party.
The danger for Palace in this game is not how they defend, but rather just how well they can do to keep the scoring down. The two goals against Liverpool were in total contrast to how free-scoring this City side has been recently. And it is a calculated guess that Pellegrini’s squad will return to the three-four-or-more goals a game when Palace visit Manchester this afternoon.
There might be a few weary legs in the starting line-up, given the busy holiday fixture list, but that would also surely bother Palace. And the good thing for Pellegrini is that he has a quality bench to choose from. Indeed, I would not be surprised to see at least three changes in the starting line-up today.
Of course, the likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart were in excellent fettle on Thursday and should fitness permit, will be in the starting XI today.
The striking thing about City at the moment is that regardless of who Pellegrini brings in, they make just as much an impact as any of the others would. The absence of marksman Sergio Aquero is proof of that – the goals are still coming and today there should be a few more than usual.
A visit to Swansea on New Year’s Day follows this match-up for City and that match should be just as good.
Shaun Orange thinks City will knock three or four past Palace at the Etihad.