Football

Palace end Man City's winning run

EPL leaders drop first points after winning 18 consecutive league games, but are still 14 points clear

EPL
CRYSTAL PALACE MANCHESTER CITY
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Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson stopped an injury-time penalty by Crystal Palace's Luka Milivojevic to save the Citizens from defeat on Sunday (Dec 31), but a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park ended the Premiership leaders’ record 18-match winning run.

Milivojevic was presented with the chance to seal a memorable victory for Roy Hodgson’s relegation-threatened side when Wilfried Zaha was brought down by Raheem Sterling in the 90th minute.

But the Palace winger struck his spot-kick too close to Ederson, allowing the Brazilian to preserve his side’s 21-game unbeaten start to the league campaign.

However, City’s failure to score in a league game for the first time since last April meant they fell short in their bid to equal Bayern Munich's 19-game winning run of four years ago, the longest in Europe’s five major leagues, which was achieved under current City manager Pep Guardiola.

The Citizens, who host Watford on Jan 3 (Singapore time), are still 14 points clear of nearest challengers Chelsea. Manchester United, who drew 0-0 with Southampton earlier, have slipped to third, 15 points behind City. 

However, Guardiola will be worrying over the extent of injuries to Gabriel Jesus, who had to be replaced by Sergio Aguero after just 23 minutes, and Kevin de Bruyne, who was stretchered off with what appeared to be a serious injury immediately after the spot-kick, following an ugly challenge by Palace substitute Jason Puncheon.

Hodgson claimed before the game there was “no magic formula” to competing with City, insisting his Palace side’s hopes of getting something from the game hinged on working hard, and defending well while maintaining an attacking threat.

FRUSTRATION

The manager could be satisfied that during the first half, his players stuck to the prescribed plan to the extent that by the half-time break, the frustration among Guardiola’s players was plain to see.

City had started well enough, piecing together a series of fluent early moves that suggested the home defence would face a long and testing outing.

However, there was an early sign the visitors might not be at their best when a breakdown in communication between Eliaquim Mangala and Ederson led to the goalkeeper directing an attempted clearance against his centre back, presenting Christian Benteke with an early opportunity.

Mangala recovered to deflect the striker’s shot away to safety but the mix-up was the first of too many for the league leaders in the first half.

Both sides were forced into early changes with Palace captain Scott Dann being stretchered off in the 19th minute and City striker Jesus following shortly after, with what appeared to be a groin problem.

The subsequent reshuffle appeared to affect the visitors more, with Palace growing into the game the longer the half went on.

Aguero, Jesus’ replacement, struck the post in the 28th minute with a deflected shot from the edge of the penalty area but that proved to be a rare moment of concern for home keeper Wayne Hennessey.

THREAT

And while Palace were unable to carve out many clear chances at the other end, Wilfried Zaha was a constant threat down the left, frequently getting the better of City's right back Kyle Walker.

An animated conversation between de Bruyne and Leroy Sane confirmed the sense that City were growing increasingly uncomfortable and Sane – who was particularly ineffective – received a yellow card on the stroke of half-time when he kicked the ball away in frustration after being caught offside.

Palace had adopted a very different approach to that pursued by Newcastle, City previous opponents, before the break.

But they found it far harder to be as expansive after the restart when City finally began to move through the gears.

Benteke grew more isolated up front and Zaha found he had less space to work with as City pressed forward and began to give Hennessey the busy outing he would have anticipated.

The goalkeeper, though, proved up to the task and never more so than when he positioned himself well to block Sane’s close-range volley at the far post.

De Bruyne shot straight at Hennessey and then saw an effort blocked by Martin Kelly but, despite dominating possession, City struggled to find openings in a well-drilled Palace backline.

And they should have entered the final 14 minutes trailing, after Andros Townsend missed the home side’s best chance of the half before Milivojevic was handed his late chance to clinch the points.  – AFP