Neil Humphreys: Man City will still drop points
Erratic attack may falter against Tottenham, Man United
In the coming days, both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United may fancy their chances against the champions.
|CRYSTAL PALACE||MAN CITY|
|(Luka Milivojevic 81)||(Raheem Sterling 15, 63, Gabriel Jesus 90)|
Manchester City face Spurs twice, first in Europe and then in the English Premier League, before heading to Old Trafford for the derby of all derbies.
And both sides would have spotted chinks in the armour last night, definite signs of wear and tear up front.
At the risk of sounding churlish, City's 3-1 victory at Crystal Palace yesterday exposed their vulnerabilities.
The weary wonders struggled to convert possession into goals.
Raheem Sterling's double was enough to prevail against Roy Hodgson's cynical 4-5-1 line-up at Selhurst Park, but there was a reason why Pep Guardiola rubbed his shaved head more frantically than Aladdin fondling his lamp.
The City manager waited for a genie that didn't arrive.
The magic has given way to a degree of attacking inconsistency, perhaps understandable as the tension and fixtures pile up in the historic bid for a Quadruple.
Despite Palace's obvious lack of ambition, City's failure to create enough chances worthy of their dominance - which ensured a tense finale when Luka Milivojevic thumped in a low free-kick in the 81st minute - will delight Spurs and United (not to mention title rivals Liverpool).
The clear disconnect that presented itself in City's Champions League loss at Tottenham was apparent again last night.
The champagne football remains, but the finishing has gone flat, a paradox illustrated by Sterling.
In the 10th minute, the English forward missed the kind of open goal usually witnessed at Farrer Park among hungover uncles struggling to see their boots beneath their waistline.
The fluffed sitter was so comically inept, Guardiola threatened to rub away his own forehead, as if trying to erase the unwanted memory.
But five minutes later, Sterling smashed home his 20th goal in all competitions with such confidence, such swaggering aplomb that it was hard to believe the scorer and the open-goal culprit were the same individual.
But Sterling encapsulates the mild frustration regarding City of late.
Having arrived at Palace after a rare loss, apprehension was understandable.
And the hosts' negative formation obviously stifled their opponents wherever possible, but City's negligence up front must be concerning Guardiola.
In some ways, Sterling's lovely finish only added to the frustration, offering a glimpse of what should have been a regular occurrence - total dominance against limp opposition leading to a terrific goal.
Kevin de Bruyne launched one of his sweeping, pass-of-the-season contenders that he pings across the pitch for kicks, sending the ball 45 metres onto Sterling's galloping bootlaces.
The winger found the top corner from an acute angle.
And that was it for an hour.
City overran Palace, it was almost death by a thousand cutting passes, but the end product was off.
Sergio Aguero almost reached de Bruyne's raking effort. Leroy Sane almost benefited from a couple of crosses.
For a team with such ridiculous possession and pass completion stats, City were nearly men, starting every attacking move, but not finishing them.
They crossed the 500-pass landmark just before the hour mark, toiling against opponents who'd essentially given up any pretence of chasing an equaliser (Palace had mustered only 150 at the same juncture).
When Sterling doubled the visitors' lead in the 63rd minute, steering in Sane's smart pass, the floodgates were expected to open.
But they didn't, allowing Milivojevic to pull a goal back that Palace scarcely deserved.
Substitute Gabriel Jesus settled nerves in stoppage time, knocking in City's third on the counter-attack, but Guardiola will not be swayed by the scoreline.
His body language betrayed him at the final whistle.
Relief consumed him.
His men can't be so disjointed against Tottenham or United, who'll be more ruthless in the final third.
City need to lift their game or they will almost certainly drop points.
CRYSTAL PALACE:Vicente, Wan-Bissaka,
Kelly, Dann, van Aanholt, Townsend (Meyer 77), McArthur (Sako 85), Milivojevic, Schlupp (Kouyate 22), Zaha, Benteke
MAN CITY:Ederson, Walker, Kompany,
Laporte, Mendy, de Bruyne, Guendogan,
D. Silva (B. Silva 65), Sterling, Aguero (Jesus 75), Sane (Stones 87)