Manchester City vs Crystal Palace report: Three-and-easy for City as David Silva double closes the gap to Chelsea

Manchester City 3 Crystal Palace 0: Despite starting without a striker, two goals from Silva plus a third from Yaya Toure sees City draw level with table-topping Blues

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The Independent Football

Unlike the stigma that comes with being bottom of the Premier League at Christmas, there is no particular cachet to being top when the Queen (a fan of no sport that does not involve a horse) addresses the nation. Kevin Keegan, Sir Bobby Robson and Rafa Benitez have all enjoyed Christmas at the top without anyone making a fuss about it.

Unless Chelsea lose at Stoke on Monday night, the honour will be Jose Mourinho’s, However, should Manchester City maintain this rate of progress, he may not be surveying the League table cold-eyed from its summit for very long.

This was City’s eighth straight victory. Last season their drive to the title was galvanised by a 3-2 win against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, after which they won their next eight Premier League fixtures and put nine goals past West Ham to reach the League Cup final. This season the pattern has been largely repeated.

“A couple of months ago, nobody believed we would still be in the Champions League and fighting for the title,” Manuel Pellegrini , the City manager, remarked after a harder-fought afternoon than the scoreline suggested. “Once more the squad demonstrated why we won the title.”

One of the reasons why City became champions was the defiance Crystal Palace displayed when 3-0 down against Liverpool as the season reached its desperate climax. Palace displayed something of that spirit here and had James McArthur’s powerful, brilliantly directed header been allowed, as it should have been, they might have fought their way back from 2-1 down.

Brede Hangeland and Martin Kelly are unable to prevent Silva's deflected shot going in

Naturally, Neil Warnock was in unforgiving mood when it came to analysing the linesman’s decision to flag for offside. “We worked so hard to create that goal, that to see it chalked off by somebody who does not know his job is disgraceful,” said the Crystal Palace manager. “I wish I were still working in the media so I could say what I really think.”

When the match is relayed to City’s Abu Dhabi owners, one of their thoughts must be how the club on which they had lavished so much money should have got itself into a situation where it was fielding James Milner as its centre-forward.

The decision to allow Alvaro Negredo to return to Spain seems as odd now as it did in August. Milner did his job as manfully as he has filled every other position he has been asked to play.

Silva strokes home his and City's second goal

“He gave a performance of sacrifice,” said his manager. “We chose James because he works hard, creates movement and space for  his team-mates. We have been  preparing to play this way all  week long.” 

There was no shortage of space for a still-formidable City midfield to exploit but, until David Silva made the breakthrough a few minutes after the interval, Palace not only held out, but they seriously threatened Joe Hart’s goal.

A chant of “You should have gone Christmas shopping” began ringing around the stadium, mocking those who had travelled up from south London. However, by then City were two goals up. The mood had been rather different before Silva seized on Pablo Zabaleta’s pull-back and saw his shot deflect off Scott Dann’s boots to loop into the net.

If Pellegrini commented that he had always been confident of the win, those who came to support his team were not. For all the blue-clad  Santas patrolling the entrances, and the Christmas songs on the Tannoys, this was a deeply anxious crowd. After a first half that featured fabulous touches from Silva and Samir Nasri and the sight of Yannick Bolasie slamming a shot into the side-netting and attempting to score from an outrageous overhead kick, the half-time whistle was met with jeers. Fans of Manchester City, you feel, are the sort forever disappointed by the contents of their Christmas stockings.

McArthur had a headed goal ruled out incorrectly for offside with the score at 2-0

Had Pellegrini not chosen Milner as his makeshift striker, Zabaleta would have made a credible candidate. He is a full-back with a sense for goal and just before half-time a superb pass from Yaya Touré took out two defenders and sent Zabaleta through.

Palace keeper Julian Speroni held his ground long enough and his  fellow Argentine’s shot dribbled past his post. At that moment tensions in the Etihad Stadium reached the kind of levels endured at the Trafford Centre, where Manchester’s shoppers were enduring Panic Saturday.

The first goal calmed everything, and then a low cross from Aleksandar Kolarov, clipped past Speroni with an elegant turn of Silva’s boot, settled the match. A fabulous breakaway, featuring Jesus Navas, Milner and a violent finish from Touré ensured Crystal Palace would lose 3-0.

Toure fires home the third to put the result beyond doubt

It was the forfeit scoreline they would have recorded had they  not bothered to turn up – and  they had done so much more than that.

Manchester City: (4-2-3-1) Hart; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Kolarov; Touré, Fernandinho; Navas, Silva (Ambrose, 69), Nasri (Sinclair, 89); Milner (Fernando, 82).

Crystal Palace: (4-4-1-1) Speroni; Kelly, Dann, Hangeland, Ward; Puncheon (Thomas, 84), McArthur, Jedinak, Ledley (Bannan, 89); Bolasie; Campbell (Zaha, 67).

Referee: Phil Dowd.

Man of the match: Silva (Manchester City)

Match rating: 7/10