Sam Allardyce is concerned that Crystal Palace’s players have eased off in the mistaken belief that they have done enough to secure Premier League survival.
Allardyce’s side are four points above the relegation zone with two games left after three straight defeats, the latest of which featured an awful display at the Etihad Stadium.
That poor run has added extra significance to next Sunday’s home match against relegation rivals Hull City, and raised the possibility that Palace may need points from their final match, away to Manchester United, in order to stay up.
Jose Mourinho has added to the relegation intrigue in the last week by suggesting that he may field his Under-23 side against Palace because of fixture congestion caused by United’s Europa League run.
Allardyce hopes such talk proves irrelevant, but he is increasingly worried at the way his side have failed to build on impressive recent victories over Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
“I don’t want to even think about going to Old Trafford and needing points to stay in the Premier League,” the Palace manager said. “I want to go and get the points against Hull City.
“That 38-point mark seems to have had a negative effect on our results,” he added. “You can see teams dip away and I think we have. We’ve been guilty of that maybe a little bit. It may be a little bit harsh from me, but it’s certainly something I’m thinking about and have thought about.”
Palace’s display was mired in tactical confusion, as Allardyce started the game with an unfamiliar 5-3-2 formation that featured a three-man central defence made up entirely of full-backs, and an uncomfortable Andros Townsend deployed as a wing-back.
The set-up held out for just 114 seconds before David Silva opened the scoring, and Allardyce decided to revert to a back four after 15 minutes. Defender Martin Kelly suggested in a post-match television interview that Palace had not worked enough in training on their five-man defence, although Allardyce argued the size of the defeat was down to individual mistakes.
“The performance was full of so many errors, which surprised me so much,” the manager said. “I didn’t expect that. At no stage did we frustrate Manchester City.”
Pep Guardiola’s side have stumbled over the last couple of months, with this victory only their third in nine league matches. It was, however, City’s biggest league win since he took charge last July, with Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi scored second-half goals to add to Silva’s early effort.
Captain Kompany has played every minute of City’s last five matches, and finally seems to be over the injury problems that have troubled him consistently for the best part of three years. Yet having stopped to speak to reporters in a corridor under the main stand at the Etihad Stadium, he suggested that he will only feel truly over his problems when he is no longer asked about them.
“The happiest I will be is when I go through this corridor and nobody asks me about my fitness,” he said. “We’ll see how long it takes you guys to forget about it. Of course I’m happy. My favourite place to be is on the pitch with those guys.
“I’ve watched them a lot from the stands and I’m really lucky that I still had the chance to get back if I did the right thing – and I’ve done that.”
City are on course for Champions League qualification, but fourth place would only secure a play-off, whereas third would seal a group-stage place.
Kompany added: “At the moment it’s about being in the top four and when that’s achieved it will be about finishing third. There is no chance to relax, especially given the teams competing with us.”
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