The less surprising aspect of Manchester City’s eighth consecutive victory was the fact that David Silva, without a goal at the Etihad Stadium in a shade over 12 months, returned to form in emphatic fashion to underline why Manuel Pellegrini’s team should, arguably, enter 2015 as favourites to retain their title.
Such is the incredible depth boasted by Manuel Pellegrini’s squad that not even the absence of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic for this game and possibly the entire holiday schedule could deny City a victory that lifted them to joint leadership of the table, until tonight at least when Chelsea face a tricky visit to Stoke.
The versatile, and ever-dependable James Milner was pressed into action as a lone target man — the semi-mystical “false nine” of modern football parlance — but given the body of goalscoring work to which Silva, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure, among others, can lay claim, it would have taken a brave man to bet against the in-form Blues maintaining their winning ways.
“It is important especially when you play so many games like this year when we have to look at the amount of players we have in our squad, you need multi-faceted players,” said Pellegrini.
“If you review what we did last season, a lot of goals were scored by midfielders and full-backs. We have a style of play where we involve all of the players in attacking and after that we also try to have all of the players defending. It’s not easy to play without a striker but I assure you that we had a whole week to prepare where we practiced at creating the space.
“I don’t know what Chelsea will think. I know three weeks ago we were nine points behind and close to elimination out of the Champions League and we were a team that depends just on Sergio Aguero. So I think that maybe this is a miracle…”
Offended as Pellegrini clearly is at suggestions that his side relies too heavily on Aguero, scorer of 66 league goals in 86 starts for City, it should be pointed out that City’s only domestic victories without him during his current hamstring injury have come by solitary goals against Everton and Leicester and, now, against struggling Palace.
Indeed, the fixture list could hardly have been kinder to City in terms of the Argentinian forward’s lay-off. West Brom, Burnley, Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday and Everton, again, will hardly fill Pellegrini with fear, with or without Aguero and, by the time, Arsenal and Chelsea roll around in the second half of January, his squad should be at full strength.
Of course that meeting at Stamford Bridge may yet prove to be a de facto title decider and, should City match or better Chelsea’s points haul before that date, the destiny of the league will effectively be in their hands. If Silva, whose two goals against Palace doubled his tally for this season, maintains this form, it is hard to see City failing in that goal.
“Big teams have to get used to this type of pressure, and we need to replicate it until the end of the season and win as many trophies as we can,” said Silva. “We were eight points behind Chelsea a few weeks ago and now we have the same number of points, at least until they play on Monday, so maybe we can put a bit of pressure on them.”
A slightly fortunate deflection allowed Silva to finally break down a dogged Palace early in the second half before the Spaniard produced a clinical finish from Aleksandar Kolarov’s centre. Yaya Toure completed the rout although Palace manager Neil Warnock could point to a James McArthur ‘goal’ incorrectly ruled out for offside with the score 2-0, as a harsh turning point for his team.
MAN CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart 6; Zabaleta 8, Demichelis 7, Mangala 7, Kolarov 7; Toure 8, Fernandinho 6; Navas 6, Silva 9 (Lampard 68, 6), Nasri 8 (Sinclair 89); Milner 6 (Fernando 81).
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-1-4-1): Speroni 6; Kelly 5, Dann 6, Hangeland 6, Ward 5; Jedinak 7; Puncheon 7 (Thomas 83), McArthur 7, Ledley 6 (Bannan 89), Bolasie 8; Campbell 7 (Zaha 66, 5).
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire) 6.