City ready to hit top gear in title race

Defender Pablo Zabaleta accepts the second half of the season is when Manchester City have to step up their game.

Although their 100% home record remains intact after nine matches it was given a severe examination by Liverpool in a 2-1 win on Stephen’s Day.

That moved City into second place in the league, just a point behind Arsenal, and with struggling Crystal Palace visiting today there is a chance for them to go top ahead of the Gunners’ encounter tomorrow at Newcastle.

“It was a massive win. We played against a very strong side in Liverpool and it was really important to get three points and keep the team winning their home games. I think we did a good job,” Zabaleta said.

“We have to push even more now. We know December and January is one of the key points for the big teams to make a difference because we play many games and you need to try to keep winning.

“At the moment we are doing well, we are one point behind the leaders and that is why Crystal Palace is also a key game.

“Sometimes there is talk we need to improve our performances away from home but we had a good win at Fulham and now our next game is at home to Crystal Palace so we need to have a good rest and be fit for that game.”

City will look to use their dominance at home to overpower Palace but that was far from the case against Liverpool, who were happy to go toe to toe with their hosts.

On another day Manuel Pellegrini’s side could have lost as Raheem Sterling’s goal was wrongly disallowed for offside and Luis Suarez had claims for a late penalty waved away.

“They have fantastic players, especially up front with Luis Suarez – who is probably the best striker at the moment, Sterling and (Philippe) Coutinho,” Zabaleta noted.

“They also try to play good football from the back and I think they did well but at the end we took big chances and it was great to score two goals.

“When you play against the best players, you always try to keep them quiet. If we look at the overall performance of Suarez I think we kept him very quiet and that is why we need to give credit to the back four.”

Having been regularly attacked by Liverpool, Pellegrini must prepare his side for the pragmatic approach Tony Pulis’ side are sure to employ.

“Palace are a different challenge but maybe everyone thinks we are going to beat them because it is an easy game. All the teams in relegation positions provide tough opposition.”

Palace midfielder Barry Bannan has set his sights on upsetting Manchester City after proving his point to former club Aston Villa.

Bannan returned to Villa Park on Stephen’s Day for the first time since being sold in the summer by the club he served for nine years, and came out on the winning side. Though acknowledging the step-up in opposition, the 24-year old is nonetheless optimistic.

“These are the games you want to be in the league for – big games, big occasions, and we’ll go there with our confidence sky high after this win and hopefully try to get something, and a bit of credit as well.

“I think you treat it as any other game. Obviously you’re underdogs, nothing’s expected, so you’re going out there with a freedom to get something. There’s a different pressure which hopefully we’ll thrive on and give them a game.

“Anything can happen on any given day in this league and hopefully there’ll be a shock when we go there.”


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