Crystal Palace 1 Manchester City 2: It was only a one-word answer. But no question posed to Pep Guardiola after Manchester City’s latest victory elicited a more telling response.
Asked if he regretted leaving Yaya Toure out of Manchester City’s 25-man Champions League squad for the group stages, the Spaniard looked his interlocutor straight in the eye and offered a firm “No.” Down by the dressing rooms, Toure offered his own view of the stand-off that could define, for good or bad, City’s tilt at success in Europe this season.
Defeat to Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany on Wednesday could throw their progress to the knockout stages back into doubt. Toure cannot influence matters in the way he did a tight 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace because he cannot play.
“I was prepared mentally and I knew one day my manager would need me,” Toure said. “I was delighted to play and I am very happy to be playing football.”
The Ivorian was applauded back into the City dressing room by his teammates who no doubt recognise a match-winner when they see one.
“My team-mates are very important to me,” added Toure. “They have always been brilliant with me, always supportive. I always want to be there to help them. I am professional, I always want to improve my game.”
With Ilkay Gundogan and David Silva rested at Selhurst Park, Toure’s path to redemption at the club he helped to win two Premier League titles may still be long and winding. He is not the sort of player you would normally categorise as an impact sub. Rather, he has an ability to think his way into influencing a game.
On Saturday, he also hassled and harried his way to that same position. As impressive as his two goals – a rising shot into the roof of the net following a neat one-two with Nolito for the 38th- minute opener and a simple sidefooted finish after drifting between defenders for the winner seven minutes from time – was his relish to please, or perhaps appease, his boss.
Assuming City are there in the last 16 when the Champions League resumes in February, does that mean Toure might make the squad?
Guardiola said: “Yes, I’m here to take decisions. Maybe I make mistakes, but I have to take decisions and I respect all the people cannot agree with me. I can accept that and that happened. I spoke in the last month, many times with Yaya because he was my player with Barcelona. I know him very well. “As a player there is no doubt. If there was a doubt, he would not be here. There’s no doubt about that. He is another guy to compete with our midfield players and increase our level.
“Of course now he’s not able to play on Wednesday or in the last game against Celtic. But if we are able to qualify in the Champions League, after, I will sit with myself, with my staff and we will decide who are the best players to help us to achieve in the Champions League games.”
How Crystal Palace wish they had such concerns. Five successive defeats and defensive aberration after defensive aberration are undermining a style of play which matched City – and just about did the same against Liverpool in their previous home game. Their next three home fixtures against Southampton, Manchester United and Chelsea don’t offer much hope of respite, yet it is the trips to Swansea and Hull in between which will define whether the Palace faithful stay with Alan Pardew’s side.
Connor Wickham again pressed his case for inclusion from the start with another goal. His equaliser came courtesy of a driving run past Pablo Zabaleta and a shot that carried too much pace for City keeper Claudio Bravo.
Wickham said: “That’s all I can do going forward. When I get my chances, take them. I’ve done it again today and in training this week. We’ll see what happens. My job is just to score goals but as a team we need to be ruthless as a team and start getting results.
“When we scored today you could hear the fans and hear what backing we have. The stadium was absolutely rocking. But we need to start taking these performances against the Man Citys, we need to start taking them to the Swanseas.It doesn’t matter how we win next, if it’s dirty or if it’s clean. We need the points. So do they, they’re not on the greatest run either.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1):
Hennessey 6; Ward 7, Tomkins 6, Dann 6, Kelly 6 (Sako 86’ 6); McArthur 7, Cabaye 8, Puncheon 7, Zaha 6, Townsend 5 (Wickham 46’ 7); Benteke 6 (Lee 81’ 6)
MAN CITY (4-1-2-3):
Bravo 5; Sagna 6, Kompany 6 (Zabaleta 37’ 6), Otamendi 7, Kolarov 6; Fernandinho 8; De Bruyne 7, Toure 9; Sterling 6, Aguero 6 (Fernando 86’ 6), Nolito 6 (Silva 67’ 6)
Bobby Madley 5
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