Jekyll-and-Hyde City eye consistency

Manchester City's Argentina forward Sergio Aguero holding off Brazil's Marcelo during last week's World Cup qualifier. Despite the defeat, City's top scorer came through unscathed and is in line to lead Guardiola's attack when they visit Crystal Pala
Manchester City's Argentina forward Sergio Aguero holding off Brazil's Marcelo during last week's World Cup qualifier. Despite the defeat, City's top scorer came through unscathed and is in line to lead Guardiola's attack when they visit Crystal Palace, who are winless in five league games.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Injury-free international break may boost Pep's side at relegation-threatened Palace

LONDON • The one thing people would not have expected of Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, who takes his side to Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday, is inconsistency.

They have been both inspired and insipid in recent weeks, following up a 3-1 Champions League win over Barcelona with a 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough four days later.

Third in the table, but with just one win in five matches, City will expect to do better today against a desperately out-of-form Palace side.

Yet striker Kelechi Iheanacho is wary of Palace. He said: "They are very strong and have very good wingers, so they will believe they can win this game."

Guardiola's team have developed a worrying habit of failing to make their dominance count in games and have kept just two clean sheets in 11 league matches this season. The good news is that his international players return from World Cup qualifying duty in good health.

Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was forced off with a minor knock while playing for Chile against Colombia but recovered for Tuesday's 3-1 win over Uruguay, saving a penalty from Luis Suarez.

Sergio Aguero, sixth on City's all-time scoring list after netting his 150th for the club against Boro, has a point to prove, having been benched for Argentina's two qualifiers against Brazil and Colombia.

Midfielder Fernandinho has returned to Manchester in good spirits after captaining Brazil for the first time as they closed in on the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia with wins over Argentina and Peru.

The international break has given Palace manager Alan Pardew and his players plenty of time to mull over their last-minute defeat at Burnley that left them just one point above the relegation places.

Palace looked to have turned a corner in September, winning three games in a row as part of a five-match unbeaten run, only for a run of four straight defeats to drag them back into the mire. Palace have registered just five victories in their last 32 league games.

While Pardew insists there is no correlation between last season's 14-game winless streak from December to April and his team's current woes, he knows the dangers of maintaining such a negative trend.

His main concerns are focused on a defence that has conceded 10 goals in the last three games - a statistic that hardly encourages optimism ahead of City's visit.

Palace have lost seven of their last eight league meetings with City but Wilfried Zaha remained bullish. He said: "I have been in worse situations before, like last season when we did not win in ages, but we have to stick together.

"I know it does not look the best right now, but I am sure we will get out of it."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CRYSTAL PALACE V MAN CITY

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Jekyll-and-Hyde City eye consistency'. Print Edition | Subscribe