Football: Pressure of palatial proportions on Pep

Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus could make a first start for Manchester City today. He impressed in his City debut against Tottenham Hotspur.
Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus could make a first start for Manchester City today. He impressed in his City debut against Tottenham Hotspur.PHOTO: REUTERS

The bare fact is that Pep Guardiola has won 21 trophies in seven years of top-flight management. He has never finished a season without silverware but a man who came to England in search of new experiences risks finding himself with an unwanted one.

Lose at Crystal Palace today and it seems highly probable that Manchester City will have nothing to show for their campaign.

Guardiola believes they are out of the Premier League title race. They scarcely look plausible Champions League winners. A fourth-round FA Cup tie suddenly assumes a greater importance.

The sense is Guardiola recognises its significance. Whereas many managers field weakened teams in the FA Cup, he picked arguably 10 of his best available 11 players in the third round and was rewarded with a 5-0 rout of West Ham.

It suggests a similar side today, with Willy Caballero again in goal but City's premier outfield personnel. That brings the mouth-watering prospect of a first start for Gabriel Jesus, the Brazilian wunderkind who lit up the Etihad Stadium with his cameo in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham.

It was the most exciting City debut since Sergio Aguero's two-goal display against Swansea in 2011. Now they could team up from the start, even if it would be harsh to drop Leroy Sane, who scored against Spurs in arguably his best display in a City shirt.

  • 92%

    Manchester City's recent win rate against Crystal Palace - 11 in their last 12 games.

  • Crystal Palace v Manchester City: Key battles

  • JEFFREY SCHLUPP V RAHEEM STERLING

    Sam Allardyce is spending heavily on full-backs this window and Schlupp, a title-winning squad player with Leicester last year, cost £12 million (S$21.5 million). The pacy attacker operated as a wing-back in Palace's 3-5-2 formation during last week's 1-0 defeat by Everton. That could give the equally jet-heeled Sterling room to exploit as he builds on a fine display against Tottenham.

    LOIC REMY V NICOLAS OTAMENDI

    As cliche as it sounds, Remy should be like a new signing for Palace. Loaned from Chelsea in the summer, injury delayed his debut until this month. He can take the scoring burden off Christian Benteke's shoulders. The erratic Otamendi could struggle against the Frenchman's pace and movement.

    JAMES MCARTHUR V YAYA TOURE

    Selhurst Park is a favourite ground for Toure, who has four goals in four visits and struck twice on his return to the side in November. However, he should be the deepest-lying midfielder whereas McArthur, a natural defensive midfielder, was played as a No. 10 against Everton after scoring five times this season. It did not work.

    Richard Jolly

Without returning to winning ways last week, Guardiola nonetheless provided a reminder of his prowess. A display of high-paced pressing and attacking, featuring the 4-3-3 that worked so well at the start of the season, suggested a revival could be on the cards.

Yet the 5-0 at West Ham proved a false dawn and, while he got the better of Mauricio Pochettino tactically, he faces a very different test in Sam Allardyce.

It felt a mischievous piece of scheduling when City's first game of the season was against Sunderland. Guardiola was set to debut against his antithesis, a British manager who has prioritised clean sheets, set-pieces and direct football.

Instead, Allardyce took the England job. Their clash of styles was delayed for five months.

Now they are opposites.

If Guardiola needs to stay in the FA Cup, Allardyce might be happy to exit it. The only purposes victory would serve are as an endorsement, given his only triumph to date as Palace manager is against League One side Bolton, and to give both players and crowd more confidence in him.

It will not escape Allardyce's attention that, while Palace play on Tuesday, City have 24 hours' more rest before they face West Ham.

It all suggests Guardiola will make fewer alterations. One change, however, would be beneficial. City have conceded six goals from the last six shots on target.

As a pragmatist like Allardyce knows, teams cannot win with such statistics.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Pressure of palatial proportions on Pep'. Print Edition | Subscribe