The Big Match

Football: Mismatch will bring more woe for Palace

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha in action with Manchester City's Gael Clichy and as Raheem Sterling looks on.
Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha in action with Manchester City's Gael Clichy and as Raheem Sterling looks on.PHOTO: REUTERS

The gulf in quality between title favourites & relegation fodder cannot be more apparent

It is not just top against bottom. Manchester City and Crystal Palace are separated by 18 English Premier League teams.

At their current rate of progress, Pep Guardiola's side are on course to score a record 121 top-flight goals. Roy Hodgson's charges are on course to score none.

If one scenario is unlikely and the other highly improbable, it nonetheless highlights the contrasts in their starts.

But the temptation is to assume some trends will continue. City's last two league games have produced 11 goals. They have scored them all.

Palace have made the worst goalless start in the history of the English top division and face both Manchester clubs and Chelsea next.

This feels the worst possible fixture. Palace have lost their last six games against City, conceding 14 on their three most recent trips to the Etihad Stadium.

They venture north at a time when Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus have provided irrefutable proof they can play together, combining to prolific effect, when City are playing the most potent football of Guardiola's reign and when their squad is so strong that the manager can choose from three in-form players who cost a combined £130 million (S$238 million) to join Aguero and Jesus in attack.

Whether Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling or Bernardo Silva is chosen, the temptation is to wish Palace luck: they will need it.

Yet Hodgson can draw upon the past to know that miracles can happen at the Etihad.

In April 2008, his Fulham team were 0-2 down at half-time and, as things stood, relegated. They triumphed 3-2, won their next two games and were Uefa Cup finalists two years later.

It is safe to say few expect a repeat: Hodgson's methods tend to take time for his repetitive training sessions to bring about the desired performances. But he should bring more clarity of thought than the sacked Frank de Boer.

Palace will pass the ball sideways less. They should defend better, and have conceded only one goal in the 70-year-old's two games in charge.

They may be buoyed by a first win, over Huddersfield in the League Cup, and the first sightings of Mamadou Sakho, a talisman in defence as they avoided the drop last season.

They may think that after 71 league shots this season, a total bettered by only six other clubs, the law of averages dictates that one will go in sooner rather than later.

Yet Palace are without the injured Wilfried Zaha and this has the makings of an attack versus defence exercise.

Palace cannot push up, or Aguero and Jesus will exploit space behind them. But they sat off Southampton last week and allowed Mario Lemina to run the midfield.

A repeat would be more dangerous against City's classy passers. One way or another, it threatens to get worse before it gets better for Hodgson.

MAN CITY V CRYSTAL PALACE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'Mismatch will bring more woe for palace'. Print Edition | Subscribe