What Did We Learn From The Stunning Win Over City?
Nobody gave the Eagles a hope ahead of the trip to the Etihad but the terrific win over the champions is a very welcome Christmas gift to the Palace faithful, but what did we learn?
1. What is going on? Did that really happen? Does Andros Townsend have a better left foot than Roberto Carlos? Those were just a handful of questions pin-balling around our minds as Palace scored three goals in eighteen minutes against the reigning champions to teleport us all to a parallel universe. Prior to kick-off, Palace’s current stint in the Premier League had failed to produce a single goal at the Etihad, while City had scored eighteen times at their home ground against the Eagles in the process. Ninety-four nail-biting minutes later, Palace had become only the second team in the past two seasons to leave the blue side of Manchester with all three points, and had beaten City on their own patch for the first time since 1990. Factor in that this City team is one of the greatest the Premier League has ever seen, managed by the brightest footballing mind of a coaching generation, and it isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that this was one of Palace’s best-ever results in the top flight.
2. Speaking of things that are the best-ever, it’s almost impossible to do Townsend’s volley justice with words. Perhaps the best compliment you can pay the 27-year-old’s strike is that in twenty-five years’ time we will still be watching it alongside Darren Ambrose’s pile-driver at Old Trafford, Ian Wright’s audacious lob against Wimbledon and David Hopkin’s curler at Wembley. As the ball dropped out of the cold Manchester air, Townsend was perhaps the only man in the Etihad who thought it would be a good idea to hit it first time. The thud of his boot connecting with the ball couldn’t have been purer, the ripple of the net no cleaner, and the collective gasp that descended over the Etihad as the away end erupted no sweeter. With one perfectly measured swing of his left foot, Townsend had created a moment that will be remembered well beyond this season.
3. Cast your mind back to the beginning of this year and you might remember Palace being on the cusp of inflicting City’s first defeat of their title-winning season. Given his hundred per cent record for Palace from twelve yards, the outcome seemed a formality as Luka Milivojevic placed the ball down on the penalty spot in stoppage time. That day, however, Ederson saved the Serbian’s effort and the Eagles were instead forced to settle for a point. For Milivojevic to brutally dispatch his penalty on Saturday, then, at the home of the Premier League champions, against the same keeper, and at such a crucial time of the game, was a display of colossal mental strength. The 27-year-old has now scored the winning goal in consecutive weeks, reminding us all not only of his worth in midfield, but also of his qualities as a captain.
4. The whole back four deserves praise for their defensive discipline and shape throughout Saturday’s game, but it’s impossible not to single out Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Leroy Sane has made fools of far more experienced right-backs than the 21-year-old, but the German suffered a similar fate to the many wingers who have lined up against Wan-Bissaka this season. No matter what he tried – which included moving inside to escape the clutches of his opposite man – Sane couldn’t evade the sprawling legs of Wan-Bissaka, who successfully completed all seven of his attempted tackles on his first appearance at the Etihad. No challenge seems to have fazed the youngster so far – the only problem for Palace is that with each accomplished Wan-Bissaka performance comes more attention from bigger clubs who might soon look to prise him away from South London.
5. Don’t doubt Roy Hodgson. Many of us were tempted to write the former England manager off after a week that saw Palace suffer demoralising defeats at the hands of Brighton and West Ham, but since then he has somehow galvanised the players to secure back-to-back wins at a crucial time of the season. The 71-year-old made subtle tactical tweaks against City, switching to 4-5-1 without the ball to ensure that Palace could always double up on the wingers that have become so integral to the way the champions often overwhelm their opponents. It was a performance that emphatically dismissed the myth that the players are no longer running for the manager, and a result that may well be a season-changing one – but only, of course, if Palace can follow it up with a win against Cardiff.