From what looked like three points, then to no points and then snatching a point at the death – it was quite a rollercoaster of emotions at the Etihad at the weekend, but what did we learn?
1. Even the most optimistic Palace fan would not have expected Cenk Tosun to make such an impact so quickly. The Turkish striker hadn’t started a Premier League game since November, but it wasn’t long before he was drawing comparisons with Glenn Murray, the best centre forward to play for the Eagles in the last decade. Other than a thinning hairline, there are various similarities between Tosun and Murray’s style of play. Like Murray, Tosun has the ability to hold up the ball and win free kicks to relieve pressure, which is something Palace have missed against the big teams this season. He also creates space for those around him – Wilfried Zaha was getting more room and more opportunities to run than in recent weeks – and is an instinctive finisher, as was apparent from his goal and half volley in the second period. Tosun has a point to prove having been written off by Everton and also needs to play himself into form for this summer’s Euro 2020. If he keeps performing like he did on Saturday then Palace will be the beneficiaries of that.
2. Despite Tosun’s contribution, this result was about the collective more than it was any individual. To get a result at the Etihad requires every player performing close to their maximum, along with immense concentration, discipline and a little dose of luck. Palace appeared to have struck that mix until the 80th minute of the game; City might have had more possession but it never truly felt like they were laying siege to the away side’s goal. Palace worked tirelessly off the ball, were compact and defended their penalty area well whenever City entered the final third. All of that work looked like it had been undone late on, but it speaks to the character of the squad that they were still able to drag themselves back up off the canvas to get the point they deserved. That’s now two seasons unbeaten in Manchester on the bounce – not many teams can say that.
3. As good as Palace were from front to back, a special mention must go to James McArthur, Cheikhou Kouyate and James McCarthy. There are probably few more intimidating thoughts as a Premier League midfielder than having to line up against an in-form David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva – not to mention Ilkay Gundogan – but at no point did Palace’s midfield trio look like they were going to wilt at the task in front of them. All three were constantly awake to City’s movement off the ball, with both McArthur and McCarthy making crucial challenges on Sergio Aguero in the first half. The midfield was also a constant thorn in City’s side, preventing the champions from getting into the usual rhythm that allows them to dictate play at home. The emergence and sustained improvement of McCarthy combined with the return of Luka Milivojevic will likely give Roy Hodgson a bit of a selection headache, but it will be a welcome one given the state of affairs in recent weeks.
4. Wilfried Zaha still loves it. There has been a sense that the Palace winger has made a conscious effort to up his game against the big teams this season, almost as if to remind any potential suitors that he is indeed ready to make the step up to the next level. The Ivorian had one of his better games in recent weeks against City and at the end of it all provided a moment only he is seemingly capable of, gliding past John Stones before flashing a ball across the box that only needed a slight touch to go in. Zaha can often cut a figure of frustration – causing some to question his commitment after last summer’s transfer saga – but his release of emotion after teeing up Saturday’s equaliser showed how much he cares. Zaha will leave eventually and will deservedly go on to achieve greater things elsewhere, but when that happens it shouldn’t allow us to lose sight of the fact that Palace is his club.
5. What more does Hodgson need to do to convince the American owners to spend some money? The former England manager has guided an injury-ridden squad to ninth in the table and 30 points before the start of February, proving in the process that the Eagles are capable of competing with most teams in the league. Palace have seldom been in a position at this stage of the season where they have had the luxury of looking ahead of them in the league rather than over their shoulders. In a division seriously lacking in quality this campaign the Eagles now find themselves just four points off of fifth with 15 games to play, and that is arguably despite not yet playing to their full potential. There is a sense that what happens in the next ten days will have a significant bearing on whether Palace push on or plateau in and around where they currently sit in the table. If now doesn’t seem a good time to spend and have a go, when will?