Crystal Palace v Man City might be one of the most one-sided games of the season…
This is going to be one of the most territorially one-sided games of the season. Manchester City held 72% possession in the reverse fixture, a 4-0 win at the Etihad, and it is almost certain this game will go the same way. Roy Hodgson always plays in a low block, his resolute 4-4-2 limiting space in a way that is rarely seen in the modern game, while Pep Guardiola continues to ensure possession dominance is the main trope of City’s season.
But Palace were without Wilfried Zaha that day, and so things could be a little bit different. As Palace shuttle across, waiting patiently for a chance to counter, this match will rest on just how effective Zaha can be behind City’s high line.
Key battle zone
Crystal Palace are particular vulnerable around the corners of the penalty area, a symptom of sitting so remarkably deep in their lines of four. The 4-1 defeat to Chelsea was just the latest example of the problem that develops when hunched like that; as the wingers come out to meet the ball in a wide position, Palace’s two-man midfield becomes stretched and the opposition can slip a pass between the full-back and centre-back.
Thomas Tuchel’s forwards got into the box at the angle over and over again in a dominant first half, something Man City should easily follow via Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez. Both players are superb manipulators of space, either supplying the through ball or making unseen runs into those channels at the outside edges of the penalty area. Palace will surely be overwhelmed here.
Keep an eye on… Zaha and Eze interactions
It might seem obvious to point to how Eberichi Eze and Wilfried Zaha can combine down the left wing for Palace on the counter-attack, but it is really the only way Palace look to create chances in games like these. Hodgson will put all his eggs in that basket, which means Pep Guardiola only needs to think carefully about how to defend the pace and trickery on this side.
The most obvious play is to pick Kyle Walker at right-back and instruct him to hold his defensive position as part of a back three, providing extra cover with his pace and strength. John Stones’ suspension probably also helps City, because the partnership of Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte is less susceptible to sudden bursts of pace.
One to watch… Gabriel Jesus
Sergio Aguero’s departure this summer hands Gabriel Jesus the opportunity to make the number nine spot his own, particularly given that the impact of Covid-19 may prevent Man City from signing an elite striker this summer. If this is his audition, Jesus isn’t doing a particularly good job, failing to score in each of his last four games in all competitions.
Such a simple game, against such defensive opponents, is a great opportunity for Jesus to rediscover some form. As City overload those channels, threading balls to the byline for a cut back, the Brazilian is likely to be handed a couple of good chances in the six-yard box.
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