Premier League: Man City braces up for stern Palace test

Crystal Palace handed Manchester City its second defeat of the ongoing Premier League season, beating the defending champion 3-2 at Etihad Stadium in December.

Roy Hodgson and Pep Guardiola when the two teams met at Etihad Stadium in December.   -  Getty Images

A dangerous albeit inconsistent Crystal Palace will host Manchester City on Sunday with plenty riding on the outcome, with Liverpool set to host Chelsea later in the evening. When Liverpool and City were last involved in a title race, in 2013-14, the outcomes of these two fixtures, played on April 27, 2014, tilted the balance in City's favour. The difference this time is, City will be playing first and will have a chance to replace Liverpool at the summit of the Premier League.

Liverpool has been City's main challenger in the last two seasons, with its high-pressing game and quick transitions from defence to attack getting the better of City more than once. Even when it finished 25 points behind City in 2017-18, it managed to beat it thrice across two competitions (at home in the Premier League and home and away in the Champions League).

Palace, though, gave a masterclass on how to play against Pep Guardiola's team when it visited Etihad Stadium in December, beating the defending Premier League champion 3-2. Palace's supreme defensive organisation shackled City to the extent that the home team, which is normally adept at controlling a football match and setting the tempo, was hurried into every action that night.

City had 78 per cent possession in that fixture, but Roy Hodgson's team had answers to everything thrown at it by the host. Kevin de Bruyne's intended cross from the right ended up in the back of the net for City's second goal and though it set panic in Palace's ranks with minutes left to play, it was evidence of City's inability to be its usual self.

City's mindset now, with six matches left in the title run-in, is different. With a chance to overtake Liverpool at the summit, Guardiola's team will not be lackadaisical as it was in the reverse fixture. Guardiola will ensure that his team is better-prepared if Palace is as defensively obdurate and makes life difficult for the visitor at Selhurst Park on Sunday.

Palace, of course, has attacking ammunition to test a City defence that can crack under pressure. Wilfried Zaha's running and ball-carrying ability were critical when it beat City in December and the Ivory Coast international will again hold the key. The London club signed Michy Batshuayi on loan on deadline day in January and with his pace, his runs behind the City rearguard will be a major attacking avenue for the host, which will expect to spend long spells defending the width of its 18-yard box.

Sunday's fixture is the first of three stiff tests in the league for a City side chasing back-to-back Premier League titles and history.

Team news

Palace's central defenders James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho are out of the fixture with groin and knee injuries.

Bernardo Silva trained with the rest of his team-mates on Friday after missing the Champions League first-leg fixture with a thigh strain. Oleksandr Zinchenko suffered a hamstring injury in the 2-0 win over Cardiff City and his fitness will be assessed.

What the managers said

"We are capable of beating every other team in this league. When you've been in the league six seasons and looking to embark on your seventh, you can call yourself established." — Roy Hogson

"Selhurst Park is always difficult because of the stadium and the quality of the [Crystal Palace] players." — Pep Guardiola on the challenge for his team on Sunday.

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