EPL: Double for Stones as Manchester City crushes Palace

Manchester City steamed into second place in the Premier League with its 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace.

John Stones celebrates after scoring his second goal. - AP

Manchester City steamed into second place in the Premier League with defender John Stones scoring an unlikely double in a 4-0 demolition of visiting Crystal Palace on Sunday. Central defender Stones, closing in on 100 Premier League appearances for City, headed his first league goal for the club after a sublime cross by Kevin de Bruyne in the 26th minute.

MATCH CENTRE

Ilkay Gundogan curled in a delightful second 11 minutes after the interval before Stones was in the right place to fire home a loose ball with his left foot in the 68th minute. Raheem Sterling crowned a superb second-half City display with an unstoppable free kick into the top corner late on.

The earlier 0-0 draw between leader Manchester United and champion Liverpool was a pre-match boost for Pep Guardiola’s side and they capitalised with a fifth successive league win to move within two points of United and have a match in hand.

It has 35 points from 17 games and is ahead of Leicester City on goal difference with Liverpool fourth on 34 points. Palace remains in 13th place on 23 from 19 matches.

Unbeaten run

After a poor start to the campaign, City is beginning to look like the side that won consecutive titles before Liverpool knocked it emphatically off its perch last season.

Since defeat by Tottenham Hotspur on November 21, City has gone nine league games unbeaten, winning seven and conceding twice. While it has been praised for its defensive solidity, its fluent attacking style has also returned and the goals are beginning to flow.

Yet few would have bet on England defender Stones scoring twice, especially as his only previous goal in the Premier League came for Everton in the 2014-15 season.

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“Another clean sheet, another win, it keeps the momentum going and two goals for myself which has been a long time,” Stones said. “I put pressure on myself to contribute with a few goals and sometimes it doesn't click, but today it did.”

 

Stones praised the contribution of Kevin De Bruyne for his opener. The Belgian instantly controlled Sterling’s diagonal pass, then with his second touch nonchalantly curled in a cross with the outside of his right foot onto the head of Stones.

“It was something we can only dream of,” Stones said.

City was held at bay for the rest of the half by a stubborn Palace but it came alive after the break. Gundogan showed great control to engineer some space before looking up and curling the ball beyond keeper Vicente Guaita.

Stones then showed a striker’s instinct to dispatch a low shot past Guaita who had done well to save Ruben Dias's header. There was still time for Sterling, whose scoring has dried up this season, to whip a superb free kick past the unfortunate Palace keeper who stood no chance with any of the goals.

Guardiola cool on title talk, happy for Stones

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said he will drink a glass of wine to celebrate his 50th birthday on Monday but it might be something more bubbly at the end of the season if his side sustains its current form.

“I don’t want to send any messages. It is Aston Villa on Wednesday. It is one game at a time,” he said.

“A few weeks ago we were points behind Liverpool and we win a few games and that’s what we have to do. Now I will drink a good glass of wine and then think about Aston Villa.”

Guardiola had special praise for Stones, a player who because of injuries and loss of form has struggled at times to fulfil his potential since moving to City from Everton in 2016. “If there is one player I am more than pleased that everything is going well, it’s John Stones. He is playing because he deserves it,” Guardiola said of the 26-year-old.

“He has struggled for many reasons in the past, it belongs to him how he overcame this. He doesn’t make mistakes and he’s created a good partnership with Ruben Dias.”

Stones said his form was down to hard work. “I went away and worked hard every day on the training pitch, in the gym, making sure I’m ready to be called on,” he said.

“Looking at every detail, recovery or whatever, I dedicated everything to get back into the team and to show I’m fighting for the shirt, my team-mates and the club.”