Venue: Selhurst Park
Match Official: David Coote
TV: BT Sport
Manchester City head to Selhurst Park on the back of a remarkable comeback victory in the Champions League on Wednesday night. Pep Guardiola’s men can theoretically secure the Premier League title right this weekend, if they’re able to beat Palace at Selhurst and their cross-city rivals Manchester United succumb to Liverpool; however, with the return leg against the Parisians in the European semi-final also scheduled for next week, it will be surprising to see Pep put out a full-strength side on Saturday. But the matter now truly is a question of when, rather than if.
City started the season quite slowly, with draws against Leeds and West Ham, and early losses against Leicester City and Tottenham. However, huge credit must be given to Guardiola and the coaching staff for finding ways to gradually up the intensity and to dig deep into the bag of tricks that allowed the Citizens to string together 22 consecutive victories (Yes, victories, not just an undefeated spell). There can be no question over the ‘deservedness’ of City’s third title in the past 4 seasons, a huge testament to the juggernaut of a squad Pep Guardiola has masterminded, especially when you consider that the vast majority of this season has been played without an out and out striker.
That being said, title success is by no means guaranteed this week, and a huge reason behind that is the opposition facing them on Saturday; Crystal Palace have been one of City’s most brittle opponents in Guardiola’s tenure as manager, and City will shrug at the thought of needing a heroic 90’ penalty save from Ederson to keep their undefeated streak intact in 17/18, or Andros Townsend’s goal of the season contender at the Etihad in 18/19, or even Christian Benteke’s bullet header that nearly took Ederson’s hands off just last season. Roy Hodgson will no doubt be reminding his side of the troubles they’ve caused the league leaders over the years, and with Guardiola’s mind likely on the CL tie midweek, the English manager will be firing on his players to secure three points at home territory.
James Tomkins will not be risked this weekend, and instead looks set to be given some minutes for the under-23 squad on Monday to build up match fitness. James McArthur, Conor Wickham and Nathan Ferguson are not fit enough to feature this weekend, and have been ruled out of contention.
Mamadou Sakho is a doubt, but in some slightly more positive news for the Eagles, Gary Cahill seems to have shaken off his knock, and should be good to feature in the heart of defence.
The Citizens have a nearly fully-fit squad to choose from, after Ilkay Gundogan confirmed on Twitter that there’s nothing to worry about after being on the receiving end of a horror tackle from PSG’s Idrissa Gueye.
John Stones will be serving his suspension period, and remains unavailable for selection. Other than that, Guardiola should have his pick of players, but is likely to rotate the squad heavily to prioritise the return leg of the semi-final next week.
Predicted Starting XIs
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Guaita; Ward, Cahill, Dann, Van Aanholt; Ayew, Milivojevic, Kouyate, Eze; Benteke, Zaha
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Ederson; Cancelo, Eric Garcia, Laporte, Ake; Fernandinho, Doyle; Sterling, Ferran Torres, Jesus; Aguero
Predicted Scoreline: Crystal Palace 0-0 Manchester City
I believe that Palace’s omissions due to injuries, coupled with Manchester City effectively playing a second-fiddle team that hasn’t had too many outings in recent times, should see this be a slower, more cautious game. While it is never going to be a plain game when Manchester City visit Selhurst Park, I’m not expecting too many fireworks come Sunday’s afternoon kick off. The points should likely be shared.