If we take the first 43-and-a-bit minutes of play, this was a fantastic performance.
It all looked so promising as the team sheet was released, given Zaha’s absence it was the best team available in my eyes – rarely this season have I been so encouraged. I said earlier in the week that we must address the problem areas: Joel Ward at right back and Jason Puncheon and both were rightly left out against Manchester City.
And so it panned out. Even with Sane’s goal and Crystal Palace 1-0 down at half time, I’d go so far as to say it was the best half of football we’ve seen in the Premier League so far this season. Manchester City moved the ball just a little too slowly and Palace’s organisation was good enough to restrict them to just a few chances. It wasn’t all one way traffic either – Ruben Loftus-Cheek struck the post and we looked dangerous on the counter.
Reasons for optimism then.
Second half changes the picture
By stark contrast to the first half, Manchester City steamrolled us in the second. We lost a little bit of energy and shape and they made us pay for that lapse… four times. While in the first half we looked dangerous on the break, that threat dissipated in the second half and our attentions turned to marshalling City’s continuous attacks as opposed to launching any foray’s of our own. All of the positivity that was there at half time was thoroughly wiped away by the time the 90 was up.
We must put the result into context though. Manchester City look like the most fluent attacking side in the country at the moment, they put five past Liverpool and six past Watford, two sides who have scored both points and goals this season. This little run of games against the top sides has to be viewed as a process, at the end of which we’re ready to kick-start our campaign. Today we played excellently for 44 minutes, we have to address the issues which saw us come unstuck in the second half and work on replicating that performance over a longer period.
Christian Benteke the biggest loss of the day for Crystal Palace
There is no getting away from the fact that Christian Benteke hasn’t been turning in either the performances or the goals so far this season. There have been mitigating circumstances, the general lethargy of the rest of the team being the obvious one that springs to mind but make no mistake, he has had numerous chances and hasn’t put them away. He could have had a couple against Southampton for a start.
I wouldn’t wish an injury on any player, but in any other circumstance Benteke being forcibly withdrawn this afternoon may not have been the end of the world. A £32 million striker is always going to be given ample chance to get back in the goals, and afforded more time than anyone else to do so.
Naturally, of course, Crystal Palace don’t have a recognised striker – a point much maligned by every single fan as the transfer deadline came and went. Benteke’s ligament damage means he will certainly miss out on the trip to the other side of Manchester, and who knows how long beyond that.
The answer to our attacking dilemma? Today it was Bakery Sako. I think we all know deep down that he is no answer at all.