Manchester City will look to continue their impressive run of form with a visit from Crystal Palace in the Premier League. Sunday evening's match will come directly after the two sides above the Blues - Liverpool and United - play each other at Anfield.
Palace currently sit in 13th place and 11 points above the drop zone. An attack led by Wilfried Zaha will cause the seemingly watertight City defence some issues - but Rank and Report Football run us through everything else we need to know...
The Opposition Report: Crystal Palace [PL]
LEAGUE POSITION: 13th
SEASON BREAKDOWN: 6W – 5D – 7L
MANAGER: Roy Hodgson
KEY PLAYER: Wilfried Zaha
Crystal Palace’s season is going as it always seems to go under Roy Hodgson – hovering in lower-mid-table while keeping themselves at arms-length from relegation. Last season, The Eagles finished 14th. Currently, they sit 13th, so not much to get emotional about for Palace fans.
Having said this, the transfer kitty at Hodgson’s disposal has always been modest, so he continues to overachieve with a Palace side which makes up for its overall lack of quality with a well-drilled setup.
Keeping hold of Wilfried Zaha for yet another season cannot be underestimated either. The Ivorian leads Palace in goal-scoring this campaign with eight in all competitions. Although his teammates are a little way behind him, Palace aren’t struggling for goals this campaign as they have done in the past, upping their goals per game from 0.82 last season to 1.22.
Although their numbers don’t quite show it, Christian Benteke and Ebere Eze have been impressive supporting acts to Zaha. The Belgian big man is still adapting his game from the ruthless goal-scorer he once was, while Eze plays with the kind of freedom that makes things happen.
Their past three games are enough to give Manchester City mild cause for concern. Against Leicester, Sheffield United and Arsenal, Palace went unbeaten to collect a respectable five points. Furthermore, they only conceded one goal in the process. They shipped seven at home to Liverpool back in December, but their recent form suggests this was nothing more than a bad day at the office.
The Crystal Palace Threat
Given that Wilfried Zaha is one of the most talented players outside of the Premier League’s top six, much of Palace’s attacking set up concerns how to get the best out of their star man. This season, Hodgson has opted for an old-school 4-4-2 where Zaha and Christian Benteke have formed a relatively effective ‘little and large’ strike partnership.
The whole setup means Zaha has more support in attack. Benteke’s link-up play as Palace’s target man has been steadily improving for a while, while the adventurous Eze on the left flank means Zaha has better service and more people to play off at the business end of the pitch. The result is that 2020/21 has been his most productive season to date.
Of course, it is not all about Zaha. Other Palace players are more than capable of producing magic moments in their own right. Eze has sparkled at times this season, and who could forget Andros Townsend’s volleyed thunderbolt at the Etihad two years ago?
Defensively, Hodgson is vastly experienced and a great tactician. They will likely aim to keep it tight and frustrate City as they managed to do so effectively in their recent 0-0 draw at The Emirates.
In that tie, Arsenal were slow and predictable in their build-up play. City suffered from the very same issues earlier in the season before seemingly reaching a turning point at Stamford Bridge.
Last time out against Brighton, City hinted at a return to old habits with a narrow 1-0 win. One thing is for sure, the Blues will need to show a killer instinct if they are to break down an industrious Hodgson side, while showing defensive resolve to deal with their talent going forwards.
You can follow the authors here: @Rank_Report
You can follow us for live match coverage here: @City_Xtra