The machine, the beautiful Manchester City football machine, rolled on to the brink of new glories in south London. From Wembley to the Parc des Princes to Selhurst Park, they are sweeping all before them as their season heads towards a rousing finale. This victory against Crystal Palace means they may not have to kick another ball to clinch their third Premier League title in four years.
If Manchester United lose to Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, City will have won the championship with four games to spare and nobody will say they did not deserve it. In this strange season, distorted by Covid-19 and its tragedies and its testing, the wonder of some of City’s football has provided at least some relief amid all the suffering and the worry.
They have been the class of the field, just as Liverpool were last season, and whether their title win is confirmed on Sunday or next weekend, it has reconfirmed them as the best team of this era after the interregnum of Jurgen Klopp and his side. ‘City never stop,’ Klopp said on Friday. ‘That is clear. They did not stop and they will not stop.’
Manchester City placed one hand on the Premier League trophy after two second half goals saw them beat Crystal Palace
Sergio Aguero smashed City into the lead just before the hour mark to send the champions-in-waiting on their way to the win
Ferran Torres (right) then doubled City’s advantage less than two minutes later after capitalising on some chaos to drill home
They started slowly against Palace just as they had against PSG in Paris on Wednesday night but just as they rallied to overwhelm Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel di Maria and the rest, so they moved into another gear after half time against Roy Hodgson’s team. They exploded into action and Palace simply could not cope. It was why Hodgson had said before the game that he was approaching the clash with ‘extreme trepidation’.
The celebrations from City’s manager, Pep Guardiola, and the substitutes in the stands showed how close they are to adding a second trophy to the Carabao Cup they won last Sunday by beating Spurs at Wembley. If they successfully negotiate the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against PSG on Tuesday, a treble will be in their sights.
Their 2-0 over Palace was secured with two goals in 83 seconds from Sergio Aguero and Ferran Torres but they could easily have scored five in the 20 minutes after the interval. Aguero’s finish, a masterpiece of opportunism and class, was a reminder of what he has achieved at City and what the club will be missing when he moves on at the end of the season. Torres’ goal was a reminder of how bright City’s future is.
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, Kouyate, Dann, Mitchell, Milivojevic, Riedewald (Schlupp 59), Eze, Townsend (Ayew 82), Benteke (Mateta 67), Zaha
Substitutes: Butland, van Aanholt, McCarthy, Batshuayi, Cahill, Kelly
Booked: Milivojevic, Kouyate
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Manchester City: Ederson, Cancelo, Laporte, Ake, Mendy, Rodri, Fernandinho (Zinchenko 67), Torres, Jesus, Aguero, Sterling
Substitutes: Walker, Dias, Gundogan, Steffen, de Bruyne, Silva, Mahrez, Foden
Goals: Aguero 57, Torres 59
Manager: Pep Guardiola
A floated pass forward was taken down expertly by Aguero with his first touch, before his second saw him smash into the net
Torres wheeled away after fizzing his goal into the far corner with City piling all the pressure on neighbours United on Sunday
Pep Guardiola celebrated exuberantly in his dugout after watching Torres drill his team into a commanding lead in the capital
To add to their contentment, their victory was their 11th straight away league victory, equalling a top-flight record. Since drawing at Old Trafford on December 12, Guardiola’s team has won top-flight matches at Southampton, Chelsea, West Brom, Burnley, Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Fulham, Leicester and Aston Villa and by an aggregate score of 26-4.
City’s squad is so deep and so packed with talent that it is difficult to identify Guardiola’s preferred starting team but hard though it is to think of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero as reserves, it felt as if he picked what was effectively a second eleven here. There were eight changes from the team that beat PSG, which meant players like Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and Ruben Dias were on the bench.
City dominated possession in the early stages, of course, but Palace looked more likely to make a breakthrough when they attacked. Christian Benteke should have done better with a header from a pinpoint Andros Townsend cross and City, like many sides before them, seemed uneasy when they tried to cope with the pace and direct running of Wilfried Zaha.
Gabriel Jesus looked to have fired City into the lead midway through the first half but had strayed offside before his strike
Jesus guided a neat half-volley above Vicente Guaita from close range but the timing of his run forward left him frustrated
Aguero was recalled for the champions-in-waiting but initially looked off-colour after squandering several good openings
Still, it was City who should have scored first. For all the intricacy of their play, it was a long ball forward from Aymeric Laporte that unlocked the Palace defence and allowed Sterling to sneak in behind it. Sterling danced past two challenges and just when it seemed he was about to apply the finishing touch, Tyrick Mitchell did enough to make him hurry his shot and it flew well wide.
Ten minutes later, Palace put together the best move of the game up to that point and nearly scored themselves. Townsend and Joel Ward worked the ball down the right with a series of one-touch passes that freed Ward to run to the goal line. Ward could not find a teammate with his pull-back but when it broke loose, Benteke turned and tried to force it past Ederson from close range only to be denied by the goalkeeper’s legs.
City thought they had scored ten minutes before the interval when Gabriel Jesus lashed a cross from Fernandinho into the roof of the net but he had strayed yards offside. In fact, when the whistle blew for half time, it marked the first time in 21 games in all competitions that City had failed to have a shot on target in the first half.
They looked as if they were going to put that right seven minutes into the second half when Fernandinho drilled a brilliant pass to the edge of the six yard box where Torres controlled it. Torres eschewed the chance to shoot and lobbed the ball across goal to the back post where Gabriel Jesus was waiting to nod it in but Scott Dann got there before him and headed it over the bar to safety.
Raheem Sterling tried to work his way through before scoring but his finishing touch was found wanting despite the fine play
Wilfried Zaha was left dumbfounded after being penalised in the first-half as Palace tried to match a rampant City toe-to-toe
The hosts kept a compact shape when City came forward and Sterling found himself isolated outside of the box all too often
It was only a momentary reprieve. Five minutes later, Benjamin Mendy curled in a low pass towards Aguero as he ran forward towards the edge of the box. Aguero took it in his stride and controlled it with his right foot. The ball bounced up and when it dropped, Aguero hit it on the half-volley and smashed an unstoppable drive high past Vicente Guaita and into the roof of the net.
Now City let loose. Less than two minutes later, they doubled their lead. They tried to play the ball through the middle of the Palace defence and when it broke free, Torres hit a curling shot through the legs of Cheikhou Kouyate and beyond the right hand of the diving Guaita. There were roars of celebration from the ranks of City substitutes in the front rows of the stand.
Sterling hit the base of the post with a low left foot shot and Guaita produced a stunning close-range save from Laporte to stop City stretching their lead further. They were making chances at will and Joao Cancelo should have rounded off a fine counter attack when Torres backheeled the ball into his path but he lifted his shot just too high.
Guardiola cut an irritated figure on the touchline before City’s two-goal salvo all but wrapped up the title for his high-flyers
Palace full back Tyrick Mitchell caught the eye during the lunchtime kick-off and defended well against waves of City attacks
Christian Benteke (pictured battling with Rodri) proved a nuisance for City’s backline and had been a physical outlet up front
Re-live all the drama from Selhurst Park with live coverage from Sportsmail‘s DANIEL DAVIS below…