Pep Guardiola’s 200th Premier League match leading Manchester City was ruined by a sparkling show of power and bubbling from Wilfried Zaha, which gave Patrick Vieira, the returning alumni, the sweetest of victories as Crystal Palace manager.
Zaha scored the first after six minutes, created Conor Gallagher’s late clincher and generally terrorized the home defenders, Rúben Dias and Aymeric Laporte, causing the latter to be sent off during a poor finish in the first period.
If the defender deserved his penalty for breaking Zaha to the turf as the last man, City gathered impressively after the break but could not find an equalizer. That meant the champions lost a second league game of the season and a first at home since May, leaving Guardiola with 146 wins and 29 defeats from his double century.
For the opening goal, Zaha hit the ball from a shaking Laporte, swapped passes with Gallagher and, as the angle began to close, Ederson hit to his left, the goalkeeper perhaps defeated by a bubble. This dampened the home crowd, who had witnessed the concession of a league goal for the first time in this period, by 456 minutes in total since Chelsea scored here.
City’s response was expected: a blue swarm intruding on possession, with Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva moving Palace around. A sequence ended with João Cancelo claiming City’s first corner, and as this fell into the area, Rodri hit the ball into Vicente Guaita’s center.
Palace, led by James McArthur and Cheikhou Kouyaté, were noticeably quick to push and strangle City at the source. Another important tactic was to feed Zaha a ball in midfield that tested Dias’ defensive abilities, which tried to match him.
When City clicks it always entertains, as when Walker on the overlap pinged over a cross pointing towards the Foot, which Palace hovered away to the corner. From this, the efforts of Gabriel Jesus and Grealish were blocked.
Around this time, the buos became the soundtrack of the competition. These were from City enthusiasts who, despite only 30 minutes having passed, suggested that Palace was a waste of time. As Grealish led a onslaught, Vieira’s men dispersed, and No. 10 fed Jesus, who shot into a diving Marc Guéhi before Palace were finally awarded a goal kick. Cue more scorn. Then there was moaning as a passage of slippery football was spoiled by Cancelo lifting a diagonal ball into the seats behind Guaita.
A concern for Guardiola was how the high line of his side was pierced. Odsonne Édouard did it with a ball that left Dias maroon and Zaha skated towards Ederson, City saved by an offside flag. However, nothing could help Laporte the next time Zaha burst out, as the central defender now took him down and left went number 14: after Andre Marriner raised the red card, VAR supported the referee.
When the match started again, City went in dice losing the plot: Silva chopped that man down again – Zaha – and got a warning; at the break, Ederson followed for further contempt. As the players walked out of the break, Silva was spied on and placed a sarcastic hand on the assistant referee at the benches.
The visitors began the second half with a golden chance to defeat the 10 men, who were now set up by Guardiola in a 3-3-3. But the champions did not give in so easily: Rodri quickly blasted over when Grealish claimed that a corner, the ball broke to the Foot, whose cross slid across the area.
The foot was about to see a sublime assist chalk off to a marginal offside. John Stones, who had just come on the field for De Bruyne, chipped to the midfielder, whose instant control and sweet precise parable found Jesus, who finished before VAR intervened.
In this refreshing spectacle, Jordan Ayew then dismissed a chance up close before Ederson struck a violent Gallagher shot at the nearest post. When Walker sprayed the ball wildly across, this suggested it should be Palace’s day, and it was: Gallagher’s finish, in a post, sealed it, after sweet Zaha footwork.
Vieira deserves great credit for the view. On this show, he may return in the future – to become City’s manager.