Manuel Pellegrini's Team Selection Nearly Backfires, but Joe Hart Rescues City

Rob PollardFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2013

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MANCHESTER, England—Manchester City moved to the top of the Premier League table with a narrow 1-0 victory at home over Crystal Palace—a result which maintains their 100 percent league record at home.

However, it was a far from straightforward affair. Manuel Pellegrini made a raft of changes for the side which beat Liverpool on Boxing Day, but it was a move that very nearly backfired as City struggled to play with the same verve that has been the hallmark of their home matches this season.

In came the likes of Javi Garcia, Edin Dzeko and Dedryck Boyata, who made his first league appearance of the season, while Yaya Toure, Alvaro Negredo and Samir Nasri were rested.

Rather than the swashbuckling style we've come to expect in matches at the Etihad, City were lethargic and lacklustre. They had much of the ball in the first half but failed to produce any real quality, with David Silva and Fernandinho the only two players looking likely to have an impact.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Joel Ward of Crystal Palace competes with David Silva of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium on December 28, 2013 in Manchester, Engl
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Palace grew in confidence, and in the second half they began to play more expansively and had chances to win the game, while City were fortunate to emerge with three points.

City have Joe Hart to thank for keeping Palace at bay, as he made excellent saves from Jason Puncheon and Joel Ward. Pellegrini's decision to rest him and take him out of the limelight appears to have worked, with his goalkeeper now looking focused and sharp once more. 

His one-handed stop down low to his left from Ward evoked memories of the old Hart, and he will take great confidence from another solid display. He took a blow to the face from Cameron Jerome in the first half which required stitches immediately after the game, and City will be thankful he was able to continue.

In his post-match press conference, Pellegrini said: "For Joe Hart it was very good to have a rest—he needed a rest. He was always confident he would return to the team."

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Manchester City Manager Manuel Pellegrini looks on as Crystal Palace Manager Tony Pulis reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium on December 28, 20
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It was Dzeko who scored the vital goal after Jesus Navas rolled the ball back to him 12 yards out. The Bosnian striker had once again failed to impose himself on the match, but it was an incredibly important goal which means City will be top of the table going into the new year if Arsenal fail to beat Newcastle at St James' Park tomorrow.

City have now shown twice this week that they can dig out a result even when they're not at their best. Pellegrini's decision to change so many players almost came back to bite him, but his side can now go to Swansea on New Year's Day having rested a number of their best players.

Top of the Premier League, into the Champions League last 16 and a Capital One Cup semi-final to look forward to: 2014 could be an exciting year for Manchester City.


Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.